The Curtain Closes on London 2012

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Image Source: wfuv.orgThe most frequent question I have been asked since being back from the London Olympics is:  “Was it really as great as it looked?”  The answer to that question is an unequivocal “yes.”  As I mentioned in a previous post, before every Olympics there are gloom and doom predictions – that the venues will not be ready or up to par, that transportation will be a mess, that the weather will not cooperate.  But London 2012 passed the test with flying colors in all these areas and with a little help from Mother Nature.

The closing ceremonies were not quite the tour de force that the opening ceremonies were, but certainly were a good excuse to reanimate the good and the great (and the others) in British music the past five decades.  The sight of London Mayor Boris Johnson gyrating to a reunited Spice Girls was not something that was on my radar prior to the Olympics.  The musical highlight may actually have been a performance that was not live but rather a video of John Lennon singing “Imagine,” which it may be time to designate the world’s nation anthem.

There are so many things that stand out about these Olympics, and Jacque Rogge’s proclamation of them as “happy and glorious” could not have been more on target (or pitch perfect to the British audience).  From the people at the Tube stations whisking the crowds along, to the volunteers near the venues with giant fingers pointing the throngs in the right direction, to the security people doing an efficient job of moving people through the metal detectors, to the venue announcers at places like Horse Guards Parade, North Greenwich Arena and Olympic Stadium, everyone performed their role in a positive and upbeat way.

Usually it would be hard to single out a particular moment from an Olympics, but clearly for me the emotional apogee of these Olympics had to be the night in Olympic Stadium when Greg Rutherford, Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah won gold medals in a span of approximately 44 minutes.  It gave these athletes who had lived under the spotlight, it gave the crowd that night, and it gave the whole country something both tangible and magical, as if everyone who had put in work or otherwise sacrificed for the Olympics could grasp hold of those 44 minutes and say, “this alone made it worth it.”  In fact, if Winston Churchill had been alive, he might have said something to the effect that if British athletes compete in the Olympics for another thousand years, this was their finest hour.

It is always inspiring to see big time athletes step up at the biggest time.  Usain Bolt may stand in a category by himself in this regard.  However, so many American athletes, and particularly, since these have been dubbed The Women’s Olympics, American women athletes,  stepped up as well.  Abby Wombach, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe on the gold medal winning U.S. soccer team have certainly established themselves as players who thrive when the pressure is the greatest.  Misty May and Kerri Walsh have set a standard for excellence and consistency in Olympic competition in their sport that is going to be hard to match.  And in these Olympics, I put Allyson Felix in that category as well – a category I always felt she would be in.  She won gold medals at distances of 100 meters (world record setting 4 x 100 relay), 200 meters  (individual) and 400 meters (4 x 400 relay).  I first met Allyson Felix when she was a very well-grounded 17 year old prodigy.  To see her Olympic career, which spans three Olympiads, end on such a high note was only right. Of course, Michael Phelps’ records firmly secure his status as the greatest swimmer in history, and the fact that he started these Olympics by missing the podium in the 200 IM helped reinforce that what he has done is not that easy.

The one venue that I would have liked to experience, but did not, was the Velodrome.  It was an incredibly coveted ticket by the British sporting public and provided a very charged atmosphere.  Of all the odd sites in Olympic competition, I think the pacesetter in the Kieren at these Olympics might take the prize.  Dressed in black and sitting upright on a bicycle, followed by world class athletes in the latest aerodynamic gear, he looked like a chimney sweep leading aliens to a picnic – until of course the chimney sweep pulled off the track and the aliens began racing at about 40 mph.

The etiquette of the British in using public transportation even in crowded times was impressive.  People would still get to the right side of an escalator in a Tube station and allow those of us who tend to move at a brisker pace to run up or down the stairs to rush to the next venue.  Oddly though, and to digress for a moment, that etiquette did not extend to the famous crosswalk on the Abbey Road album cover.  Perhaps the reason is that everyone there was a tourist.  Incidentally, there is a camera fixed on the crosswalk at all times which you can see on  What that camera doesn’t actually show is the unspoken code that most people live by, but that invariably ends up being violated by a couple of interlopers.  The crosswalk does not have a stoplight or any other reason for traffic to stop.  Thus, any recreation of the iconic picture has to be snapped in the very short downtime between cars passing.

There are three main rules that I encourage anyone to observe for such a photo shoot:

1) when people are walking across the crosswalk in the right direction (east) and a photo is being taken, no one should walk across the crosswalk the other way.  In other words, cross behind the photographer, not in front of him;

2) when you’re having your photo taken in the crosswalk, your photographer has to be quick and the walkers need to clear out, because others will be right behind you – no more than two clicks of the shutter;

3) if you are behind a group in the crosswalk, give them room to take their photo so you don’t appear as a random guy in their photo.

I have in the past thought about putting on an orange vest and becoming the self-appointed etiquette officer at the crosswalk for, say, perhaps an hour.  This would have been the ideal time to do it.  Oh well – an opportunity missed.

But then, the role of the London organizing committee did not extend to Abbey Road, so I cannot pin any breaches of protocol on them.  Rather, to them I offer not only congratulations but deep appreciation for the remarkable delivery of one of the world’s greatest products and perhaps the world’s greatest shared experience.

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