Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ten Things I Love About The Olympics

Far too often I write in here about things I don't like - so in an attempt to redress that balance I'm going to write the positive.  London has been a genuinely great place to be the past two weeks and so I present - in no particular order - my 10 favourite things about the Olympic games.

One


Before the games, it wasn't uncommon to hear people talk about how they were escaping London for the games.  Transport would be terrible and they had no interest in sport.  Since the games have started, I've not met a single person who's said that they wish they'd left town.  So, the first thing on my list is the fantastic atmosphere that's been in London for the past couple of weeks.

All around town, people are wandering around wearing their huge Olympic ID badges.  I chatted to some officials from The Bahamas whilst queuing for coffee at Waterloo in the first week.  Even gold medal winners have been getting on the tube.

The atmosphere in London has been tangible.  Smiles all around and I've even seen strangers chatting on the tube.  Far from being the "horrible place to be" many had predicted - London has been an amazing place to be for the past couple of weeks.


Two


Smiles aren't the only thing seen more regularly during the games.  Union Jacks have been everywhere.  The bunting from the Jubilee weekend hasn't been taken down and the whole place is red, white and blue.

Second on my list is the fact that it's possible to wave a flag without being a Daily Mail-reading racist type.  It's nice to see the Union Jack being waved as a flag of welcome rather than a flag of exclusion.


Three


It's also been nice to see the Union Jacks waving as the medals have come in too.  I'm not the overly patriotic type, but seeing people from your home country win gold medals is always nice.  Ever nicer is to see the emotion when someone realises what they've achieved.  So third on my list is the experience of watching people who've worked so hard for so many years finally achieve what they dreamed off.  So many tears...


Four


Fourth on my list of great things is the BBC Coverage of the games.  After the rather lacklustre coverage of the Jubilee Pageant, the BBC had a point to prove.  24 HD Olympic channels covering pretty much every sport certainly proved the point.

But it wasn't just the quantity of the coverage.  The commentators on the sports were people who knew about the sport, and it showed.  Rather than just describe what was happening, they gave an insight which made it more fun to watch.  There were short films giving a bit of context for events.

Before one of the men's sprint races, they ran a film about the fact that almost all top-flight sprinters are black.  For reasons of modern sensitivity, it's something commentators and broadcasters try to shy away from.  But not the BBC.  And that's why we love them!


Five


Fifth on my list of things is Claire Balding.  She's just brilliant, isn't she?


Six


All this coverage has made it possible to watch some less well-known sports rather than just athletics and swimming.  When the games started, I told myself that I was going to watch some sports I normally wouldn't.  Now the truth is that I normally wouldn't watch any sport at all, but I tried to watch sports I knew nothing about.  And it was quite an adventure.

I've experienced the great lighting effects of the fencing piste, the weird reality of a horse dancing to music which is dressage and the all-out pace of handball.  I never knew mountain biking courses were quite that extreme, nor that the movement of a walking race looked quite that silly on the hips.

But I've enjoyed every minute of it - no matter how strange it looked on first viewing.


Seven


My only hands-on experience of a real Olympic event came with a trip to Wembley to watch some badminton matches.  We also went to one of the rehearsals for the Opening Ceremony before it had all kicked off properly.  The volunteers (or Games Makers, as they are known) were fantastic in both cases.  Directing crowds of people isn't easy, and is sometimes not particularly pleasant but every single one of them was smiling.  It makes a hell of a difference to the atmosphere of the crowd when they aren't being shouted at...


Eight


I've got into trouble on Twitter a few times for sharing my thoughts on the lack of sportsmanship in some athletes.  On the whole, though, the Olympics has been a true sporting competition.  I'm not a fan of football, and I'm even less a fan of footballers and so it's been nice to see true sportsmen who truly respect their opponent and accept defeat with grace and celebrate winning with respect for their opponents. It's - for me - what sport should be about.


Nine


Of course, the Olympics these days aren't all about the sport.  There are the ceremonies to think about.  Beijing was a spectacle like no other. China had a point to prove.  A nation moving from relative isolation into a nation heading towards becoming the largest economy in the world.  A lot of people - me included - wondered how London could possibly compete.  The answer of course was that it didn't even try to compete.

The London ceremony had a sense of humour I'd not seen in an opening ceremony before.  The Queen pretending to jump out of a helicopter with James Bond, Mr Bean playing with the orchestra - this was a ceremony with tongue firmly in cheek.  It had the "wow" moments (the rings of fire being forged was the one for me...) but largely it was fun.

It was even so much fun that I can forgive the inevitable and rather tragic wheeling out of Paul McCartney at the end.

(It does amuse me slightly that the US coverage took out the lesbian kiss in the "snogging montage". even Saudi Arabia showed it - though did get upset about it being the first (and only) gay kiss ever shown on TV there.  A little bit of advice here - if you find that the sight of two women kissing causes your blood to boil - direct a little critical thinking at yourself rather than target it at those people who think it's perfectly fine.)


Ten


And finally - the true star of the Olympic show.  London itself.  London has looked amazing during these games.  Even the weather has behaved.  From where I'm writing this, I can look out of my living room window and see the glow of the lights from the Olympic Stadium against the dark night sky.  I can see the red lights of the orbit from my back garden.   Forgive the sloppy sentiment, but I really am lucky to call this amazing city "Home".