Thank you, London 2012

An amazing summer: London 2012

The closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games is under way. In a short while, London 2012 will be over. Six amazing weeks, and countless breathtaking memories.

I’ve blogged before that I’ve turned from a sceptic about the cost and benefit of hosting the games to a belief that they’ve been a landmark for Britain. And I posted last week about our inspirational day at the Olympic Stadium watching the Paralympics.

Track magic

Thank you to everyone involved in making London 2012 such an amazing experience and such a huge success, from the athletes to the Games Makers, from the organisers to the countless workers who made it happen. (And the broadcasters who brought these wonders into our homes.) We’ll never forget these six weeks – our sensational summer.

Our brilliant Paralympics day at Olympic Stadium

Arriving at Olympic Stadium

We had an unforgettable day at the London 2012 Paralympic Games today. We were lucky enough to get seats in the packed Olympic Stadium in Stratford, experiencing three new world records.

We had a great journey to east London from Buckinghamshire (birthplace of the Paralympics in 1948). We caught one of the new Met line trains from Amersham to St Pancras before catching a Javelin high speed train for the six minute trip to Stratford. (What a brilliant idea to give free London travelcards with London 2012 tickets – it made the Paralympic tickets the biggest bargain of the decade!)

It was lovely to see our niece Siân at work as a Games Maker at Stratford Gate as we went through. Volunteers like her, and everyone involved in organising and running the games, have done the country proud with their incredible efforts.

Running shared

Inspiring a generation

It was so good to see the Olympic Stadium packed for the Paralympics. Great Britain was the birthplace of the Paralympics just after the second world war, as a new start for soldiers who had suffered spinal injuries during the war. (Karen took part in the opening ceremony of the 1984 Paralympics at Stoke Mandeville.) We were keen to support the games and to celebrate amazing athletic achievement.

Anyone watching the Paralympics would have been inspired even more than by the achievements of Olympic athletes. I couldn’t help thinking of that old expression to describe the disabled: differently abled. That epithet was mocked by some as politically correct, but you can see this week why people wanted to redefine disabled people by what they could do rather than what they couldn’t. (As I write this, David Weir has just claimed another gold medal on the track, proving my point.)

We have lift off…

We saw so many families with children at the Paralympics, as we had at the Olympics football opener in Cardiff. London 2012’s aim of inspiring a generation seems to be doing just that. I heard children on a Cornish beach talking in awe about the speeds recorded by amputee cyclists at the Paralympics. And it may be a coincidence but Owen has become a swimmer during the London 2012 summer! Above all, we wanted Owen to understand that personal endeavour and determination can overcome life’s setbacks to achieve amazing dreams.

Bladerunner bruised: Pistorius’s protest

The sour note of the Paralympics came on Sunday night when South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius protested about his defeat in the T44 200 metre final. Some commentators said this showed that the Paralympics had arrived as elite sport. Perhaps, but it would be sad for the Paralympics to witness the kind of lack of sportsmanship that now plagues football. Happily the Olympics and Paralympics have been graced by tremendous sportsmanship.

The Paralympics summer

Stratford: the ugly lovely town

The Olympics have transformed Stratford. The stadium, velodrome and aquatic centre are stunning additions to the east end of London. As we discovered, Stratford has brilliant transport links across London and beyond. But it’s a shame that many of the other developments do little to lift the spirits. Leaving the Olympic Park towards the Westfield centre, every building ahead of us was an ugly box. This is a big opportunity missed. We just hope that London 2012 provides a longer benefit here.

One amazing day

Homeward bound

We’ll remember our day at the Paralympics for the rest of our lives. Thank you to everyone who made it happen. Especially those amazing, inspiring athletes.

In praise of Great Britain and London 2012

Great Britain: our country. Our greatest team.

Tonight marks the end of the greatest show on earth, the London 2012 Olympics. (Roll on the Paralympics!) It’s been a triumph for Great Britain as both host and the third most successful team.

I’ve loved the fact we’ve competed as Great Britain. I wrote during the Beijing Olympics how Great Britain is a far more resonant title for our country than United Kingdom. It’s small wonder that Churchill immortalised Britain in describing our battle for survival in 1940 as the Battle of Britain. He was proud to describe himself as Great Britain’s prime minister. ‘United Kingdom’ carries no such emotional weight. It simply refers to our country’s constitutional status. No one would die in a ditch for the ‘Youkay’. (Britain’s national anthem leaves me equally cold, given it’s all about the head of state not the country. I remain unmoved by the song even after 29 plays…)

(PS: Before anyone comments, I do know the difference between Great Britain and the UK. Perhaps some loyalists in Northern Ireland feel aggrieved that the media never use the Olympic team’s full title of ‘Great Britain and Northern Ireland’.)

Another Saturday night – at London 2012

Sam Cooke once sang a poignant song called Another Saturday night. For Mo Farah, the title describes how two Saturday nights in August 2012 made him a national hero. Last Saturday’s victory in the Olympic 10,000 metres was a fairytale. A week on, he did it again in the 5,000 metres.

That first Saturday was extraordinary. Great Britain won six gold medals that day, with Mo, Jessica Ennis and Greg Rutherford becoming Olympic champions in an amazing, crazy 45 minutes in the Olympic Stadium. Today saw another three golds, plus Tom Daley’s bronze in the diving. That was special – the nation’s heart went out to Tom, whose father died last year.

Mo’s success says a lot about modern Britain. He arrived with his family from Somalia aged nine, speaking barely any English. Yet today he’s a national hero after years of hard work. The Daily Mail spitefully and stupidly called him a plastic Brit. Yet Mo has done more for his nation than Daily Mail, which specialises in poison and fear. He’s the very best of British.

London 2012 Olympics: inspiring a generation

Inspirational: London 2012

What a weekend. Britain has won eight gold medals in two days of wonder at London 2012, adding to the eight we won in the previous three days. The whole nation has been enthralled and proud.

The slogan of these Olympics is ‘inspire a generation’. We saw it everywhere at the Millennium Stadium when we went to the very first London 2012 event 11 days ago. The events of the last few days suggest it’s more than a slogan. I can imagine a huge increase in interest in cycling, rowing and athletics over the coming weeks as people of all ages want to try the sports that have featured in Great Britain’s success.

It’s not just the fact of gold success. The inspiration comes in the moving stories of the men and women who have done us so proud. Bradley Wiggins claimed gold just 10 days after winning the world’s most gruelling road race, the Tour de France. Rower Katherine Grainger finally claimed gold after winning silver in the previous three Olympics. And most poignantly of all, perhaps, Mo Farah won the 10,000 metres having fled to Britain as a child with his parents from war-torn Somalia. (The Daily Mail must be feeling very stupid having labelled our hero a ‘plastic Brit’.)

I was strongly sceptical about Britain hosting the games. The cost seemed outrageous for a 16 day circus even before the economy hit the buffers. But like so many I now think it’s been a landmark for the country. The world has seen Britain in a new light. We’ve enjoyed an amazing Olympic summer with the Paralympics to follow. And we’ve seen sport at its very best. Winners and losers alike have been eloquent and gracious. (I loved Greg Rutherford’s emotional response to winning the long jump.)

It’s not just about winning. I’ve liked the way the British media have reassured those who didn’t scale the heights that they’ve done us proud. That’s another lesson for anyone inspired to compete in sport: you can do no more than your best. It’s good to celebrate true endeavour in an age when worthless celebrity carries too much cachet.

Witnessing history: Team GB win London 2012 Olympics opener in Cardiff


Above: Cardiff gets the 2012 Olympics underway

I never thought I’d witness the start of an Olympic Games in my hometown, Cardiff. But that’s exactly what I saw today as Team GB’s women’s football team beat New Zealand 1-0 in the London 2012 opener at Cardiff’s Millennium stadium.

The atmosphere was special as Cardiff welcomed the world – something it’s used to doing as the home of Welsh rugby. It was lovely to experience a genuine enthusiasm for the Games from the many families in the stadium. And the Millennium team did a wonderful job, despite the mad rules imposed on them, such as not allowing us to take bottles of water in on a scorchingly hot day. (The Olympics Gestapo have a lot to answer for. Presumably they were also responsible for the appalling queues for drinks as half the bars weren’t open, which meant many missed the GB goal, as they were still queuing for half time drinks 15 minutes after the break.)

The game was a great advert for women’s football. The action was fast and furious. And it was magical to see the first score of the 2012 Games – for Great Britain.

We’re back tomorrow evening to see Brazil’s men taking on New Zealand.

Below: four year old Owen sleeps through the action.



Above: welcome to Cardiff

Madness: Britain’s London 2012 Olympics security festival

HMS Ark Royal passes Canary Wharf, 2007

Above: the government must wish it still had an aircraft carrier for the Olympics securty fest: HMS Ark Royal on the Thames, London, 2007

A government wants to place missiles on top of people’s homes. It has based a warship on the river through its capital, and set jet fighters on standby. No, not life in a military dictatorship. This is Britain on the eve of the 2012 London Olympics.

As the Guardian’s Simon Jenkins pointed out last week, the Olympics has become a festival for the global security industry, with a £1bn price tag. That’s not to say that terrorists won’t see London 2012 as a target, but it’s hard to see missiles on the roofs of flats as anything but a grotesque gesture. This is not Berlin 1943, or Syria 2012, but London, a city that has long shown resilience not panic in the face of aerial bombardment and terrorist attrocities. The excellent Tedious Tantrums blog has also highlighted the craziness of all this, along with the police’s growing alarming overreaction to peaceful protest.

It’s time politicians got back in touch with reality.