I was inspired . . .

That’s it. Games over. The countdown to Rio de Janeiro in 2016 has begun.

I feel kind of deflated today. I’m not a sportsman by any stretch of the imagination, although a few years before retiring I did become quite a badminton and swimming enthusiast. I haven’t continued either since returning to the UK, but do try to take a daily walk – weather and inclination permitting – of varying length between a couple of miles and about seven maximum.

But the past two weeks have seen me take my sports exercise vicariously through many hours of TV coverage on the BBC. I haven’t been able to watch the Olympic Games since 1988 (when they were held in Seoul), and the time difference with the UK didn’t make for the most convenient viewing. But during my 19 years in the Philippines, there was only scant coverage on the local TV channels, and very selective at that, and often only several months after the event (always interspersed of course with a plethora of adverts). The national sport of the Philippines is basketball. While I can and do appreciate the great athletic prowess of the top basketball players, the sport seems rather pointless to me. There again, I’m sure many cannot understand my interest in and love of cricket (it was once an Olympic sport!).

The slogan of the London 2012 games was Inspire a generation. And yes, I can say that they have inspired a(n older) generation – ME!. It’s hard not to marvel at the focus and dedication of the athletes participating in the Games. Clearly winning an Olympic medal of whatever colour takes dedication to the exclusion of almost any other aspect of what most of us would regard as a normal life. The days when one could turn up for a few hours training every now and then and go on to win a medal at the Olympic Games are long gone. It’s a full-time commitment, supported by coaches, psychologists, physiotherapists, and managers. Let’s not forget that many of the athletes are full-time sportsmen and women, although few enjoy the financial rewards of the USA basketball players for example, or can expect the sponsorship that an athlete like Usain Bolt must already receive; or the tennis players for whom the Olympics was just another fixture on a busy schedule of international tournaments – although this one had no prize money to offer, just the glory of winning an Olympic medal (nevertheless, well done Andy Murray).

The TV coverage here in the UK was, for the most part, of a high standard, and thank goodness we didn’t experience the Games NBC-style, so I’m led to believe, with incessant advert breaks and some of the major events (such as the Men’s 100 m sprint) not even broadcast live! Some of the camerawork could have been better – but that wasn’t the fault of the BBC, since the images were, I believe, provided by a special Olympics broadcast company. Although quite a number of the presenters were below par, Clare Balding was certainly the best of those commentating – on several events including the swimming and equestrian events. Ian Thorpe, the Australian multi-gold medal swimmer was also a great addition to the BBC team, as was Michael Johnson, the 200 and 400 m sprint gold medalist from the USA. Many others appeared to have been instructed to fill every quiet moment with incessant and repetitive chatter, instead of letting the images speak for themselves (but I already posted a blog about my irritation in this regard). And some of the ‘insensitive’ questioning of competitors who had ‘failed’ to win gold, or any medal for that matter, was ridiculous. I half expected someone to answer How the f*** do you think I feel?

So what did inspire me? On the mainstream channels there was a focus on sports in which Team GB was expected to do rather better: rowing, cycling, and athletics. But there was also good cover of the various equestrian events (dressage was a revelation – especially Charlotte Dujardin’s choice of ‘patriotic’ music for her gold medal routine in the individual event, including the theme from the World War II movie The Great Escape and Elgar’s Land of Hope and Glory; given that our closest rivals and multi-winners were the Germans, I wonder whether this music was chosen on purpose). But I did get to watch some of the hockey, canoeing (something I’d never really seen before), volleyball (although beach volleyball – bikinis notwithstanding – doesn’t interest me), judo, taekwondo, and gymnastics, but very little weightlifting or Graeco-Roman wrestling.

But you have to marvel at the inspiring performance of the rowers and cyclists (both road and track – especially Bradley Wiggins road time trial gold a week after winning the Tour de France), the beauty of seeing Mo Farah take the 10,000 and 5,000 m distance events (the only ones which actually had me on my feet yelling at the TV!), the awesome Jamaican sprinters, and the USA Women’s 100 m relay team who broke a 26 year old record. Perhaps the best performance on the track was that of Kenyan David Rudisha who led from the front in the Men’s 800 m and even broke the world record, something that is normally achieved only at the regular ‘professional’ athletics events where a pace-setter is employed to ensure that fast times are clocked. Long jump champion Greg Rutherford from Team GB had slipped under the radar; once he’d posted his winning leap there wasn’t much competition. In the pool the USA team was awesome, but the performances of the young Chinese swimmer Shiwen Ye, Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte,  and American Katie Ledecky, 16, 15 and 15 respectively, stand out. Michael Phelps – what more can I say?

I learnt a lot about sports I knew little about before the Games. I can now wax lyrical about strategy in the cycling keirin, or the finer points of dressage’s piaffe, passage, extended trot and flying changes. But I still find it odd at the end of a BMX cycle race to discover that the participants are not 10-year-old kids, but men and women in their 20s and even 30s; and taekwondo is lost on me. Surprisingly I found the women’s boxing interesting, and Team GB gold medalist Nicola Adams is surely an inspiration to anyone interested in sport – what a smile and bright and breezy attitude.

Team GB dominated the cycling, rowing and boxing events, and had several significant wins in the athletics track and field. After the Beijing 2008 games, the track cycling authorities decided to limit participation in each event to one entry per nation – apparently because of the domination of Team GB. Well, we still dominated, taking seven of the 10 gold medals on offer.

And if you want to find out any statistics at all about who won what and how, this BBC link provides a medals table and a complete breakdown sport by sport. Incidentally, the Wall Street Journal has published an alternative medals list, awarding gold to nations that came last in its events. Apparently Team GB topped that list. Not surprising really, given that Great Britain & Northern Ireland were allowed to field teams in all events, as host nation, even if they had not met the Olympic qualifying standard.

Many of the venues were spectacular: the velodrome, the aquatics center, the main stadium itself. It was inspiring to hold the equestrian events at Greenwich (behind the Naval College, and along the prime meridian) from where the whole of London could be seen during the cross country eventing. And so many others – such as the road cycling, the triathlon, and the marathon all passed many of London’s skyline iconic buildings. What a backdrop for these different sports.

And finally, what about the Opening and Closing Ceremonies? I already posted a blog about the Opening Ceremony. I thoroughly enjoyed that event. And last night’s Closing Ceremony was equally spectacular – but different. I read one review this morning that said there had been no ‘wow’ moment. I think there was, and that was the video of John Lennon joining the schoolchildren singing Imagine. It was totally unexpected, sent shivers down my spine, and brought a tear to my eye. You can watch the official video on YouTube.

I have to say that I even thought the Spice Girls did their bit rather well, and it was amazing to see and hear the reaction of the audience in the stadium to the Freddie Mercury segment, as though he were actually performing. Here’s a link to the full ceremony on the BBC Sports website.

I didn’t visit London during the games, so am unable to comment firsthand on what everyone is talking about: the welcome and enthusiasm of the 70,000 volunteers or Games Makers, as well as the excellent security arrangements provided by the armed services.

Yes, we’ve seen a lot of the Union Jack these past 17 days, and heard our national anthem sung – with gusto – rather a lot. And what’s more, the real winner perhaps was the weather (after such a bleak and depressing build up to the Games). So the Games brought a smile to our faces, and made our hearts swell with pride – if even for just a short time. London – you did us proud. Well done!

What will Rio 2016 bring us? Well, golf will be included (why, for heaven’s sake) but windsurfing has been dropped. I think there’s going to be a LOT of samba in both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. And despite my lack of enthusiasm for beach volley, that event from Ipanema Beach will be iconic. I wonder how small a tanga can get?

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