So, bad news is that it’s all over. The worse news is that we might now have to do some work. It would take even the most miserable cynic not to be inspired by what we’ve witnessed over the past fortnight; I have to confess I was a bit nervous that somehow we’d cock it right up; a scepticism probably fueled by the whole ticketing fiasco. But unlike an England football world cup campaign, it all went according to plan and we finished the Games wishing we were 15 years old again so we could become an Olympian. Just like we were supposed to. Could have, should have, would have – but didn’t. Oh to be young again and start from scratch; have a look at what you could have won. Oh well, we’ll just have to sit back with our grey hair and modest PB’s and reflect on what really happened. We’ve seen all the main bits, so let’s have a look back at some of the other things that may have passed us by.
Best pundit – Michael Johnson. It’s probably not stretching the truth to suggest that the BBC employed far too many ex-sportsmen and sportswomen. Some were a success, some were an abject failure (more of those later). But just like in his stellar track days, nobody stood out more imperiously than MJ. Although he should be doing film voiceovers with Samuel L Jackson and Morgan Freeman, as usual he was the main reason not to watch the athletics on Eurosport. Insightful, provocative, educational and just damned cool, the man is worth every penny of whatever the Beeb pay him. In fact, they could increase the license fee by 50% and give it all to him and we wouldn’t begrudge him. Anyone who has to sit alongside and listen to the vacuous drivel of Denise Lewis for a week deserves more than a gold medal and a bundle of cash.
Worst pundit – Now this could go on for some time, as there are many worthy candidates. Denise Lewis drove us mad without offering a single interesting fact all week. Colin Jackson was just plain annoying, but he can provide the odd gem. Sonali Shah must be one of the least knowledgable sports presenters ever. Who would have complained if Helen Jenkins, the triathlete had thumped her post-race? Poor Jenkins, having just lost out on a medal and clearly devastated at losing the most important race of her life, had to endure Shah’s awful post-race interview. First question: “Oh well, never mind. Maybe the Brownlees will win on Tuesday?”. The correct response should have been, “Er, p**s off back to C-Beebies love”.
But ahead of Sonali, ahead of Tessa “are the Dibaba sisters related?” Sanderson, ahead of Gary “Alan Partridge” Richardson – we give you Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson. Why she fronted the marathon coverage was a mystery to us. OK, she may have won the wheelchair race a few times, but she was utterly clueless with the basics of presentation or any knowledge of the sport. In her opening sentence at Sunday’s marathon she mis-pronounced three leading runners’ names and called Makau’s WR as 2:06. It’s 2:03 Tanni, but feel free to do some research and keep us up to date. But it was her commentating on the cycling that had us reaching for the off button and praying that Cash in the Attic would come back on.
Best response to interview question – “What?”. Still dripping in sweat and trying to catch his breath after winning the men’s marathon on Sunday, Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich just couldn’t understand Phil Jones ridiculously drawn out opening question. What was the question? Er, not sure, cos we didn’t understand it either. Kiprotich didn’t bother to hang around to find out what on earth Phil was going on about, so he just walked off. Good lad.
Best interview – Ruta Meilutyte from Lithuania won the 100m breaststroke final, then was too blown away to get any words out to the poolside interviewer. Maybe she was just in shock at how skimpy Sharron Davies’ top was. Maybe being 15 years old, she isn’t bovvered enough to speak to adults. Then when she did find her tongue, she just confused us all by addressing the camera in Lithuanian. Still it made more sense than Garth Crooks who was on the other side talking about the football. Possibly.
Best celebration – OK, I was lucky enough to be in the stadium to see the Mo-bot and the Bolt Lightening. But nothing beats witnessing live the sheer Incredible Hulkedness of Germany’s discus champ Robert Harting. Having torn his shirt from his not inconsiderable torso, he then tore round the track with his German flag as a Superman cape, finishing by racing down the finishing straight and leaping the barriers set out for the upcoming women’s 100m hurdles. Unofficially his time would have seen Sally Pearson have to settle for silver. Brilliant.
Biggest understatement – Admittedly, I wasn’t that bothered about women’s boxing initially, as watching women punch each other in the face in front of a cheering crowd is something I’d only see in pub car parks before. But Nicola Adams lit up the Olympics with her winning fists and winning smile. She was simply awesome and you had to love her. And her post-fight analysis on becoming Olympic champion. “It made my day”!!
Biggest winners – Our biggest winners were in fact losers. We’ve all seen the winners with their shiny gold medals. And there were lots of them. In fact (sorry on a bit of a tangent here), it’s a good thing that Gordon Brown isn’t still in no.10 as he would have undoubtedly sold them all for a ludicrously low price. But step forward Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase. No settling for second best here. They won silver but lost out on the prize they had worked so hard for. Their interview at the Eton Dorney lakeside was absolutely heart-breaking, and even had John Inverdale reaching for the tissues. When coming second is that devastating, that’s the sign of true winners. Guys, stand tall. We salute you.
Biggest losers – Footballers. No not the ones who actually played. And lost. We don’t know them well enough yet to despise them. Alright we know Bellamy (violent gobshite) and Giggs (adulterer), and we fully expected John Terry in full Chelsea kit to light the torch in the opening ceremony, but the rest have a few more years of debauched pampering until we properly decide that they are overpaid and under-talented.
But we have plenty of existing overpaid and under-talented footballers who suffered some pretty damning comparisons to our new found sporting idols. How dare Premier League players be seen as role models when we have rowers getting up to train before Chinawhites has even rung the last orders bell. We have new heroes now, so we don’t need footballers to look up to now. Mind you, the Premier League starts on Saturday. And there’s always the first round of Carling Cup to look forward to. Come September, normal service will sadly be resumed.
Most ignorant Gamesmaker – I was chatting to some stewards at the triathlon, basically showing off that I’d been to the stadium the night before. One of them asked if the big man was running. “Er, do you mean Usain Bolt?”. “Don’t know what he’s called mate”, he replied. “Think he’s the fast black guy”. At that point he had to leave to catch a space ship back to Mars.
Biggest disappointment – Can’t ignore the quite awful ticketing website. If an economist tried to work out how many hours were collectively spent by gullible and desperate Visa card holders trying to secure a £150 ticket to the qualifying rounds of the fencing at Earl’s Court, they’d realise that the true cost of the Olympics to the UK taxpayer was similar to that of the US defence budget. And once you were in, then you had to endure the wallet-shredding prices for food and drink inside the venues. A trip to the Olympic Park was like a step into the future. The future when a couple of pints and a sandwich cost you about £20.
Biggest hangers-on – Politicians. Now it may have been that they were tremendously lucky in the ballot, but there did seem to be a lot of be-suited politicians at the big ticket events in the fancy seats. I’m sure they will tell us that they were engaged in crucial international diplomacy, rather than trying to gain some vicarious glory from the success of others, but the whole expenses scandal doesn’t seem to have stopped them from thinking twice about freeloading at our expense. The exception is Boris Johnson. After the zipwire incident he can go anywhere he likes. We saw how popular Mr Bean was to a global audience. Mr Johnson takes it to another level. Go Boris!!
Worst Olympic sports – Mens football and tennis. You know why so no further explanation required. Golf is due in the next Olympics. Suppose someone has to use those 150,000 condoms so it might as well be Tiger Woods.
Most bitter taste – 1500m. All athletics fans (as well as many athletes) weren’t slow to read the last rites to one of the blue riband events of any Olympics. The women’s event was won by a convicted drugs cheat. The men’s by a little known Algerian who came from nowhere and won his semi and the final with ease. This was after getting a doctors note excusing him from the previous day’s 800m due to injury. Was it genuine? Possibly but probably not. Was anyone convinced? No. Quite frankly, he stank the place out.
Biggest danger – The Chinese. So they won 88 medals, 38 of them gold. Ask yourself how many you could name. Two? One? None? Now ask yourself how many Chinese athletes featured in those evocative emotional musical montages at the end of the Games? I can’t think of one. Now ask yourself how many Chinese athletes were seen at the closing ceremony party. Again a big fat zero. They were probably back in their boot camps preparing for Rio. So what’s my point? Jealousy? Suspicion? Actually it’s neither. My point is that China are simply sucking the fun and joy out of sport by mass producing athletes devoid of emotion. They perform their role faultlessly like robots carrying out a function. They don’t seem to have been given the opportunity to celebrate or cheer. The danger is that they are so focussed on winning that they have forgotten why winning can be so inspiring. They are a marketing nightmare; while we admire their skill, because they are devoid of personality and media training the viewers will turn off, and the sponsors will turn away if we can’t identify with the athlete. China remind me of the East German athletes of the 80’s. State sponsored perfection in a bid to make the world think more highly of the nation, but in fact having the opposite effect. No suggestion of course that they are doing anything illegal; they drill them so hard they don’t need to.
The shocking story of the springboard diver sums it up. Only after securing her medal, was she told that her grandmother had died a year previously and that her mother had been suffering from cancer for eight years. The system had kept her so remote for a decade in order to concentrate fully on winning gold for China, that she was allowed little contact with her family. The Americans have shown that you can be mega-successful and still keep a bit of humanity. My message to China – you are welcome at the party, but chill out a bit and have a bit of fun. Drink too much, pull a bird, throw up on the dog. Life will be so much more enriching for it.
Best image of Games – I found a great way to watch the men’s marathon without having to go back to Tanni Grey-Thompson in the studio. The magic red button had coverage all the way to the last finisher. And the last finisher was struggling badly. Tsepo Ramonene from Lesotho is not a bad runner. His halfway split of 1h09 shows that. His 2h55 finish times shows that he fell to bits on the final lap. But unlike the hugely disappointing Ethiopeans, all three of whom failed to finish the race, Tsepo battled on, walking up the Embankment (let’s face it, we’ve all done that on some previous April afternoon) determined to hang on until he’d completed his race. Also hanging on were the six deep crowds who cheered his every step. In China, the crowds disappeared as soon as the host nation athletes had departed. Not in London. The crowd’s support for everyone (even the Aussies) sums up why the 2012 Games were unique and special.