Sport : Other Sports

Olympics showed power of sport

24th December 2012, 10:19am

Jessica Ennis lit up the London Olympics

Jessica Ennis lit up the London Olympics

Frank Malley reflects on the London Olympics, which he describes as "six weeks which changed lives and perceptions".

It was six weeks which changed lives and perceptions.

It brought 29 gold medals and 65 medals in all for Great Britain at the London Olympics and a further 34 golds and 120 medals in total at the Paralympics.

It was the summer which illustrated the power of sport.

From the radiant smiles of London 2012 poster-girl Jessica Ennis and Paralympic swimmer Ellie Simmonds, whose images adorned London buses and entire sides of apartment buildings, to the sight of the Union flag raised time and time again to record another mercurial home triumph.

It was the summer which made us gasp and chuckle. Gasp at a quirky and humorous Olympic Opening Ceremony, which featured the Queen, the real live Her Majesty, in a James Bond sketch with actor Daniel Craig.

And chuckle at 'Mr Bean,' otherwise known as actor Rowan Atkinson, and his impromptu cameo as a pianist with the London Symphony Orchestra.

It was the summer played out to the backdrop of roars detonating the length and breadth of the land heralding feats which enthralled and entertained in equal measure.

But do you know what was best of all about the summer of 2012?

For the first time on an international scale sports fans did not appear to differentiate between the Olympics and the Paralympics. They were viewed as one, with the same passion from spectators who really did seem to get that it was about ability, not disability.

So the feats of David Weir, who won four wheelchair golds, were celebrated just as fervently as Mo Farah's historic double Olympic gold in the 5,000 metres and 10,000m.

The gold of Jonnie Peacock, the 19-year-old blade runner from Cambridge who took on and blitzed Oscar Pistorius in the Paralympics 100m, was heralded in much the same manner as the London Olympic crowd saluted the great Usain Bolt, a man who professed himself to be "a living legend" after successfully defending his titles in the 100m, 200m and sprint relay.

In the thrilling yellow vest of Jamaica, Bolt was the unmissable international story at the London Olympics. But, in truth, they were a Games dominated like no other by the support for home talent.

There was Bradley Wiggins, fresh from becoming the first man to win the Tour de France, taking gold in the cycling time trial amid the splendour of Hampton Court and crowds reminiscent of the Royal Wedding.

There was the delirium of the velodrome which rocked as Jason Kenny and Laura Trott won double gold and Victoria Pendleton won gold and silver before bidding her farewell to the sport.

There was also the touching sight of Sir Chris Hoy embracing Sir Steven Redgrave after having surpassed him as Britain's greatest Olympian, the cycle king's two victories in the team sprint and the keirin taking his golden tally to six over four Games.

Not that Hoy or Redgrave could touch the achievements of Paralympic cyclist Sarah Storey, who added four gold cycling medals in London to the two she won in Beijing, all after having gained five golds, eight silvers and three bronzes as a swimmer in previous Paralympics.

But if Storey was the epitome of quality and endurance then London 2012 was resplendent with sporting heroes.

None perhaps as understated as Kenya's David Rudisha, who set a stunning world record of one minute 40.91 seconds in the 800m final, running from the front, in a race which pushed the frontiers of the discipline and which Lord Sebastian Coe, Games organiser and a former record holder at the distance, described as "unbelievable".

But it was not just the athletes at the Olympics and Paralympics who deserved a medal.

It was the volunteers, all 70,000 of them, whose enthusiasm oiled the gargantuan service vehicle which kept the Games rolling.

Security fears proved groundless, mainly due to the sterling service of Britain's professional soldiers who made light of the personnel shambles caused by security firm G4S. Transport also coped admirably.

Not that everything was wonderful. London 2012 organisers were forced to apologise to the North Korean Olympic team after the South Korea flag was flown at their opening women's football match against Colombia.

Badminton non-tryers, two from China, four from South Korea and two from Indonesia, besmirched the Olympic ideal and were summarily disqualified.

That was embarrassing and the location of the Olympic cauldron, at pitch level in the stadium, was a mistake, depriving all but those with stadium tickets a view.

But they were incidentals compared to the myriad of highlights.

There was Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic winning the 400m hurdles and sobbing like a baby on the podium.

There was Michael Phelps, at first seemingly vulnerable when he came fourth and second before normal service was resumed, the American taking four golds and two silvers to overtake Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina as the most decorated Olympian in history with 22 medals, 18 of them gold.

It is a record which could last a century.

But the mind keeps returning to that tidal wave of British success, splashing the feelgood factor around an Olympic and Paralympic Park which heaved with packed venues night after night.

All successful Games need the home factor and it is doubtful whether any Games in history have embraced it quite as passionately as London 2012 with a British team ruled by girl power in a Games where every sport and country were represented by women for the first time in history.

Among them, to name but a few, Ennis, Trott, Simmonds, Katherine Grainger and Nicola Adams, the latter who won the first women's Olympic gold medal in boxing history with magnificent exuberance because "I want to make my mum proud of me".

She certainly did that. They all did that. What's more, they made all those who witnessed them in their finest hour proud to be British.

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