x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Games over: for Brits and London, it's all over bar the shouts of praise

Can it really be only 19 days ago that the opening of London 2012 was nervously awaited?

Gold medallists Carlien Dirkse, left, Kitty van Male, centre, and Joyce Sombroek, from the Netherlands hockey team, celebrate as they wait for a train after the London Olympics.
Gold medallists Carlien Dirkse, left, Kitty van Male, centre, and Joyce Sombroek, from the Netherlands hockey team, celebrate as they wait for a train after the London Olympics.

LONDON // So that's it. Games over. Can it really be only 19 days ago that the opening of London 2012 was nervously awaited?

The 30th Modern Olympiad has confounded its critics - the "gloomadon poppers" as Boris Johnson, London's mayor, oddly called them - and appeared to exceed expectations.

It took as its theme "Inspiring a Generation" and, from the lighting of the Olympic cauldron to the moment it was extinguished on Sunday night, that has been at the heart of the spectacle and the sport of the Games.

It started with a symbolic act in Danny Boyle's brilliantly bonkers opening ceremony.

There had been so much speculation over who would light the cauldron: Muhammad Ali, Sir Steve Redgrave, the Queen?

The decision to hand that honour to seven young unknowns set a tone that carried through on to the sporting arena and was played out in all the brutal glory of competition.

New names and new stars emerged, as sporting legends - not all, of course - were eclipsed. Anything is possible, they seemed to say, as these kids, many just teenagers, stepped on to the winners' podium.

The South African swimmer Chad le Clos wept at the realisation that he had beaten his hero, Michael Phelps. Victoria Pendleton confirmed herself as Britain's most successful female Olympian, taking a gold in the women's cycling keirin and silver in the women's sprint.

And so much for British reserve. It was shed as the records were broken and inhibitions tumbled with them. Everyone, it seemed, was "in bits", weeping at successes and aching at failures.

The home crowd roared for their team and for everybody else's. That "wall of sound" became a defining feature of the Games.

It was the extra kick in athletes' strides, the extra cover in rowers' strokes, the final surge for each finishing line.

Before they began, the Games had been dubbed the "Censorship Games" as strict legislation protected the interests of sponsors.

Now, at their close, some have renamed them the "People's Games", for the sheer goodwill of the army of volunteers - 70,000 of them - and of London itself

They have proved as diverse and inclusive as the host nation.

Who could watch Usain Bolt, Mo Farah or David Rudisha and question the point of the Games?

Who could witness runners such as the Afghans Tahmina Kohistani and Sarah Attar, or the Saudi judoka Wojdan Shaherkani, and doubt the importance of these Olympics?

Every nation fielded women participants. For Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia, it was the first time they had done so.

Sixty-four years ago, London staged the Olympic Games against a backdrop of a bombed and scarred city. Then, it was a face of courage and optimism it showed to the world, pulling together against all odds.

Today, London has taken its scandals and troubles and economic strife and, over 17 days of competition, told the world who it really is.

And that is a country that can compete and win, and a people who will welcome and support all. For Britons and London, the Games has been about building a legacy.

At a cost of £9.3 billion (Dh53.68bn) could they afford it? Probably not. But was it worth it? Britons, and the world, are likely to answer in the affirmative.

lcollins@thenational.ae