James Lawton: True Olympic legacy burns bright despite bid’s betrayal of our youth

If the bid was dubious, the consequences were glorious

The real Olympic legacy, not the one that so fraudulently underpinned the London bid that beat the infinitely more deserving one of Paris, was heard in the footsteps and felt in the hearts of those who filled the sold-out stadium this evening.

It was the legacy of performance, marvellous performance, and the moving of the spirit of all those who were there to see it and know, in a moment, they had an experience that would last for ever.

That was the gift of such as Bolt and Farah and Ennis-Hill – and it is one which is provided every four years by the Olympics.

This is the most compelling reason for anger at the plundering of a great institution, from within and without. It is also why the palpable collapse of those promises by the politicians and Lord Coe that, on top of the excitement of last summer, there would be lasting benefits for some of the most neglected youth in what we used to so cheerfully describe as the first world is another cause to feel some of the old angst.

Britain’s bid was fraudulent because it was couched as a gift for the youth of the country. The claim ignored the fact that Paris was the capital of a nation with a vastly superior sports infrastructure, one in which the young people had long been invited to enjoy Olympic-standard facilities.

But then if the campaign was founded so dubiously, who can say that the consequences were not glorious? The London Olympics took wing at the stunning opening ceremony, after which a French commentator shook his head and said, “My God, it was magnificent.”

It was indeed and remained so for two unflagging weeks and, last night in the Olympic Stadium, the instinct was not to disinter old arguments but to celebrate the enduring capacity of sport, however flawed and filled with doubt at times, to lift up the people, remind them more of what they share than what keeps them apart.

That was the dazzling achievement of 2012, and last night as you played back so many of the old Games, and even while allowing that London indeed had a powerful case to be seen as, if not the best, certainly a powerful contender, you were reminded more strongly than ever of the astounding durability of Olympic sport. Torn by huge levels of corruption, ravaged by terrorist attack, boycotted to the point of meaninglessness, usurped by Hitler, colonised at vast state expense by China, reduced almost to a cheap-jack bazaar in Atlanta in 1996, riddled with drugs – this evening a memorial was staged on its behalf, and the embrace could hardly have been more affectionate.

Such evidence of a genius for survival is  re-enforced by a thousand memories.

Back in Montreal in 1976 some thought the Olympics had touched the bottom. The shadow of Munich four years earlier stretched everywhere. Security was oppressive, army snipers were stationed in the roof of a stadium which would be a burden on city taxpayers for decades, after allegedly providing huge profits for the Mafia, and the opening ceremony was decimated by the sudden boycott of African nations. At the stadium the music of Wagner filled the rafters. At the airport many young Africans wept.

Yet when you look back, the abiding images of Montreal are not of pain and disillusionment. They are of two of the greatest athletes the world had ever seen, Alberto Juantorena of Cuba and Irena Szewinska of Poland, striding to world record victories in the 800 and 400m. Szewinska was winning her fifth Olympic medal. Juantorena, who also won gold in the 400m, was considered an outsider for the longer distance but his stride was quite awesome – something, indeed, to be bracketed with that of last night’s supreme celebrity, Usain Bolt.

The true legacy of the Olympics will never, of course, have anything to do with the projections and the manipulations of political exploitation. If one day they change the way of government thinking, if they take it beyond the populist tricks of high-profile phone calls and premature knighthoods and photo opportunities, it will be another achievement to recognise and salute.

Meanwhile, we can only celebrate the meaning of last night’s pilgrimage to the Olympic Park, the revived ride on the rocket train to a place of such heightened expectation and extraordinary deeds.

We can sift through our memories and count all the times the Olympics have come scarred but not broken through the worst of their afflictions. We can remember the young Sebastian Coe, described as the Byron of the track by the American columnist Jim Murray, winning his second 1500m gold on a smog-smudged night in Los Angeles, and Steve Redgrave in all those Olympics and most especially on the early morning water outside Sydney, and we can understand that much more readily why tonight's tickets were snaffled up in an hour.

Now the memories were fresher and – if you could separate for a little while the great Usain’s need to assert his innocence beneath the latest drug clouds over his sport – perhaps less complicated. They were of deeds – and a special feeling – just a year old but, for anyone who held them, surely guaranteed for a lifetime.

You cannot bank such a legacy and maybe you will never see it in a neighbourhood sports field or swimming pool. But then in the real world it is no less valuable for that.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP SD OTC Consultant | 12Months

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP SD OTC Consultant | 12 Months | 500/...

Business Systems Analyst - London - £40,000 plus benefits

£35000 - £40000 per annum + substantial benefits: Ashdown Group: Business Syst...

Campaign Manager

£40000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Campaign Man...

JQuery Developer (JQuery, C#, front-end, JQuery, UI, Tomcat)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A Global Financial Service Organ...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil