Farewell to Games that exceeded all our hopes
Two sporting extravaganzas, a record-breaking medal haul for Britain, disabled sport showcased as never before … no wonder even the Aussies say it was better than Sydney
Emily Dugan is social affairs correspondent for The Independent, i and Independent on Sunday, covering Sarah Cassidy’s maternity leave. She was previously a news reporter for The Independent on Sunday. Her investigations into human trafficking have twice been awarded Best Investigative Article at the Anti-Slavery Day Media Awards and her human rights journalism was shortlisted for the Gaby Rado Memorial prize at the 2012 Amnesty Media Awards.
Sunday 09 September 2012
Records have been smashed, expectations exceeded. Nations have roared and wept. London 2012 has been, by any standards, a Games-changer. After 27 days of world-class sport from 15,114 athletes, watched by billions across the planet, even Australians have admitted London 2012 trumped the triumph of Sydney, widely considered – until now – to be the greatest modern Olympics.
The naysayers queuing up to gripe beforehand were legion, but their grumbles have been silenced. They said the Games would bring London grinding to a halt, yet the city flowed with hardly a hiccup. They said security would be a nightmare; instead, smiling soldiers greeted crowds who stayed safe. They questioned how many people would want to watch the Paralympics, yet a record 6.7 million tuned in to see 19-year-old Jonnie Peacock striding to victory in the 100 metres. They said the British weather would put a dampener on proceedings; even that prediction was confounded as the last events end today in sunshine.
In the end, it was Oscar Pistorius, the face of the Paralympic movement, who got to have the last word in the Olympic Stadium. The South African took gold in the men's 400m T44 race, to roars from the crowd in the final athletics event of the Games.
After losing his 200m title to Brazil's Alan Oliveira earlier in the week and blaming the blades, this time there was no need for controversy. The fastest man on no legs proved he still was, running the race in 46.68 seconds and setting a new Paralympic record.
The last night in the Aquatics Centre saw a final showdown between Britain's golden teenager, Ellie Simmonds, and her rival, America's Victoria Arlen in the S6 100m. Arlen had to smash her own world record to beat 17-year-old Simmonds, who topped off her two golds and a bronze from London 2012 with a silver.
Simmonds had to push hard in the final length to keep the silver-medal position and her smile on the podium suggested she was happy to add it to her collection. She said: "I have completed the collection nearly. I've got two golds, a silver and a bronze and I've broken four world records."
Before the race, the swimmer from Swansea said the past few days had been so emotional that she had struggled to sleep, adding: "I've had the best time of my life so far, so I am just enjoying it all now."
Even yesterday, with the end in sight, David Stone did the impossible, powering his tricycle to gold in the T1-2 road race. Afterwards, the 33-year-old, who has cerebral palsy, summed up the feelings of athletes competing on a home stage: "That was so much better than winning in Beijing. I just wanted to win today."
Britain's Paralympic team goes into its final day of competition today sitting in third place in the medal table, having smashed its Beijing tally of 102 medals with 118 gongs, including 33 golds. Though Russia crept into second place yesterday evening, Britain were poised to take it back today with two gold medal hopes in the marathon. As the ParalympicsGB secretary, Tim Hollingsworth, put it yesterday: "We are very much where we would want to be."
Though it is nearly impossible to choose individual highlights from a seemingly endless stream of golden moments, two nights in the Olympic Stadium will remain for ever on Britain's sporting consciousness. The first was Super Saturday, when Mo Farah was roared to victory in the 10,000m at the end of a night that saw heptathlete and Games poster-girl Jessica Ennis and long jumper Greg Rutherford grab gold.
Nearly five weeks later, the crowd were once again roaring the home favourite to gold. On Thrilling Thursday, 100m sprinter Jonnie Peacock crossed the line first. Just minutes before, David Weir had raced his wheelchair to glory in the T54 800m, for his third gold of the Games.
Other moments include cyclist Sarah Storey taking her fourth gold medal in the road race; a tearful Chris Hoy showing once again that he was king of the Velodrome; and Brazil's Alan Oliveira showing that Oscar Pistorius could no longer assume he had a right to victory.
In the end, both the Olympians and Paralympians brought in a medal haul that few Britons had dared to hope for: with more than 60 golds between them.
"What an amazing 10 days we've had," Sebastian Coe said yesterday in an emotional press conference. "We've seen champions made. We've seen more records broken than ever before. We've had just an extraordinary level of engagement."
He could have been speaking about either Games – which have seen record upon record smashed and the rules on what humans are capable of torn to shreds. Asked how he was going to feel when it was over, Lord Coe said: "I guess a large chunk of what I'm going to feel is that I'm proud to have been part of it."
ParalympicsGB will now try to use the success of the Games to expand disability sport in Britain. A festival of Paralympic sport will take place around the country in December to encourage future athletes – and keen amateurs – to take sport seriously.
Mr Hollingsworth said yesterday, "We've got an incredible momentum coming out of London. The challenge now is to learn from all the positives and build on the momentum in this country."
With children back at school and Parliament in full swing, the end of London's most glorious summer of sport is in danger of leaving us all a little flat. It is back to business as usual. As Lord Coe quipped, "I'm really excited about the Home Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday."
But it isn't over quite yet. David Weir, whose golden treble and hard-man persona have already earned him the nickname the "Weirwolf", will try for his fourth gold today in the men's T54 marathon.
Tomorrow afternoon, the nation will acknowledge the London 2012 triumphs: central London will be taken over by 21 floats bearing some 800 Olympic and Paralympic athletes, through Trafalgar Square and down the Mall. As Bradley Wiggins tweeted from his celebrations after winning Olympic gold: "Thank you, everyone. It's been emotional."
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