Sometimes a Facebook status or a tweet cannot do justice to your thoughts on an event or occasion; you need to write more. For me, the London 2012 Olympic Games are a prime example of that. What transpired over the 16 days in that city will last forever in the memories of any of us who witnessed it, any of us who like sport, and any of us who care about future generations. Long-standing heroes cemented their places in history, and new faces grasped the bull by the horns and fulfilled lifelong ambitions. Lord Coe will no doubt state that the hard work starts now, but can London 2012 really achieve what it set out to do and Inspire a Generation?
There is no doubt that London delivered a fantastic Games. Jacques Rogge cleverly paraphrased our national anthem to declare that they had been “happy and glorious” games. What makes that even more impressive is that we did so under budget. 70,000 Gamesmakers were made to feel a part of it, they were an essential part of a well-oiled machine that ran smoother than we dared have dreamed possible 3 weeks ago. London’s much-criticised public transport infrastructure did more than merely stand up to scrutiny. The security systems and crowd-control arrangements meant that visitors to the Games had little to moan about, one US newspaper getting so desperate that they complained that restaurants in central London close too early. Welcome to Britain, we roll out the red carpet, but we live and die by our national traditions, thank you very much. Therein lies a great compliment though; these were the minute details that had to be scrutinised if visitors were to find any glaring errors in these Games. Empty seats was the complaint of the early days of the 30th Olympiad, but London certainly seemed to have a lot less empty seats than previous Games, and they were quickly filled by military personnel, a great gesture.
The opening ceremony promised to showcase Britain to the world and this it did in spectacular fashion. From The Queen agreeing to appear in an acting role to the iconic image of 7 young sportspersons literally being handed the baton of Britain’s sporting future when receiving the Olympic torches from great Olympians of the past, it nailed it. Britain nodded to its past but the show symbolised that we were a vibrant nation, one that is still proud of who it is and who is happy to celebrate that. Any of those who doubted that this was the case would have been left in no doubt after a wonderful 16 days of sport in which every British competitor was cheered fervently. Yes, it is most definitely cool again to own and wave a Union Flag. So, what of the sporting legacy? How far can Team GB’s success drive the next generation of aspiring sport stars?
The whole of the British Olympic team in Atlanta 1996 summoned up one solitary Gold medal, in the coxless fours Rowing. Team GB has just amassed a total medal tally of 65, 29 of these being of the Golden variety. Kids watching the 1996 Games had four men in a boat to look up to. If you weren’t from a relatively well-off background, any interest in emulating these impressive guys would have soon met with the resounding thump of a door being closed in their face. 16 years on, and with millions, probably billions, of pounds of Lottery and successive Government funds having been pumped into elite sport in this country, and children now have a vast array of new sporting superstars as their role models. The important aspect for me is that these are across a wide range of sports and our heroes are of both genders. Your 13 year old daughter is not interested in the exploits of Sir Chris Hoy or Katherine Grainger? Well, step up 19 year old Taekwondo Gold medallist Jade Jones or 29 year old Nicola Adams, the first ever female gold medallist in the boxing ring. Accessible sports that require dedication, hard work and self-discipline but where dreams can be fulfilled. Andy Murray triumphing on the grass of the All England Club showed that the state-school kid from Dunblane continues to excel in his chosen individual sport, metaphorically punching with the very best. Moments after Mo Farah had won the long-distance track double, he looked into the camera and told kids that “hard work and graft is all you need”. These are the words the government and Sport England want our stars to be uttering, the type of thing that gets kids off their Nintendo DS’ and onto the fields. London Mayor Boris Johnson wants two hours of sport every day in schools. This is of course unrealistic, but more money needs to be put into sport on the curriculum to give a more varied feel to Physical Education at secondary school level. We need to move away from a culture where football rules OK. Team sports will always be important but then there will always be people who excel individually, they should not be ostracised.
The effects of London 2012 will only truly be seen in 4 Olympics’ time. Whilst Lottery funding has gone a long way to giving Team GB a leap on its opposition, the next 15 years will see what effect positive role models combined with a hugely successful home Games can have, with still impressive funding also thrown into the mix. Kudos must go the Government for reversing its initially nonsensical plan to cut funding in the years leading up to Rio 2016. The Team GB athletes of the past three weeks have made what sometimes can be seen as naff sports seem cool. It would be foolish to make rash predictions about success in future Games, what is more important is that these Games inspire kids to try new sports and to get active. It is interesting that a lot of athletes have already signed up to a funding scheme which requires them to visit schools as part of their deals. This is most encouraging. Here lies a great opportunity for the kids to be inspired by the headhunting 19 year old from Flint, North Wales, the 38 year old rower who refused to take Silver as the best she could achieve, by the son of asylum seekers who shocked the world to show that Brits can win long-distance track races, by the fun-loving teenage lad who made diving cool. Yes, I reckon Team GB stand as good a chance as ever of Inspiring a Generation. Lord Coe may well have been talking about the games as a whole with his final sound bite, but the same can be applied to the whole team of athletes – “When (their) time came, (they) were ready”.