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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific