With four months to go before the opening of the 2012 Games, Britain has already shown it has no equal at one of the traditional Olympic events – looking on the gloomy side of the impending global extravaganza. Businesses, entire commercial sectors, interest groups and special pleaders in the capital and far beyond are issuing warnings that, in ways no one could ever have anticipated, the London spectacular will be an unmitigated disaster.
The dire predictions range from drought, strikes, aerial attack, audiences deserting theatreland and blood supplies being delayed by traffic gridlock to violent protests marring the torch relay, East End pubs being prevented from holding parties, extra parking restrictions, private aircraft being grounded and a possible shortage of anthrax vaccine.
The authors of these gripes show that, as ever when it comes to excelling at Olympic events, years of preparation have paid off. Press releases have been honed, sombre-faced spokesmen rehearsed, and the result is that we have, according to several observers, already sewn up the whingers relay, swept the board at the pessimists' pentathlon and are sitting morosely on top of the moaners' medal table.
There is even a lively market in betting on some of the worst possible outcomes at the Games. You can get 66-1 on the Olympic flame failing to arrive at the opening ceremony, 25-1 on a power cut bringing the ceremony to a grinding halt, 4-1 on the BBC having to apologise for a commentator using inappropriate language, 2-1 on an athlete missing an event because of transport problems, and 7-2 on the Olympic village running out of condoms.
Indeed, so striking has been the downcast reaction in many quarters that the American Associated Press yesterday even sent out a story on the international wires headlined "Britain awash in gloom as London Olympics approach". The article says: "Britons have a reputation as natural-born grumblers who love nothing more than to complain, and the Olympics have proved to be a perfect outlet for naysayers and killjoys." It goes on to quote Ellis Cashmore, a professor of culture, media and sport at Staffordshire University, putting it all down to our national character. "This is very typical of the British mentality. There is a quite healthy recognition of our own limitations. There is a tradition in Britain to think, 'Well, we really don't do things that well, you know. If anyone can screw it up, the British can.'"
All recent Olympics have had their build-ups blighted by the doom-mongers, and, no doubt ahead of the first modern Games in 1896, Athens newspapers carried stories about how visitor numbers at the Parthenon would be down, and the city's raisin-sellers put out of business. Neither occurred.
However, when it comes to self-deprecation, we Brits have few equals. Time for a change of mood, now folks. Cheer up, Britain! It might never happen.
Why we love Jessica
Today, The Independent on Sunday salutes Jessica Ennis, the golden girl of British athletics. No, not for her sporting prowess, though that is unquestioned: she notched up another personal best in the pentathlon at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul. But for her grace when she thought for a moment that she had won, thanks to a screen telling her so after the final event, the 800m.
It quickly recalibrated, and decided that Olympic champion Nataliya Dobrynska had won instead. Britain's favourite was left celebrating, then grimacing, then flashing a self-deprecating smile, a lesson in how to lose with grace, and a role model to young competitors everywhere.
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