The Games

September 3rd, 2012

The 2012 Olympic Games in London are over and during the largest event the world ever gets to see, I have had so much fun that I didn’t even need a summer holiday. The fact that such a special occasion landed on such a special city makes it an even greater spectacle for a London girl like me to see. I love the Olympics. I really do! And not just because I’m long jumping onto the Olympic bandwagon like a lot of the Olympic sceptics did once it got started, who pre-Olympics loved nothing more than to rubbish the whole thing before it had even begun, with every single news channel and tons of social network status updates blurting out statements such as ‘East London residents aren’t benefiting from it enough’, ‘the ticketing is a disaster’, ‘the stadium will never be finished on time’, ‘safety will be compromised’, ‘the transport system won’t hold up’ and (the most dramatic and negative of the lot) ‘look what happened to Greece after they hosted it…it will BANKRUPT this country’. I couldn’t stand listening to it all! Why we constantly focus on the negatives until the positives are shoved down our throats, making us finally cheer on Team GB (and in my case, Ireland’s only real gold medal hope, the female boxer Katie Taylor) I’ll never know. Stereotypically, we like to moan, but why do we moan about everything, including the Olympic Games? And now those same sceptics are raving on about how amazing it all was and how “surprised” they are that is went so well. Only today I heard one such (Loose Woman) sceptic waffling on about how negative she was about the whole thing before the Games started but can now see the error of her ways (only to start moaning about how we can’t live on happy thoughts for too long though as we’ll all go mad – quote unquote!).

I’m happy to say that I’m not like those negative bandwagon jumping Nelly’s. I have loved the Olympics for as long as I can remember and I get excited about them years before they start. I mean, it’s the OLYMPICS!!!!!! It’s a sporting event that was created almost 3000 years ago. It’s lasted longer than religions, royal families, buildings, and even landscapes. On top of that, London is the only city to have ever hosted the Modern Games three times! Over 30 million people saw our famous sites when they watched the marathons. Over a billion people watched our creativity, flair and sense of humour, depicted so well by Danny Boyle, flow through the craziness of the Opening Ceremony, which if you loved it or hated it, you’ll never forget it. London hosted the most environmentally sustainable games ever, and a record of more than 9 million people attended the Olympic venues. Team GB did their country proud, the volunteers made us even prouder, and London was a truly special place to be during it all.
Seeing the Queen say ‘Good evening Mr Bond’ with a glint in her eye and then ‘parachute’ from a Union Jack coloured helicopter into the Olympic stadium made even this little Irish girl laugh out loud and shout “YES, go Queenie!”. Then on the 4th August, I stayed in on what turned out to be a very special Saturday night and watched the best all-round athlete in the world Jessica Ennis not only win the gold in the Heptathlon, but win it in style! She made all the other competitors look mediocre in the 800m race as she pushed forward to finish in first place, even though she only needed a top 7 position to take the gold. On that same night, seeing a relatively unknown, cocky boy from Milton Keynes named Greg Rutherford confidently pounce to gold in the long jump made me almost burst with pride and happiness, both for Team GB and the country I live in. This surely had to be the highlight of my Olympic experience, right? Wrong! Because on that same, special Saturday night, Mo Farah ran his heart out during the race of his life in the 10,000m to prove that he was not only the finest distance runner the UK has ever produced, but the best in the world, becoming an Olympic Gold Medallist. I cried like the Banshee when he crossed the line with a look of sheer astonishment on his face, whilst his friend and training partner Galen Rupp running for the USA cheered him on from second place, and I positively wailed like the Banshee when I saw his daughter running up to congratulate him after that momentous win.

And then of course there’s Usain Bolt, my favourite athlete of all time, making the impossible possible, by doing the ‘triple triple’ for Team Jamaica, with another world record thrown in for good measure. So many amazing memories, along with the judo, gymnastics, rowing, cycling, swimming (or should I say seeing the greatest swimmer of all time Michael Phelps retiring in the only way a winner like he knows how to by becoming the greatest Olympian of all time), to name but a few of the many sports involved, and of course women’s boxing, making London 2012 the first Olympics to have a woman compete in every event thank you very much! These images made me forget about what’s normally on the TV; war, politics, talk of double dip recessions and tabloid scandal, which in truth, does bring us all down at times.

It’s strange isn’t it, how we crave what’s bad for us and forget how good something like the Olympics makes us all feel? And Olympic positivity was everywhere in London. There were flags on lampposts, international ‘Houses’ dotted around the streets, talk through the offices with a constant online stream of events taking place and more so, you could just see it across the faces of both Londoners’ and the visitors we had here specifically for it. To top it off, the only time the sun shone throughout our summer months was pretty much during those 2 weeks. And would you have it, it’s only come and got its hat on once more just in time for the Paralympics too! The Opening Ceremony for the Paralympics was watched by over 1 billion people worldwide, which is a massive achievement in itself. I felt Jenny Sealy directed a wonderful ceremony and the tone was set for me when an announcer said “Those who can, please stand for the National Anthem”. It will no doubt do marvellous things for people living with disabilities by reminding us all, in what seemed to be a non-patronising way, just how special we all are and in fact, some more so than others. The Paralympics is an incredible platform for people with disabilities to do more than just survive, but to strive for something greater, no matter how tough the challenges are.

On the 7th July 2005, when the buzz and jubilations of winning the International Olympic Commitee’s vote to host the Games, beating Paris by just 4 votes, was instantly taken from us by the horrific terrorist attacks on our city, I remember feeling so confused and upset. I asked myself why has this happened in London of all places? It’s one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world. If you hurt this city, you’re bound to be hurting someone just like you. Amongst the feelings of confusion, anger and sadness though I also felt pride. I felt the kind of pride I’ve never really felt before as a Londoner. I’d heard the older generation talk of this pride and how they felt it during the Blitz, but I never quite got what that meant exactly. However, on that awful day, I felt proud to be a Londoner and felt happy that so many people from all over the world (including my Irish parents 30 years before) decided to move to this city, raise families here, build a life and make this place home. So, when the Olympics came to my city, in my lifetime, and being that I’d rather feed off positive situations as opposed to awful ones like that dark day in London’s history, I’m happy to say that whilst riding through Moorgate on a London Boris Bike about a week into the Games, I could feel such good energy within the city and I said to myself this is the proudest I have ever felt to be a Londoner. It was great to know that we were putting on such a brilliant show. It’s wonderful to look around at so many different faces who are having a really good time here and see them feel as welcome as they do. And even though I’m not British, having been born on the Emerald Isle some moons ago, and even though when Ireland played against Great Britain my instinct was to cheer on the green; the love, admiration and pride I felt for Team GB every time they beat their personal bests, cheered on their peers, or actually took home a medal, made me think to myself how lucky I am to be here, seeing it all first hand. To feel happiness for Sarah Attar, the first woman of Saudi Arabia ever to compete in track and field, to witness David Rudisha break his own record in the Men’s 800m race and quite possibly run the best 800m ever seen, to cheer on a Ugandan Stephen Kiprotich during the Men’s Marathon to take the gold medal home to his country ending a 40 year wait, or watch Gemma Gibbons look up to the sky and say ‘I love you Mum’ when she got herself into the Women’s Judo Final, will always stay in the hearts of anyone who cares about the Olympics. And because such a great job was done by Seb Coe, the IOC, the builders, cleaners, athletes and all of those wonderful volunteers like my friend HP’s Dad, by creating such a well produced infrastructure and by making sure the whole thing ran so smoothly, the Paralympics have been just as amazing, just as well thought out and just as positive as the ‘warm ups’ were.

Ever since I was a little girl I can safely say I have never missed an Opening Ceremony, I have never missed a Closing Ceremony and I have never missed the Men’s 100 meter finals. I have always shed a tear during at least one of these events, I have always screamed the roof off during many others and I have, during every Olympic Games that I can remember, allowed myself to dream. Something as simple as standing in a line and seeing who can run the fastest reaches deep into the core of what it means to be human. To strive, to compete, to shake hands after and to be excited!

So from me to you London Town, a massive well done for making the 30th Modern Olympic Games the best the world has ever seen, and of course for proving all the doubters wrong, just like I knew you would! 🙂

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