Magical memories of 2012 - Olympics: 'Nobody personified it more than Sir Chris Hoy, the ultimate sportsman'

27 July: Hoy leads out Team GB at the Games opening ceremony

Only a churl could object to this year-end of British backslapping, even if there are moments when it does smack somewhat of a reluctance to let go. But let it be. I do not want to let 2012 go because we will never see its sporting like again. To walk each morning of the Games through the Olympic Park, across a polished piece of what was once an east London wasteland, was to take a path to happiness. It was a good place to be, a privileged place to be and it made – however much of an illusion it might have been – Britain feel a happier place.

"For the first time in a long time it made you feel proud to be British," said Bradley Wiggins late last Sunday, clutching a bottle of beer in one hand and the BBC Sports Personality trophy in the other. And Wiggins is not one given naturally to flag-waving.

There was a time, though, when the country was unsure about the Games, wondering whether it might be best to look away as a blame game was contested over whose fault the security fiasco was. Was this going to be money ill spent? Would the trains grind to a halt? Would we win any medals? Would it rain for two weeks?

Then came Friday 27 July. Opening night. And what an opening. It was brilliant, it was bold and it set the mood, set the tone for Britain's Olympics and towards its end came the moment when I thought, yes, this is going to be great. It was the first time that David Bowie's "Heroes" rang around the stadium, it was the first real roar of passion from 80,000 spectators, it was the sight of Chris Hoy, clad in a white and gold suit that anytime, anywhere else would have looked utterly ridiculous, striding out amid a shower of golden confetti. Behind him Britain's team bounced out of the tunnel, down the home straight, where Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah were later to achieve sporting greatness, looking like they owned the place. They were not going to fail.

Nobody personified that more than Hoy, the ultimate example of a sportsman. It had been a stubborn struggle for him to make the Games. He knew, and those around him knew, that his peak was behind him. He should not have won the keirin, his record sixth Olympic gold medal. His form was patchy, the race did not go anything like the carefully laid plans. But he was always going to win it – one look at his face on opening night told you so. It was a sign of things to come. It made me believe – and, who knows, maybe it made some of those who followed in his footsteps that night believe too, and follow his path all the way to a 2012 podium.

Further reading:

Olympics: ‘Mo, Jess and Greg gave us a night no one could forget’ 4 August: That night in the Olympic Stadium - James Lawton

Football: ‘When Chelsea saw off Barcelona, the joy was in watching the spoilers have their day’ 24 April: Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea (agg 2-3); Champions League semi-final second leg - Sam Wallace

Athletics: ‘The roar for Ennis made the hair stand up on the back of my neck’ 3 August: Opening day of track and field at the Olympics - Simon Turnbull

Rugby Union: ‘It was eerie seeing England sticking it to the silver fern’ 1 December: Manu Tuilagi waltzes to the try line as England smash New Zealand- Chris Hewett

Cycling: 'Bradley Wiggins' achievement was greatest we have ever seen from a Briton' 22 July: Bradley Wiggins wins the Tour de France - Alasdair Fotheringham

Football: ‘We’ll never encounter anything quite like it again’ 13 May: Manchester City win the title in thrilling style - Ian Herbert

Football: ‘After losing the title in the cruellest way, Ferguson stood firm’ 13 May: United are denied the title in heart-breaking style Martin Hardy

Football: ‘An hour later Theo Walcott was a hero – given a standing ovation’ 26 February: Theo Walcott turns the jeers to cheers to steer Arsenal to derby victory - Glenn Moore

Golf: ‘This was it. The moment that would decide the Ryder Cup. A 10-footer for glory ... Get in!’ 30 September: Europe claim Ryder Cup in thrilling fashion - Kevin Garside

Boxing: ‘The fight was terrific from the first bell. It had urgency, nastiness' 14 July: David Haye v Dereck “Del Boy” Chisora - Steve Bunce

Tennis: ‘After Murray won he staggered in a daze, then held his head in his hands’ 11 September: Andy Murray ends Britain’s wait for a major - Paul Newman

Football: ‘That night Spain played thrilling, bold, beautiful football’  1 July: Beautiful Spain smash Italy in the Euro 2012 final - Jack Pitt-Brooke

Formula One: ‘Kimi’s Lotus win was F1’s most romantic result’  4 November: Kimi Raikkonen zooms to victory in Abu Dhabi - David Tremayne

Racing: ‘Frankel enlarged life’s comfort zone for us all’ 22 August: Juddmonte International Stakes; Frankel finally goes the full distance - Chris McGrath

Cricket: ‘A sweep for three and Cook had broken a 73-year-old landmark’  6 December: Alastair Cook breaks England century record - Ste

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