Monday, August 13, 2012

London waves goodbye to "greatest games ever"

China may have excelled in terms of fireworks, but the show put on by London for the 2012 Olympics outshone most people's expectations. The Games themselves also lived beyond expectations and was even labelled the best ever Olympics by many.

'Best ever games'

"We lit a flame and we lit up the world," Lord Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London Games Organising Committee, said at Sunday night's closing ceremony. And although IOC president Jacques Rogge stopped short of describing London 2012 as the greatest Olympics, he said the past fortnight had "refreshed the Games in many aspects".

This view was reflected by many within government. "This has been two weeks when Britain didn't just surprise the world but surprised itself," Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said.

But it was not only officials who praised the Games. Praise also came from the public and the millions who came from all around to see what has been dubbed the greatest show on Earth.

Records & achievements

Records were set, and while China still topped the league table in gold medal wins, they fell short of their achievement seen in Beijing four years ago. The top prize went to the US who 104 medals home with them, 46 of which were gold.

But it was Britain that shone, and shattered all expectations by winning 29 gold medals. In all Team GB grabbed 88 medals 9 of which were achieved in track cycling.

But some athletes stole the show more than others. American swimmer Michael Phelps set new Olympic records becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time. Meanwhile Team GB's Jessica Ennis became the nation's 'golden girl' which was as much to do with her good looks as her astounding feats at the 2012 Games. Mo Farah also won praise and adoration for winning two gold medals in the 5,000 and 10,000 metre races.

Criticism for some

China's athletes drew much praise back home, but they also drew criticism. The amazing performance of 16-year-old swimmer Ye Shiwen prompted some to suggest she had used performance enhancing drugs, despite there being no actual evidence to prove any wrongdoing.

And while that controversy soon died down China drew the ire of fans and sporting bodies alike after badminton players Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang deliberately tried to throw a game. They were not the only ones. South Korean players Kim Ha Na, Jung Kyung Eun Jung Eun Ha and Min Jung Kim, and Indonesia's Greysia Polii and Meiliana Jauhari were also embroiled in the farce resulting in all 8 being disqualified and sent home.

At the start of the Games there been criticism of the way tickets had been made available after huge blocks of seats remained empty throughout whole events. However the problem was soon resolved.

Arrests, but little trouble

There was little trouble throughout the games. The unprecedented security operation for the Olympic Games resulted in just one anti-terror arrest among a total of 276 during the 22-day policing operation. According to Channel 4 News a 17-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of collecting or recording information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. however he was later released without charge [BBC].

Most offences recorded were connected with the illegal sales of tickets, while one man was charged with a public order offence after throwing a bottle onto the track prior to the men's Olympic 100 metres final which was won by Usain Bolt [Daily Mail]. Another display of anti-social behaviour was also reported with one of the many post-boxes, painted gold in honour of Team GB's achievements, was vandalised [BBC].

Transport held up, despite a few hitches early on, including a fire alert [Newham Recorder / Evening Standard] and some problems with overcrowding [BBC]. And even the British weather held off with warm temperatures and sun lasting for most of the two weeks.

End of the show

For the most part the whole event went well, and for some it all came to an end too quickly. "I wish it would go on longer," one young fan told the BBC.

But all good things must come to an end and so came the final closing ceremony which drew a mixed response from critics and the public alike. A BBC commentator described the event as like "one giant disco", and indeed there was less of the theatrics seen during the opening ceremony.

Disconnected themes

Danny Boyle's opening ceremony had been praised for its patchwork performance of the best of British. But the final closing goodbye was criticised for being disjointed and a mishmash of disconnected themes. It was a show that appealed more to younger audiences. And it was more a party than a theatrical show.

Amongst those appearing were Madness, who sounded rather flat, a reformed Spice Girls who sounded as good as they ever did and a blast from aging rockers The Who. Former Monty Python member Eric Idle brought comedy and song to the show singing "Always look on the bright side of life". His inclusion of a mild expletive may have surprised some and left some broadcasters around the world with a dilemma too. "Life's a piece of shit, When you look at it," Idle sang, a line familiar to anyone having seen The Life of Brian, a film which was itself controversial in its time for offending the church.

And there might have been further raised eyebrows for those holding religious beliefs as there then followed John Lennon's classic. "Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky..."


The hope in the song is certainly laudable. "Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too. Imagine all the people living life in peace.."

Of course without countries there would be no one with whom to complete, let alone fight. And while UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon had called on people to lay down arms for the duration of the Olympics, the idea that peace might break out was certainly a little optimistic [UN].

Some nations with less than liberated government might have squirmed at broadcasting George Michael's best-known hits, "Freedom '90".

The ironies would likely have fallen on deaf ears in the 80,000 strong audience sitting in the Olympic stadium and the media. The western press seemed more concerned that George Michael appeared to be promoting his new single "White Light", which details his near-death battle with pneumonia last year, after he followed up with the recently released recording [Sun].

The audience meanwhile were more interested in partying than reading too much into any political overtones. Many sang along as Jessie J joined Queen's Brian May with a rendition of "We Will Rock You" or raved to the sounds of Fat Boy Slim [aka Norman Cook] as he pumped out "Right Here, Right Now"  from a giant inflatable octopus.

The octopus could have been seen as a multitude of Beatles references that seemed to pepper the show. There were newspaper taxis, a possible reference to a line of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", and there were a series of clips from songs including a full rendition of I Am the Walrus performed by comedian Russell Brand.

Director Kim Gavin had attempted to bring together the best of British rock legends and icons of British pop on one stage. In many ways he achieved that. And the games themselves brough together a nation, and the world, in celebration.

"Proud to be British"

London Mayor Boris Johnson has called the called London 2012 the "greatest games ever" and talked of creating a "true sporting legacy". That might be easier said than done perhaps, but the London Olympics has certainly been a party to remember. It may feel like anti-climax now it's all over, and there will be some who'll be suffering from a large hangover. Beyond British borders, the closing ceremony was not appreciated by everyone. According to the Daily Telegraph writer Neil McCormick, Italians in one bar jeered and mocked the "jolly romp" in the Olympic stadium. 

It is of course easy to criticise. There was much not represented from the best of British rock and pop. But this was less the fault of the artistic director than the willingness of artists to perform. Some Germans saw the event as over patriotic while others described it as 'Euro-trash' and were happy the whole thing was finally over. Commentators on Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV seemed rather enthralled with the musical extravaganza, praising the "individualism" of British artists. 

Across the pond, there was not so much enthusiasm than general disinterest, perhaps not helped by NBC's much criticised policy of not showing the 2012 Olympics live [Guardian]. The closing ceremony was no exception and was even cut with NBC editing out parts of the event, including performances by Muse and Ray Davies of the Kinks [Daily Mail / CNN]. It was still a ratings winner for the US network pulling an audience of around 31 million, though tiny in terms of the whole population [CNN]. Meanwhile the event pulled in a record 26 million in the UK [Telegraph].

The Olympics have made many Britons proud to wave the national flag with pride once again. "It made me proud to be British," one spectator proclaimed after the closing ceremony came to an end. It had made many people realise that we were a better nation than we thought we were.

[BBC / Telegraph / Guardian / Daily Mail / Daily Mail / Daily Mail

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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