Leading article: An unforgettable fortnight

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The Independent Online

At yesterday's Olympic closing ceremony, the International Olympic Committee president, Jacques Rogge, neglected to bestow the now traditional accolade on the Beijing games as being "the best ever". But that is an omission that seems unlikely to worry the Chinese hosts. The Communist Party leadership has got just about everything it wanted out of these games. Most important, China did not "lose face". The organisation was smooth. The attention to detail was impressive. Beijing's pollution was not, in the end, a significant issue. And, aside from a minor controversy about "faking" in the opening ceremony, the games were not disfigured by any real scandal.

Just as significantly, from the perspective of the organisers, there were no political boycotts. The world's most powerful national leaders all dutifully turned up to either the opening or the closing ceremony. China will thus feel that it has achieved its goal of cementing a leading position for itself on the world stage.

So much for the geopolitical power games. Thankfully, all that was mostly overshadowed by the sporting action over the past fortnight. The achievement of the American swimmer, Michael Phelps, in winning eight gold medals in the Water Cube is unlikely to be forgotten. Nor will the feat of the Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, who broke three sprint world records in the Birds' Nest Stadium. But the action was extraordinary across the board – and from start to finish. Even the final athletics event, the men's marathon, was an enthralling spectacle, defying predictions that the heat would lead to a dull race.

These games also delivered more than anyone could have hoped for from a British sporting perspective. The gold rush from our swimmers, cyclists, rowers and sailors made this the United Kingdom's best ever modern Olympic performance. The brilliance of our young athletes has been nothing short of a national inspiration.

And, of course, the end of the Beijing games marks the official beginning of London's Olympic adventure. If there is one message that organisers of London 2012 should take from Beijing, it is that trying to match the scale of the Chinese capital's games would be folly. As has been pointed out on numerous occasions over the past two weeks, the £9.2bn budget for the London games does not come close to what was spent on Beijing. London's ambitions must, by necessity, be more modest.

Yet this need not mean we are destined to showcase an inferior games. We should remember that, for all the extravagance of the opening and closing ceremonies, for all the impressiveness of the facilities, what really made Beijing special was the sport. As long as London facilitates a similar exhibition of sporting excellence in four years' time, we will not go far wrong.