Review of 2012: How a nation fell in love with the Olympics

'That perfect cacophony that swept round the stadium'

For a few glorious weeks in an otherwise miserable year, the clouds parted, the sun shone – a bit – and a small nation fell uncontrollably in love.

Were they the greatest Games ever? Well, you'll never find a neutral arbiter to judge that one, but without doubt, no one has ever loved them more.

Tickets for the taekwondo preliminaries disappeared in nanoseconds. Thousands of people were locked out of the Iran vs Finland clash in Paralympic Goalball. The stadium, packed from 10am to near-midnight, every day. And then there was the roar. That perfect cacophony that swept round the stadium, swept round the velodrome, sped down the steep banks of the swimming pool, bounced off the water and whooshed up the other side. That roar, that in the final stretch at Eton Dorney seemed to pick up exhausted rowers and suck them over the finish line.

So many unique joys compete to define that magic summer, but that noise might – might – be it. Its like has never been heard in any other sporting theatre in the land. Yes, the sheer volume, but more so the complete absence of hostility within it, and most of all its perfect pitch, that little cadence higher than at the football, because for once there were so many women and kids going bananas, too.

We also fell in love, a little bit, with ourselves. Seven long years of Olympic doom-mongering entirely obliterated, in its place a national holiday romance in our own backyard, all of us briefly turning into that better version of ourself that we usually only become at the other end of a budget flight.

At a time when we were in pretty desperate need of it, in the midst of the national gloom that has dragged on now for so long that it seems almost impossible to imagine it ever being over, came a reminder, courtesy of Danny Boyle, and Shakespeare, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Tim Berners-Lee, The Beatles, The Sex Pistols and Dizzee Rascal, that we have long been the home not of kings and queens and stiff upper lips, but of creativity, wit, warmth and ingenuity, and that we're far too inclined to forget it.

But most of all, we fell in love with a brave new world of immaculate heroes. Sir Chris Hoy, modest and magnificent. "I shut my eyes and I lunged and drove it all the way to the line," he said, of the moment he became the country's most successful-ever Olympian. "Then I heard this massive roar, and I hoped that it was for me."

Laura Trott. A tiny ball of pure effervescence, with guts of solid steel. Nicola Adams, the softest smile and the hardest fists. Ellie Simmonds, Bradley, Jessica, Jonnie, Mo… the list goes on and on and on.

"Speaking as a spectator," Boris Johnson told them all, as they were standing together on the steps of the Victoria Memorial, the party over all too soon, "you produced such paroxysms of tears and joy on the sofas of Britain that you probably not only inspired a generation, but helped to create one as well".

Though we can't be certain yet, it is possible that one such paroxysm has deposited a little lump of Olympic legacy in the belly of the future Queen. As for the current one, whatever you think of her, or her office, as she flung herself from a helicopter in the Stratford sky, surely never has there been a better celebration of that very best British characteristic, our love of taking the mickey out of ourselves.

It is particularly poignant, given the embarrassment of riches to choose from, that when asked to name his favourite memory, Sebastian Coe has claimed that it was a chance conversation with a volunteer that he met on the Tube. "His name was Andrew, and he told me he was a doctor at St Mary's Hospital, on his way to helping out at the boxing," Coe said, in his speech at the Paralympic Closing Ceremony. "But when I tried to thank him, he wouldn't let me. He said he was the one who wanted to do the thanking. And as we did a very British dance over who should thank whom, he suddenly cut through all the politeness and said: 'I was on duty on 7/7, that awful day. For me, this is closure. I wasn't sure I should come, or whether I could face it. I'm so glad I did, for I've seen the worst of mankind, and now I've seen the best of mankind'."

Of course, we hope that London will never again see the worst, but it will be quite a while before it again sees anything quite like the best. In this case, a Londoner called Mohamed, passing the Olympic Flame, picking up the pace, sending thousands in the stadium and millions in their living rooms into unmitigated delirium, us watching him, the world watching us, a person, a city and a country in a simultaneous crescendo of joy and magnificence and perfection. Eleven billion quid? Bargain.

@bradwiggins Well what a day, blind drunk at the minute and overwhelmed with all the messages. Thank you everyone it's been emotional X

Bradley Wiggins, gold medal-winning Olympic cyclist

@usainbolt Thanks to all my real fans and people who believe in me. I am now a living legend that's for sure

Usain Bolt, fastest man on Earth

@BarackObama Congrats to Michael Phelps for breaking the all-time Olympic medal record. You've made your country proud

Barack Obama, US President

@cherylcole [to Tom Daley] I think you are amazing! Will you teach me how to swan dive?

Cheryl Cole, singer

@rustyrockets I'm going to wait for Tom Daley in the little pool he goes in after he dives and cuddle him too hard

Russell Brand, comedian

@SamuelLJackson Told y'all, ladies weightlifting drama! Lil babes picking up heavy shit

Samuel L Jackson, actor

@AidanBurleyMP Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multi-cultural crap. Bring back red arrows, Shakespeare and the Stones!

Aidan Burley, Conservative MP

@Queen_UK Knackered

Anonymous

@GaryLineker YES JESS YES!!

Gary Lineker, TV presenter

@wilpex We're at #omegahouse in Soho, London: Beautiful women welcome… X

Peter Wilson, gold medal-winning shooter

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