We came so fragile and, let's be honest, fearful into the 30th Olympic Games that ended here last night with all the poignancy of the sweetest parting.
Already it seems like an impossible stretch of memory but it is true and it is why the closing rites were filled with so much pride and emotion and, maybe above all, a feeling not so much of a job well done but a spirit regained, a sense of ourselves and the world around us that might just defy, for a little while at least, the bleakest forecasts. These were the Games you couldn't fail to love. The Games that took on astonishing life.
They were the Olympics of Usain Bolt, a fabulously exuberant expression of superb natural gifts. Of Mo Farah, who re-set the heartbeat of the nation and Jessica Ennis whose arrival in this stadium first suggested that something extraordinary, unforgettable, was in the air.
They were the Olympics which hour by hour, day by day, set a standard of performance that was maybe most perfectly achieved by the Masai tribesman David Rushida who broke the 800 metres world record so beautifully. They were also, most significantly, the Olympics attended by people who cared, passionately, about the meaning of what they were seeing. They clamoured and scavenged for tickets, were enraged by the sight of empty seats in the first few days; they cheered and they cried and they found in their unbridled enthusiasm for previously obscure disciplines like handball and taekwondo.
As they did so they gave fresh substance to the flattering remark of International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge that the Games had come to a place which in so many ways was the founder and organiser of modern sport. At the time it seemed not much more than a nicety to make his hosts feel a little better about the way they viewed themselves. Soon, though, there were so many reminders that he had merely uttered historic fact which so many times these last two weeks unfolded again like some giant sunflower.
It reached out into every corner of the Olympics. It touched the swimming pool where the American Michael Phelps became the most successful Olympian of all time. It was there at the rowing lake of Eton College, where Heather Stanning, a captain of the Royal Artillery soon bound for duty in Afghanistan, and Helen Glover delivered Britain's first gold with the effect of kicking that first stone which starts the avalanche.
So why were they such 'great' Games? Because they were filled not only with great athletic deeds, but also because of their humanity. They were loved, in the manner of those of Barcelona and Sydney from the starting gun. The people embraced London 2012 with a spontaneity that swelled like a great tide. And so did so many visitors. London was a player, too, and surely won a gold medal of its own.Reuse content