There will be so much written in the days, weeks and months to come about the impact of the London Olympics. Very clever people will write about legacy, a moment in history and the impact from a socio-economic perspective. Soon politicians will justify every decision and policy on the basis of its alignment with Olympic lessons and before too long historians will have their say too.
The enormity of it and the commentary on it will filter into our collective consciousness, filed neatly by those in charge of filing.
My reason for writing however is not about the grand scale of it, but about the smallness of it. My own single perspective, a personal view of what I will remember and what I have felt.
When Jacques Rogge announced in Singapore seven long years ago that the Games would be held in the city of “London” I was on holiday in a caravan in Cornwall and as the news broke I cried. I am a soft old thing, but I am not prone to crying when sports news is announced. I was surprised I cried, but even then I knew this was a huge moment for our country and for my children. This was potentially the most powerfully positive news I had ever heard in my lifetime.
The very next day, news broke about the 7/7 London bombings and I cried again. I cried less for the pain of individual suffering (as dreadful as this was) but for the damage that could be done to our society. What a sad, sick, dreadful mess.
In just two fateful days the country my children would become adults in had shown them two faces of the world we could create for them.
For seven years I followed the progress we were making to fulfil our Olympic promises. I knew some of the people personally involved and knew that from day one it was their highest priority; I saw their passion, their energy, their intellect and I knew it would be fine.
Then, as we got closer still, a few siren voices chipped in their negative commentaries about budgets, riots, drugs, transport, crime, terrorism etc. Everyone knows our country is not perfect, but imperfection is not a sign of weakness necessarily and imperfection can drive us on. The challenge was not whether the Games could work, but whether individually we wanted it enough.
The only time I felt nervous was not the G4S security-guard nonsense (a contractual dispute that had solutions), but when the torch relay started. Would it be just a silly inconvenience to the school run? The sponsor floats were silly, but the “ordinary” torch carriers were wonderful. I cared less whether footballers and celebrities carried it – that was an overhang of a PR induced need to have pictures in local papers and on TV, but it wasn’t why so many people turned out. The pavements were packed with spectators, because they knew what I knew; and so I need not have worried. The millions of people who embraced the oddly eccentric idea of looking at a torch being carried through their neighbourhoods showed me that we the people had it all sorted, and I cried again.
These people were not looking at just a torch, they were embracing hope for community, family and friends and putting trust in a concept politicians have long walked away from. People need to hope for the future of their children to cope with the harshness of today. (A lesson here for all our politicians – a parent will take a lot of crap, but hurt a child’s future and you will lose)
I was so thrilled to get my Games tickets…some hockey at first, but then amazingly athletics tickets for that fateful evening that I will never forget…Saturday 4 August.
I arrived at the Games a grown up, I walked through the entrance a child again. The scale of it, the colour, the smiles, the pleasure, all overwhelmingly wonderful. Millions of words have been written, and none of mine will do justice to what I felt that day, but grateful and joyful are closest. I walked to every corner of the Park to soak up sights and sounds and to feel it; to properly feel the Olympics.
That night in that stadium will live in my soul forever. Jess, Greg and that beautiful man Mo, a crowd so united in pleasure for the success of good people that I swear we levitated that part of east end London on a wave of spontaneous encouragement and unbridled joy in the success of true role models.
And yes, I cried again…a lot.
That night air was crackling with an excited hubbub of crowds of people all trying to say what they had seen and felt, but I walked out of the stadium almost unable to speak holding the hand of one of my two so precious daughters.
I felt something then that I know will mark a moment in my life. I felt that the future was going to be ok for them.
I know I will be slightly embarrassed reading this back in a year or two, but I really do not care. Right now, my Olympic hope and dream has been fulfilled.
We turned our back on something awful and reached out for something beautiful. Not perfect, not fixed, not all good by any means, but still very beautiful.
We reached out to a future we wanted to show our children …and we can be so proud of what we showed them.
Take care. Paul xx