Leading article: The measure of a successful Games

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The Independent Online

With a year to go tomorrow to the 2012 Olympics, the London Games enters the home straight of preparation, and glimpses the glory that a successful event would bring.

How, though, do we define success? Clearly a Games in which no breaches of security occur is a prerequisite. A Games that both captures and feeds off the vibrancy of London is surely not too much to hope for. Every Games produces stirring deeds, and there's reason to believe that London – with its dazzling stadiums all but complete – can provide a backdrop to render them even more special.

But are we also to judge the Games by the number of medals that the Great Britain team wins? UK Sport, which funds the British Olympic Association, has been talking targets for a number of years. Fourth place in the medals table – matching the achievement of Beijing in 2008 – is, we are told, the expected return on its investment.

"Accountability" in sporting performance is a troubling concept. It smacks of the political showcasing that underpinned eastern Europe's drive for athletic domination in the 1970s. When Sebastian Coe – now Lord Coe, the London Olympics chief – and Steve Ovett were triumphing on the athletics track in the 1980s, nobody treated them like workers who "had" to deliver. The same should be true of their successors.

When we think of successful recent Olympic Games – Barcelona in 1992, say, or Sydney in 2000 – it is not because of the number of medals won by the host nation's athletes but because of the face those cities projected to the world. That is where London's emphasis must lie. Ultimately, it is the 2012 Games' legacy that will determine whether it can be deemed a success – the regeneration of an area of east London and the quality of the new infrastructure.