The London Olympics isn’t just about Team GB’s medal haul. It’s also our capital’s chance to preen in the international media spotlight, but were we ready for our close up?
“The best restaurant in the world is in London!” claims a Paris Match headline, but don’t get too excited. Not only do we detect a veiled insult in their exclamation mark, but as the article notes, the restaurant in question is only open for the duration of the Olympics and, in any case, it’s a pop up version of Copenhagen’s Noma.
That giant McDonald’s was never going to rehabilitate Britain’s culinary reputation, but the Olympic Park has helped shrug off some other enduring stereotypes. French paper Liberation comments on the festival atmosphere in our usually dour nation, “London has transformed into an enormous village fair. You can’t get on a bus or train without running into people dressed in flags.”
Although the New York Times ran a pre-Olympic article on how Londoners enjoyed whinging about the coming Games, it seems Britain's newfound positivity about the Olympics is something American publications are keen to celebrate. USA Today declared London to be "the happiest place on Earth", adding "This normally dour city, a place of weepy grey skies and chilly demeanour, has been transformed into an enclave of smiling Olympic volunteers, efficient transit systems and joyful crowds... And the favourite pre-Games activity of griping about the Olympics has been replaced by basking in the Olympics."
The positive spirit was also mentioned in the Washington Post, where sports columnist Sally Jenkins said: ‘I'm changing my citizenship. I like to be on the winning side, and the winning side in this Olympics is British.’
For US correspondents the aforementioned volunteers offer a sight to rivals even Boyle’s opening ceremony for jaw-dropping spectacle, “In an extremely un-British move…all of them expressed, with no irony at all, their hope that I have a good day,” marvels Sarah Lyall at The New York Times.
The paper also features a handy warning about the Tube system, “When you are taller than six feet, you have to be very careful with those slanted doors,” but that’s one of the few criticisms of what the LA Times calls “London's aging transit network”.
Doug Saunders at Canada’s Globe and Mail is a big TFL fan who thinks we should get over our collective low self-esteem (not searching for affirmation in Canadian newspapers might be a start). “Public transport, after a disastrous postwar nationalization followed by a catastrophic 1980s privatization, is finally working well…As one of their prime ministers once said during a much more painful era, they’ve never had it so good.”
Wayne Scanlan from the Vancouver Sun is also concerned we’re not enjoying ourselves enough. “Another Canadian reporter asked a soldier at a security check, ‘Are you having fun, yet?’
‘So I’m told, sir,’ he said. ‘So I’m told.’
Meanwhile, much of the Chinese press coverage of the Olympics is dominated by one man. No, not Usain Bolt. Not Michael Phelps either. In Beijing, it's Boris Johnson that's stealing the show. Blogger MissApril wrote "The London mayor is like Mr Bean, getting up to all kinds of stupidity, foolishness, loveliness and silliness while looking like a typical British gentleman." In something of a dig at the 2008 Beijing Games, MissApril added that Boris' "funny and real" approach was better than "perfection at the cost of huge expense".
As host city for the 2016 Olympics, Rio has more immediate concerns: “The near-perfect organisation has made a big impression, suddenly leaving Rio with an even greater weight of responsibility,” says the slightly panicked Extra. London2012's architectural choices have left other Brazilian commentators mystified: “Within this large potato curve, what happens?” asks Globo’s Gustavo Poly. We think he’s talking about 'the Pringle' or velodrome.
An article on the news website Terra takes issue with The Independent for pointing out Brazil's surprising lack of Olympic success – thanks to Brazilian reader, Riccardo Souza for bringing it to our attention.
The Australian press are not quite so impressed by Team GB's medal haul however. The Sydney Morning Herald's 'Oz vs Them-o-meter' graphic is serving as a daily reminder of Australia's dismal Olympics, leading one columnist to state "This is quickly turning into one of the great 'good idea at the time' columns… Clearly, the Brits are having a half-decent Games. Gold is falling from the sky and around British necks at an alarming rate."
Slightly less gracious is Paul Kent at Sydney's Daily Telegraph who suggested Team GB's rowng and cycling success is all down to Australia. In a article that begins "What's worse? Getting smashed up by the rest of the world at the Olympics or knowing that Australian coaches are helping them do it?" Ken says "Australian paw prints were all over the rejuvenation of British rowing", adding "Aussies Shane Sutton and Tim Kerrison have been crucial to the British cycling team".
Leading German commentator, Thomas Kielinger thinks the British press has shown impressive restraint, with blessed few deckchair gags and nobody once mentioning the War: “When a case such as the neo-Nazi related German rower can pass almost without comment in the English press, it demonstrates a country that finds itself unconcerned with old favourite topics,” he writes in Die Welt.
Meanwhile Kielinger’s countrymen over at Der Spiegel are engaging in some furious back-pedaling. On 17 July they published an editorial predicting London 2012 would be “one big, soggy mess” and “an arduous obstacle course for everyone”. On 1 August in an article titled 'The Good Mood Games', they admitted their mistake, “None of the nightmare scenarios debated for weeks has occurred so far…the result is a peculiar holiday mood.”