Danny Boyle crushed my Olympic pessimism. Moments before the opening ceremony started, jet engines roared over our house. With my eldest daughter we excitedly dashed to the lounge window to see the Red Arrows cruising home after their Stadium fly past. Half an hour later I was transfixed to the television as newly forged Olympic rings floated above the transformed pastoral stadium. After the athletes parade I watched the disparate flames close together into one mighty torch. I laid my earlier cynicism aside.
To open the 30th Olympiad Britain had presented a spectacular, inspiring piece of theatre. The Games were off to a strong, bold start, I felt confident they could stand among the greatest ever staged.
On the first Saturday expectations were high that Mark Cavendish would win our first Gold. Sadly he didn’t and I sensed a little deflation from friends and family. Only to be expected, we like to build up our sporting heroes and wallow when they fail, but one thing I did not expect was the number of questions asking why he lost. There was a genuine interest to learn about the sport, they wanted to understand the nuances of road racing, perhaps and perversely resulting from Team GBs failure to win.
By Tuesday I noticed what I wasn’t noticing. Around the venues there were no great sponsors hoardings in evidence. I wasn’t being told to drink Coke while attired in Adidas sports wear and having filled up at BP on my way from the McDonalds Drive-thru. Yet again I’m thankful for the BBC for the simple reason it carries no adverts (note to Sky, sorry but I won’t pay for your service while subscription includes adverts I don’t want).
On Wednesday I travelled down to Kingston with friends to watch the cycling time trial. Again the sponsor advertising was notable by its absence. The barriers were unadorned with adverts for Samsung; the riders were not preceded by a Grand Tour style caravan of Cadbury floats dispensing free chocolates to the thousands of spectators lining the route. I expect Kingston does have a McDonalds, it is after all a town, but we didn’t seek it out, opting for a local chippy instead. Ok we drank Coke, but I prefer it to Pepsi anyway. After the race we found a pub and the order for real ales and some lager went in, though I don’t think they served Heineken. All this was paid for by cash from the communal kitty.
Did we feel guilty snubbing the sponsors like this? At the time I doubt any of us gave it a second thought. We were just doing what people do, satisfying our immediate needs to enjoy the event.
Before the Games started I had feared the sponsors would swamp them, that it would be a corporate festival as much as a sporting one. Thankfully, from my visit to Kingston and from the TV, they appeared to have taken or given a back seat. True, while our athletes wore Adidas kit and the Gamesmakers were dressed by Next, the branding was not obvious to me. Not that the sponsors have suffered from this relative lack of exposure; Next, Adidas, BP, BT and BMW all saw their share prices rise over the two week period. Adidas have unquestionably gained from their replica kits, but then on the back of the cycling success, so have non-Olympic sponsors Halfords and Wiggle. Let’s hope the local bike shops have too.
While the sponsors were not much in evidence, the remarkable army of volunteer Gamesmakers was. I have spoken to some of them, some were work colleagues and friends and whatever their role, everyone loved every minute. Today I noticed a colleague proudly wearing his Gamesmaker watch rather than his usual, more expensive one. The volunteers have gained favour and praise from across the world, they have every reason to be proud. I can say that at Kingston I was part of the crowd that cheered every rider through, I had a very minor part making these Games, but I do regret not being a Gamesmaker.
The Games were two remarkable weeks for our depressed little country; who would have thought a year ago Britain could be like this? I really hope the positive attitude many of us felt during their duration becomes a lasting legacy and strengthens in our collective memory. But, then we had the closing ceremony to heave us back to an even keel. Britain has many faces, this was the ugly, shallow celebrity-obsessed one. It was embarrassing. I suppose for the athletes it was a good enough party, but I struggled to relate Kate Moss and George Michael to Mo Farah and Usain Bolt swapping iconic poses. Chris Hoy receiving his final Gold made me cry, while a hammy Russell Brand made me blanch. For two weeks Rebecca Adlington and Victoria Pendleton had been my eldest daughters newest role models. Now we had Jessie J dressed as a vajazzle (thanks to twitter for that observation, wish it was my own!). The Paralympics can’t come soon enough!