The Games of my life

Which have been the best Olympics in recent times? Alan Hubbard recalls his most cherished moments in his 44 years of covering the event and hands out the medals

GOLD: Sydney

Of the 10 Olympics Games I have covered, Sydney in 2000 was simply the best, in every respect. The organisation, the ambience, the weather, the facilities, and above all the friendliness of the Aussies themselves. Every Olympic visitor was greeted with a cheery "G'day" and made to feel welcome by volunteers who were genuinely proud to be hosting a family show. Of course it helped that everyone spoke English but for sheer getting-it-togetherness Sydney surpassed any previous Games. It is one of the world's great sporting citadels and unlike in many other cities where the Games have been staged in half-empty stadia, their fans had a true appreciation of what they were watching, and if they did not always know the nuances of taekwondo, Greco-Roman wrestling or artistic gymnastics, what the heck, they cheered anyway. And the beach volleyball on Bondi was a sight to behold.

The Millennium Games were also a turning point in Olympic history, for none better represented the emancipation of women's sport and an ethnic race than the iconic performance of Aborigine Cathy Freeman in winning the 400 metres. It was a symbolic victory before a crowd of 102,254, the largest ever at a Games, marking her country's 100th gold medal. Britain went gold-prospecting, too, from the moment cyclist Jason Queally won on the opening day to modern pentathlete Steph Cook and super-heavyweight boxer Audley Harrison on the last, via the oar-some Steve Redgrave's epic fifth gold medal in successive Games. Eleven golds in all, Britain's best for more than half a century. Beijing, where government money seems no object, may put on a flashier, more expansive extravaganza but they will have to go some to beat Sydney's style.

SILVER: Barcelona & Athens

Virtually a dead heat between Barcelona (1992) and Athens four years ago. Barcelona was memorable because it marked the return of an apartheid-free South Africa and a united Germany. For atmosphere and friendliness it ran Sydney pretty close – well managed, with a true translation of the Olympic ethos and another golden Games for Britain. Chris Boardman reinvented the bicycle wheel and Linford Christie, who four years earlier in Seoul had been lucky to escape a ban after overdosing on ginseng tea, won the 100 metres at 32 while 400m hurdler Sally Gunnell memorably reminded us that "Essex girls do come first."

The return of the Olympics to Athens in 2004 was equally special. There was a warmth that you only get from familiarity and the Greeks offered a traditional hospitality, taking the flame from Sydney with great panache, despite the construction and financial hiccups along the way. The last lick of paint had barely dried on the refurbished Olympic Stadium before the Games began but in the end they were superbly orchestrated by Gianna Angelopoulos, a diva millionaire of striking beauty and political astuteness, who is now the country's foreign minister. She had fought hard to win the Games for Athens, leaving Rome's scheming Primo Nebiolo licking his wounds, and had to be brought back to run them by the Greek government when it was clear that progress was so far behind schedule that the International Olympic Committee was starting to panic. But once the starter's gun sounded, everything ran smoothly, as did Britain's Kelly Holmes, left, who, at 34, first won the 800m and then sealed an historic double success in the 1500m. We watched her run with a calm tactical awareness and finish on both occasions in devastating fashion. We also saw a new sporting force start to emerge, China giving us a taste of what is likely to come in Beijing when Xian Liu, a 21-year-old from Shanghai became the first Chinese man to win a track gold. Athens was hot and hectic, but you departed feeling that the Olympic Games had come home, if only briefly, and many of us thought that this was where they deserved to stay.

BRONZE: Tokyo

They say you always remember your first. Mine were Tokyo in 1964, and they remain etched in the consciousness as the last "pure" Olympics, untainted by drugs, terrorism, boycotts, body-searches or brown envelopes. No one played politics and perhaps for the last time competitors seemed to reflect the Olympic ideal that it is not so much the winning, but the taking part. Baron Pierre de Coubertin was surely smiling down benevolently.

I still sometimes hum the jingle that woke us every day: "Good morning, Tokyo, happy to be greeting you." These really were a happy Olympics, especially for Britain, who collected 20 medals with long-jump golds for Lynn "The Leap" Davies and the original Golden Girl, Mary Rand. Plus outsider Ann Packer's shock triumph in the 800 metres and the poignant moment when the wife of the walker Ken Matthews dashed on to the track to embrace him as he crossed the line.

In Tokyo there was no hype or hassle. I was wandering through the Olympic Village – it was possible to do so then – when hurtling around the corner on a bike came a large American with the biggest thighs I had ever seen. He swerved to avoid me and fell off. Thus I became the first man to put Joe Frazier on the floor. Fortunately he was not hurt or looking for a fight. "Sorry man," he grinned as he picked himself up and rode off to become Olympic heavyweight champion and subsequently the world heavyweight champion. What fun – and Games – they were.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
i100
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

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed