The last drops of richly deserved hyperbole are slowly settling on the historic sporting tapestry that recorded London’s sizzling summer of the greatest Olympic Games this earth has ever seen (in my humble opinion).
I for one am breathless – our happy and glorious isle stepped right up to the plate and hit so many home runs that we all lost count and the world duly took note. Athletes, spectators, organising committee and sports gave us such a rich harvest of memories now committed to the virtual world, that London added VAT to the mark of 10 meaning excellent.
Dorney Lake too played its part in sprinkling golden stardust on the ‘G’ of the Games. It looked stunning, bedecked in its Olympic clothing it was like a nervous teenager about to go to its first prom when it opened its doors to the first spectators.
But when the music started it was party time. The venue rocked. It emanated a wall of sound, created by British fervour that swept up the course like a tsunami, pushing the athletes closer to home, and putting them into an atmosphere usually reserved for rock stars.
Rowing got the party well and truly started with winning a total of 9 medals in 14 events including the first gold for team GB, with none more poignant than that earned by Katherine Grainger who has sought the holy golden grail of Rowing and Olympic sport for over 4 Olympic cycles. Then it was the turn of Canoe Sprint.
By the time we got to the last day, the 200m finals, the competition had already written some fairy tales: Eirik Veraas Larsen(NOR) won his second Olympic gold medal in the MK1 1000m,
outpacing Adam Van Koeverden (CAN) in the final furlongs, the strongest part of the Larsen race armoury, while the GB crowd tried to cheer Tim Brabants further up the finishing positions. Portugal, to the delight of many of its female supporters, also gained its first ever Olympic Canoeing medals in the silvery form of Fernando Pimenta and Emanuel Silva in the K2 1000m. With Peter Kretschmer and Kurt Kuschela (GER) winning the C2 1000m, both under the age of 22, the sport demonstrated that it’s already secured its legacy.
The ink in the record books barely dried as day on day, spectators numbers grew, slick shuttle buses rode the roads and a record number of 350 media including 91 photographers rocked up for finals, shifting the sport from the margins to mainstream overnight.
The preliminary stages of the 200m races, saw the decibel count go ballistic confirming that this Olympic distance is here to stay, but there was something missing – an unmentionable itch within the Organising Team, that everyone wanted to scratch but no-one dared mention.
At 04:30am on 11th August, the last day of competition, a huge elephant appeared at the early morning briefing. ‘OK – so are we (GB) going to win a medal today?’ – said one of the venue team. Suddenly it was out there, the question everyone had wanted to ask for the last 5 days. Expectant eyes swivelled towards me. ‘I boldly predict two medals today’ I said as the meeting concluded. I stood up quickly, bolting to the canteen for a caffeine shot and solitude to silently send goodwill wishes that Ed McKeever, Jon Schofield and Liam Heath had all slept well.
At 09:37 precisely, the collective breath of the 24,365 spectators was held for the expectant countdown preceding the start of the mens kayak final. Sports Presentation know a thing or two about creating an atmosphere and an audible heartbeat pounded over the airwaves. On the P of the starting peep, GB’s best medal chance, Ed McKeever, thrust his blade in the water, pushed against his footrest and tore the water from the lake as he thrashed off the start.
Not that I know this, as I was buried in the bowels of the Finish Tower, cajoling equipment and human beings to keep getting things right and for this to be Ed’s day but I pictured in my head, Ed getting it right as he has consistently done over the last 3 years. In just over 36 seconds, the roar told me all that I needed to know as the celebrations would have woken the Saturday morning stay-in-bedders in Bath, never mind nearby Windsor. Ed had his gold medal; Britain had its golden man of the moment.
So much for Gamesmaker impartiality – after confirming the result I rushed out of the finish tower into the arms of colleagues and proceeded to jump up and down in a very childish manner but such was the occasion, it called for the childish expression of pure delight. I bear-hugged a man next to me – a high ranking officer in Thames Valley Police, and on another day, bodily assault could have been written on the charge sheet. But no-one cared. At the medal ceremony shutters snapped repetitiously and the TV feed rolled as the images syndicated to over 4 billion people worldwide confirmed that McKeever was the ‘boss’ of London. By the time the final race of the day and the Canoe Sprint event took to the starting line (MK2) with Liam Heath and Jon Schofield, the bubbly was in the chiller. Just nudged out of the silver medal position, but taking bronze, the Brits had put the icing on a cake made for Britain and the British.
The venue closed two hours later and some time after that, the volunteers and staff met on the forecourt of the by now, deserted boathouse to toast six great days of competition. We were all proud of what we had the privilege to see and be part of – we were all London’s pride in celebration.