Wednesday, 14 November 2012

London's Olympic Summer Like No Other: Review of 2012

During the past couple of years, I've used this blog to write about London's build-up to the Olympic Games. In the Autumn issue of Square Meal's Venues & Events magazine, I was given ten pages to review the city's Olympic achievements over a 'Summer Like No Other'.

Below is the opening part of my review (reproduced with kind permissions). The full length article can be read here (PP160-170). A full set of my images showing how London welcomed the world, can be viewed here.

In the words of Mayor Boris Johnson, the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games “routed the doubters and scattered the gloomsters and for the first time in living memory, caused tube train passengers to break into spontaneous conversation.”

Sharing Games-time highlights with fellow underground travellers wasn’t the only act of impulsive behaviour from a normally reserved English tribe however. 

During intervals between play at the Beach Volley Ball at Horse Guards Parade, commuters and tourists, accustomed to avoiding eye contact in London’s streets, were up and dancing together to Queen’s We Will Rock You and the theme tune to Benny Hill. 

They'd then join the back of a conga line snaking its way through the stands or scream ever louder each time the announcer berated the Prime Minister by urging the crowds to distract him from his work in nearby Downing Street. 

To a global television audience of 14.7 billion, London must have seemed somewhat alien. Only the city's iconic landmarks, which served so well as sporting backdrops, kept reminding us that this was the UK capital's time to shine. 

During Danny Boyle’s Opening Ceremony, viewers and spectators had already been caught off guard by the Queen’s readiness to play her part. Footage of her Majesty bidding James Bond a ‘good-evening’ before making her royal arrival into the Olympic stadium by supposedly parachuting in, after jumping from a helicopter with 007 in tow, set the tone for an Olympics which brought the whole country together. 

The next time images of Buckingham Palace were again beamed around the world was during the women’s and then the men’s triathlon in adjacent Hyde Park. 

In the men’s event, Alistair Brownlee swam, cycled and ran his way to achieving Great Britain’s 19th gold, equalling the team’s Beijing total with five days of Olympic action still remaining. 

What had gone before had already surpassed all expectations. To reflect on the sporting achievements still makes hairs on the back of the neck stand on end. 

In the beginning, the crowds had turned out in force, come rain or shine, for each leg of the Torch Relay. They had cheered on celebrity Torch bearers including David Walliams, Sir Bruce Forsyth, Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders. And they had witnessed ordinary people, chosen to run with the torch for doing extraordinary deeds, as they danced up the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral and climbed over the top of the O2 Arena to exchange the flame on the venue’s viewing platform.

Now the public, many of whom gathered each day to watch on big screens at the BT London Live Sites, craved sporting success. 

Shortly after rowers Helen Glover and Heather Stanning had obliged by scooping Britain’s first gold medals, Bradley Wiggins added a gold in the Time Trial to his Tour de France victory a week or so earlier.

He celebrated by sitting on an ornate purple and gold throne in front of Hampton Court Palace and gave a double V for Victory sign. 

Wiggins’ achievement in the grounds of Henry VIII’s former royal lodgings inspired the golden floodgates to open. 

The atmosphere reached fever pitch on 'Super Saturday' in the Olympic stadium as Jessica Ennis recorded a series of personal bests on her way to winning gold in the heptathlon. Then, a few minutes later, Greg Rutherford leaped his way to gold in the long jump. 

Then, a few minutes after that, Mo Farah’s burst of speed on the final lap won him gold in the men’s 10,000 metres. His sheer exultation as he crossed the finish line also won a place in the nation’s hearts for the hands-on-head Mobot celebration. 

British sport had never seen a night like it but it didn’t stop there. 

In the velodrome, Sir Chris Hoy became the most successful British Olympian ever with six gold medals. 

At Weymouth, Ben Ainslie became the most decorated of all Olympic sailors, winning a fourth gold. 

Spectators at Wimbledon rubbed their eyes in disbelief as Andy Murray took inspiration from his fellow Team GB athletes and demolished Roger Federer in straight sets to win his Olympic gold. 

Whilst in the ring at ExCeL, Nicola Adams won the first ever women’s Olympic boxing medal. 

Adams was followed by boxer Anthony Joshua, who won Team GB’s climatic gold medal on the Sunday afternoon after staging a remarkable comeback in the final round. 

As Team GB was preparing to enjoy a Closing Ceremony concert, featuring the Spice Girls’ reunion, Joshua was sealing his place in Olympic history by beating the reigning Olympic champion to claim Great Britain’s 29th gold from an Olympics that delivered 65 medals in total. 

And that was just the Olympics. 

David Weir, the wheelchair athlete won the 800metres, 1500metres, the 5,000metres and then on the final afternoon of the Paralympics, the marathon. And when Jonnie Peacock beat Oscar Pistorius in the men’s T44 Paralympic 100metre final, nearly seven million people watched on Channel 4. 

The concerts that closed both the Olympics and Paralympic Games were moments to rejoice in celebration. They were never going to compete with the pageantry and emotion of Danny Boyle’s Opening Olympic Ceremony but nor were they the only times that London had partied during the 27 days of sporting action.

Across the capital, restaurants, bars, boats, museums, galleries conference centres and unique event spaces had celebrated every single medal win by each of the 205 competing nations. 

National Olympic Committees took over 42 London venues whilst a further 16 were transformed into branded hospitality hubs. 

It was here that the London 2012 party had been raging since Wiggins rang the world's largest harmonically tuned bell to signal the start of the Opening Ceremony. 

Together, they transformed the capital into a multinational map, demonstrating myriad cultures, cuisines and entertainment. 

Many of these NOC and brand houses were free to enter and open to the public.

Visitors relaxed in the sunshine on green beanbags in Perks Field to watch Russian entertainment onstage or toured Brazilian culture with three exhibitions at Somerset House.

Some of the Houses were ticketed to control numbers. Alexandra Palace, for example, had around 6,000 revelers a night celebrating Dutch success whilst enjoying the party atmosphere of Holland’s Heineken House. Club France in Old Billingsgate meanwhile limited entry to holders of a French passport. 

In welcoming the world, London’s venues also rolled out the red carpet for Presidents, Prime Ministers, Royalty and of course, medal winners. 

Czech President Vaclav Klaus played basketball at the Business Design Centre; Francois Hollande, President of the French Republic, paid tribute to the excellent organisation of the Games and to the number of volunteers of all nationalities, during his address at Old Billingsgate; and Italian President Giorgio Napolitano thanked the staff of the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre during his tour of Casa Italia.

Team GB's flag bearer in Beijing, Mark Foster and former US Olympian Carl Lewis partied at the House of Nations in Kings Cross whilst Etienne Scott and Tim Baillie showed off their London gold medal in the canoe slalom to guests at The Retreat - a pop-up members' club at The Brewery. 

Yes, the streets of London were unusually quiet during the first week of the Games and yes, the Mayor’s voice warning commuters to plan their journeys was removed from all stations after it became apparent that the warnings had perhaps worked a little too well. 

But the transport system didn’t fall over as many had predicted. The Tube ran smoothly and ran late into the night. If anybody got lost, there was always a volunteer dressed in pink on hand to help. And getting a travelcard, which covered all zones, free with Olympic event tickets proved it could be done, and may help pave the way for it to always form part of the welcome package for delegates attending major conventions and events in the capital. 

Being a part of the Olympic and Paralympic Games felt like you were seeing London at its best. Venues, events agencies, sponsors, athletes, media, volunteers, organisers and the general public made it happen.