London 2012 will go down in history as the greatest Olympic Games of them all.
The athletes’ performances were superlative, the Opening and Closing Ceremonies mixed wondrous casts and visual effects with the best of British music and good old British humour, and the thousands of volunteers added a unique touch of British hospitality and friendliness, although the security at times was a bit over the top.
Even the legendary Usain Bolt had a skipping rope confiscated at one of the check points. But the greatest legacy of the Games was the fantastic support from the British public.
It was an honor to be there, but the honor belonged to the citizens of London, the fans who came out in their masses to support, mainly, Great Britain. The Union Jack was every where to be seen - on flags of all varieties, on dresses, sun glasses and other accessories, and this groundswell of public support made the Games an unforgettable experience.
Before the Games started many people asked if Britain could do better than Beijing 2008 and Lord Seb Coe the chairman of the organising committee said they could not match the Chinese financially, but they would bring their own multi-ethnic and universal spirit to the Games.
Well, they delivered - from the Opening Ceremony, with it’s offbeat British humor ranging from the Queen jumping out of a plane in her bloomers to Mr Bean as a superlative athlete and then a bumbling musical director.
The weather played along, after rain of more than a month and the athletes lit up the Games with some amazing and incredible performances.
There were some world records and the stars lit up the Games, becoming household names all over the world, with record TV viewers watching the Olympics, which are set to break the US$8 billion barrier for commercial revenues for the first time.
In the pool Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian of all time, winning four gold and two silver medals for a total haul of 22 medals, but it was the story of Chad le Clos, the young unassuming lad from Durban who stole the hearts when he beat Phelps to win gold in the 200m butterfly.
Chad’s disbelief on winning gold became one of the images of the Games and the impromptu TV interview with his father Bert provided one of its jewels, as he could not contain his emotions in praising his ‘beautiful boy.’
“Unbelievable, unbelievable, I’ve never been so happy in my life, it’s something indescribable. Tonight it’s as if I’ve died and gone to heaven and whatever happens to me in my life now will just be plain sailing,” he said.
And there were many more stars and tears, many more images and many more jewels...
The public poured out on the opening day of competition, with more than one million lining the route of the Men’s Cycling Road Race. It was unbelievable and a sight to behold as they stretched for more than 50km to the Surrey countryside up to Boxhill and back.
I was in a photographers van racing through this sea of humanity to get photos on Boxhill and it was amazing. The crowd’s energy, enthusiasm and patriotism lit up the race and gave the Games the perfect start, while Alexandr Vinokurov of Khazakhstan provided the first upset, to win gold ahead of the heavily favoured Brit, Mark Cavendish.
In the first week, at the Aquatics Centre, Michael Phelps and Chad le Clos made their mark on history, but there were other stars too. The 16-year-old Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen won two gold medals in the pool, smashing the Women’s 400m Individual Medley world record, but raising suspicions of doping which turned into a diplomatic spat between China and the United States.
The two sporting heavyweights turned the medal standings into a two-horse race, with the lead changing throughout the competition, until the USA pipped China at the end with 46 gold and 104 medals in total to China’s 38 gold and 87 in total. Great Britain, on a tide of patriotic pride, came third overall with 29 gold and 65 medals in total - its biggest haul since 1908.
Cameron van den Burgh won South Africa’s first gold with a new world record in the 100m breaststroke while a 15-year-old Lithuanian swimmer, Ruta Meilutyte, living and training in England was celebrated as a local hero in the British papers when she won gold in the Women’s 100m Breaststroke.
When the athletics started in the second week it did not disappoint as Usain Bolt became a living legend and David Rudisa powered to an 800m world record in one of the stand out performances of the Games.
Bolt handled the public’s expectation with confidence and aplomb. There were no world records, but he came close, as he won three more gold medals to become the first sprinter to win consecutive 100m, 200m and 4x100m gold medals at the Olympics.
The tremendous public support continued throughout, with the Olympic Stadium packed from the start, with a capacity 80 000 people turning out daily. It was like a drug - when the days got fewer, there were long queues for tickets as people tried to get a last experience of the amazing Summer Olympics.
Super Saturday on August 4 set the tone as Great Britain won three gold medals through the iconic Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and the Somalian-born Mo Farah. A week later, Farah added the 5 000m gold medal in front of 80 000 delirious fans.
Ennis, who won the Women’s Heptathlon, was the darling of the British media, and is set to earn 10 million Pounds (N$130 million) from endorsements until the 2016 Olympics. Farah, too, was a national hero, with his ‘Mobot’ victory gesture, becoming another memorable image of the Games.
Usain Bolt lived up to expectations as he won the 100m in 9,63, just outside his world record of 9,58, and the 200m in 19,32, once again within touching distance of his 19,19 world record. He then anchored the Jamaican 4x100m relay team to win a third gold in a new world record time of 36,84.
In his own words he became a legend, and judging by the public’s reaction, he was THE superstar of the Games.
But on August 9, even Bolt was outshone and it took a singular performance of grace and power by Kenya’s David Rudisha to do that, as he broke the world record in the 800m. He glided through the first lap under 50 seconds and then powered home in a supreme and brilliant performance.
There was the South African para-athlete Oscar Pistorius who changed perceptions and rules as he became the first para-athlete in history to compete amongst able-bodied athletes. He was a jewel, and so too was Kirani James who exchanged name tags with Pistorius after winning their 400m semifinal and praised him for his courage.
There were other touching moments, like Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic crying on the podium after winning the Men’s 400m hurdles with a photo of his deceased grandmother tucked in his vest.
As he said afterwards, ‘when the rain came down during the victory ceremony, I thought it was her tears from heaven.’
There was also defeat and tragedy, but they invariably transcended individual despair to become part of a universal triumph which underlined the Olympic spirit.
It was often asked whether London 2012 could surpass the Beijing 2008 Olympics, which set the standard in terms of efficiency and capital expenditure.
But London, through its people and volunteers, provided the spirit and the heartbeat of the Olympic dream, and ironically, it took a Chinese athlete to underline that.
Hurdler Liu Xiang who won gold in Athens 2004, fell out with a hamstring injury in Beijing 2008, and had one last chance for gold in London. But he crashed out in his first round heat when he collapsed over his first hurdle.
But he turned his personal tragedy into a universal triumph when he hopped on one foot to the final hurdle, bent down gently and kissed it, before his fellow competitors helped him off the track into a wheelchair.
It was a golden summer, in between the English rain, when humanity triumphed and fleetingly demonstrated a world of magic, records and jewels.
Long live, London 2012, long live!