My 12th Olympics – and I can't wait for Britain's gold rush
When the Olympic flame finally lights up London around midnight on Friday, it will ignite an unprecedented fever that should envelop the nation. The 30th Olympiad will be propelled to the forefront of our consciousness, a wondrous festival of sport and culture like no other on earth.
The last time the five-ringed circus was here, in the post-war austerity of 1948, it was by necessity a low-key production. This time it truly will be the greatest sporting show we have ever seen, presenting the case that London is the sports, cultural and entertainment capital of the globe.
These will be my 12th Olympic Games, and ones I have anticipated like no other, having followed the seven-year odyssey since the International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge opened the white envelope containing the one word "London".
The progress of the torch relay through 1,000 cities, towns and villages has been a barometer of the goodwill for the Games and the delight at them coming here. For this is not just a Cockney knees-up, but a glorious countrywide cavalcade of excellence.
The first gold medal has already been won, with London officially declared as the best-prepared Games ever. All it needs now is for everything to work – and hopefully it will, from transport to ticketing, ceremonials to crowd control.
There may be the occasional dampener from the heavens above but, as Boris Johnson says, a spot of rain never hurt anyone. The only downpour that matters will be a shower of praise when London pulls it off – as Lord Coe has promised – on time and under budget.
For thousands of young people, this will be a life-changing experience as the Games have pledged to leave a legacy of sporting opportunity inspired by the golden icons of 2012. Yes, there are still legacy issues to be resolved, not least the future of the Olympic Stadium, but for the next three weeks these can go on the back burner as the running, jumping, splashing, shooting, pedalling and punching take centre stage.
Of late, some have said the wheels are coming off the Coe bandwagon – and they do seem to have been wobbling a bit under the security shambles. But as someone who has known Seb since his days as an impecunious 17-year-old student, I can vouch that there is no one more capable of grabbing glorious victories over the last lap.
Coe was the perfect candidate to rescue the show when the original bid seemed to be going belly-up, and he has masterminded the Games plan with professionalism and panache.
More than £300m has been invested in Olympic athletes, and the Paralympians whose own Games follow on 29 August, over the past four years. No nation has been better funded or prepared. Britain's 542 competitors will go forth equipped for glory, but whether they will finish fourth – their targeted place in the medals table, or even higher – will be answered when the Games close on Sunday 12 August. The target is 48 medals, one more than Beijing. China is again expected to win most, more than the United States, but there is now a genuine belief that Team GB could challenge Russia and Germany for third place.
London may have to go some to beat the ambience of Athens, the clockwork efficiency of Beijing and the all-round splendour of Sydney, but I believe the city has the capacity and the will to do it.
Of course the flame has brought some baggage. Security will be unprecedented and may seem oppressive because of the need to protect 17,000 athletes and more than one million spectators. London will see the biggest mobilisation of militia, police and security forces since 1945. All necessary in the wake of the terrorist bombing that followed the day when London secured the Games seven years ago.
At times, the place will seem like a war zone, but the Olympics have always been torn between political chicanery and sporting endeavour, and inevitably encased in a ring of steel since that horrendous Tuesday in 1972, the day of the Munich Massacre.
So will it all be worth it? Absolutely. Once Britain's gold rush begins, all the aggro over Olympic Lanes and road closures will be forgotten. When the flame finally dies and Boris hands the Olympic flag to the mayor of Rio for 2016, President Rogge surely will proclaim London 2012 the Greatest Games Ever, and amid the cheers, the plaudits will be piled as high as the Shard.
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