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Our Games: a knockout. Now pull on your trainers!


 London 2012 Olympics: Our Games have been a knockout. Now pull on your trainers!
As the Olympics comes to an end, David Cohen looks back on the past few weeks that have made London the centre stage of the entire world, and asks: will the Games continue?
The moment British flyweight Nicola Adams became the first woman boxing Olympic champion, and then broke into the most infectious smile ever, epitomised what these golden Games have been about: a knock-out success that has seen unknown athletes become heroes — in front of crowds that have roared and willed them to victory.
This was the fortnight when London fell in love with the Games and with Team GB. But it was also the fortnight when the world fell in love with London. It has never happened before and will probably never happen in our lifetimes again. Yet for two weeks, our city has been front- and back-page news in almost every city in every country of the world.
We have long since run out of superlatives for the incredible feats we have witnessed. Nothing can beat the off-the-scale excitement of Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford bagging golds in the greatest night in modern British athletics history.
And Kenyan David Rudisha running the fastest 800 metres in history, and Usain Bolt becoming the first man to retain both the 100 metres and 200 metres titles.
Our athletes have exceeded expectations, winning 25 golds and 52 medals overall so far, five more than in Beijing, and we have taken each one to our heart. The velodrome, where Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Laura Trott and Jason Kenny have reigned supreme, has been brilliant.
But our sailors, rowers, horse-riders, road cyclists, gymnasts, swimmers and runners have also brought us to tears and made us feel better about ourselves than we could scarcely have imagined 12 days ago when an over-confident Mark Cavendish bombed out in the cycle race and our first gold seemed agonisingly far away.
Yet the heroics of our hitherto unknown stars have been the real story for me — like former stable girl Charlotte Dujardin who rode into the record books with two equestrian gold medals. To grasp how much we have improved since Beijing, we need look no further than boxing. In 2008, our entire boxing team consisted of Amir Khan, who won silver, yet this time
GB entered 10 boxers, seven men and three women, of whom five have become finalists. This has also been the Games in which we have paid tribute to the power of the dedicated working class single mother.
Nicola Adams told the BBC her mother fought for her funding every step of the way, while Gemma Gibbons, the feisty judoka who came from 97th in the world to claim silver and Louis Smith, the silver- and bronze-winning gymnast, also spoke movingly about how theirs made huge sacrifices to support their careers.
The venues themselves, beautifully designed and well organised, have also been stars, especially the Pringle-shaped velodrome, the aquatics centre and the Olympic stadium, which feels surprisingly intimate.
Critically too, our much-maligned transport system came up trumps, and the volunteers have truly lived up to their billing as Games Makers and done London proud. Even the weather has behaved!
The only negative has been the shortage of tickets compounded by the galling sight of blocks of empty seats in the first week.
The police have come in for high praise, too — to which one can only say, what a difference a year makes.
This time last year, the London riots were in full swing and the headlines were all about anarchy and how the police had lost control. As our front-page headline proclaimed, this was “London’s shame”. It was a low-water mark which saw police popularity and confidence in the Met plummet.
But during the Olympics, people have taken to hugging the police and asking to have their photograph taken with them. The Games has seen the coppers relaxed like never before, while still doing the serious stuff needed to keep us safe. Their calming presence and the way they and the Army have handled the security issue— after so much pre-Games anxiety and hype — has been widely appreciated.
Mark Stein, 59, a businessman from South Africa, caught the mood when he said: “In my life I have been to two other Games, Los Angeles in 1984 and Montreal in 1976, and both were amazing, but this is the best Games of all time. It’s beautifully organised and relaxed. For me, in a word, it’s been a ‘kind’ Games. There’s a spirit of unity.”
What it will mean from a legacy point of view is less clear. Will there be a resurgence in ordinary people, especially children, taking up sport at local club level? If so, will the bounce last?
On Sunday night, the flame will be extinguished, on Monday the athletes begin to return home. What will we do with ourselves next week when we have no more golds to bask in? It will be like coming down from a collective happy pill, the greatest mass ecstasy trip ever. There is, though, a perfectly simple antidote — to get inspired by our Olympians, pull on our trainers, and become passionately engaged in local sport.
David Cohen
The London Standard

 

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