Dear Lord Coe and Co,
From your many mates in Australia, there is only one thing left to say. Well, a couple actually. Bloody well done, you blokes. And thanks. London 2012 has been everything an Olympics should be, a triumph on every front, on and off the fields of play.
Did we ever doubt you could pull it off with such panache? Well, ahem, there was one thing. We did sort of think – more in hope than expectation, I suppose - that we were a chance to put you in your proper place when it comes to sport of any sort, and that’s below us. But, hey, the medal table speaks for itself. And very, very loudly, too. There was all this chit-chat in the lead-up about it being a Battle of the Ashes, as if it was a new form of cricket, and if that is still to be the analogy of choice then you have administered a right old hiding by, let’s say, an innings and 100 runs. We won’t pretend that doesn’t hurt but we’ll grin and bear it and look forward to next time, or even to the Commonwealth Games which will bring many of us back to these shores in two years.
Winning may not be everything - or even the main thing, as Pierre de Coubertin said when he was founding the modern Olympics – but anyone wearing an IOC blazer will confirm that it is very important for a host city to do well if it wants its Games to be seen as successful. That nearly always happens and here it has happened emphatically. Congratulations for that.
People who have been in this caper for a long time like to argue about the merits of each of the various Olympics they might have attended, bestowing “best ever” status on this one or that one. Former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch used to do it all the time, although that was mostly a polite back-slap for the incumbent hosts. It is a very subjective exercise, probably to the point of futility. Most Australians would nominate Sydney as the best, just as most Chinese would opt for Beijing and most Spaniards would, with good reason, back in Barcelona.
London has been my eighth Games and and this I can definitely say – there has been so much to like and so little to whinge about (now there’s something you might not hear all that often from Aussies visiting the land of the Poms!) that its status as one of the great success stories of the modern Olympic movement is unqualified and unchallengeable.
It has come as no surprise. The British have always been so very good at putting on a show – they can make an art form out of a funeral - and it is sometimes forgotten that they invented most of the world’s most popular sports.
Here, it started with that theatrical masterpiece of an opening ceremony which got people laughing and in the right mood, relieved that it had gone down so well. It was a bit like an athlete getting out of the blocks quickly and then knowing he just had to back his ability and experience and the gold would be his. From that point, the people embraced it like, I suspect, never before.
LOCOG got just about everything right. The venues were superb, all of them, and the velodrome was beyond that – the sight and sound of Team GB’s cyclists dominating in there will linger long. And can I just add here that while nothing beats watching Usain Bolt do his incredible thing on the athletics track, being there for Sir Chris Hoy’s elevation to king of all British Olympians was not far behind, if only because on his visits to my town, Melbourne, he has been the very epitome of what you wish all professional sportsmen were. Namely, friendly, humble and of course unbeatable.
The transport system – the dear old London busses – operated with rare efficiency, apart from some massive queues at the Stratford Javelin train station. But you guys don’t mind a good queue so even that didn’t seem to mar the mood.
The security was as tight as you would expect from a military operation but without getting in your face unnecessarily. The information systems were better than ever, as all technology applications inevitably are. The comprehensively-appointed media centre was the best yet. And the volunteers were integral to the positive image – unfailingly cheerful, almost always knowing exactly what they were doing or saying, never angry or upset . In Sydney, the “vollies” were crucial – you got the feeling the Londoners were challenged to beat that, and guess what, they just might have.
The result was a terrific ambience that did not dilute as the party ploughed on into the second week, when smile fatigue sometimes sets in.
Sure, it rained once or twice – but, hey, this is London after all. As hurdler Sally Pearson observed, that’s what you expect here. When the heavens opened just as she got onto the blocks, she just ran through it regardless and won gold.
That’s pretty much a metaphor for what London itself did. A golden Games, if ever there was one.