The curtain has come down on the closing ceremony for London 2012 and after nearly a decade of preparation for what was hoped to be the greatest sporting spectacle on earth, the games ended with the biggest audio and visual spectacle on earth. Amidst the fireworks and retro music, the jury has returned its verdict on the games. The overriding opinion is that it’s been a huge success, many saying that it eclipsed Sydney 2000, supposedly the best games ever, and has been a spectacular showcase for Britain in the Queen’s Jubilee year. As you might expect though, it’s not been without its ups and downs; from the use of the wrong Korean flag to questionable judging decisions, occasional drugs cheats and petulant athletes.
There have been personal triumphs, massive egos and the quiet thrill of success from newcomers to the Olympics. Now the final medal table is complete, some countries can give themselves a hearty pat on the back, whilst others may be disappointed that they didn’t get more medals and some walk away, tail between their legs with a degree of shame at their poor showing including perennial favourites Russia and Australia whilst some countries such as Cyprus and Grenada have earned their first Olympic medals.
As expected, the USA, with its massive sports funding programme, came first with 46 gold medals and 104 medals in total with China second, claiming 38 golds gained through their comprehensive sports training programmes. The surprise of the games was the performance of Team GB who came third with 29 gold medals and 65 overall, a long way from the single medal claimed half a century ago and a massive improvement on Beijing where they achieved 19 gold medals and 47 overall. Thought to maybe have come as low as sixth, individual as well as team performances have raised the bar so high that David Cameron has promised to keep the £125m of funding for Olympic athletics in place until at least the 2016 Rio games.
Team GB, like many British sports team of the past are always one to promise much, only to fail to deliver through last minute nerves at the possibility of being the best in the world, but this year, whilst many of the individual members of the team have suffered disappointment, the overall medal tally far exceeded expectations with many unexpected medal winners achieving success through sheer determination, effort and natural ability.
So what were the highlights, the lowlights and the lowlifes of these games and how do they compare to the games of years gone by?
The games began with disappointment for the British team with tactics ruling one of our most recent sporting heroes, Mark Cavendish, out of the gold medal position in the first of the cycling events. Whilst their ploy was by no means illegal, it was felt by Team GB to be simply a spoiling measure by the Australians.
Michael Phelps’ Olympics, where he hoped to become the greatest ever medal winner, also started badly when his team-mate Ryan Lochte thrashed him in the 400m medley final.
The first gold of London 2012 was won by the Chinese who were to go on to be the runner’s up at the games. Their success came in the 10m air rifle and they ended up top of the medal table at the close of the first day – a pinnacle that was soon to be eclipsed by the US.
Britain’s first medal came at the end of day two when Lizzie Armitstead won silver in the women’s road race. Shocks of the day came in football as Spain crashed out courtesy of a defeat by Honduras. Britain fared better reaching the quarter finals in both men’s and women’s football.
Our gymnastics team also got off to a good start with Beth Tweddle top of the qualifying group. Day three saw the men controversially denied silver in the team gymnastic event after Japan raised an objection, relegating Team GB to bronze. Records tumbled as Britain secured a place in the double sculls final beating the Olympic record by five seconds whilst 15 year old Ruta Meilutyte won Lithuania’s first ever gold, in the women’s 100m breaststroke.
Controversy really kicked off on day three with Swiss footballer Michel Morganella expelled for racist tweets and nearly a sit-in took place as a disgruntled South Korean fencer Shin Lam was denied a gold by dubious refereeing only to be told later that the IFF have awarded her a ‘special medal’ – although you can be sure she’d rather be holding an Olympic gold. Then to add to the melee, the father of a Saudi judo expert says he would pull his daughter out of the competition unless she can compete in a hijab.
Elsewhere, Tom Daley missed out on a medal by just one place finishing in 4th in the synchronised diving by virtue of just 1 poor dive in the final but made up for it in the 10m individual dive on the penultimate day with a bronze.
We saw the longest ever three sets tennis match on day four as Jo Wilfred Tsonga took the final set 25-23 and British hopes were raised in the football as the British women’s team took another victory on their way to the quarter finals.
Controversy again surrounded the startling achievements of Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen who broke a world record on her way to gaining two golds. Few could believe that the young swimmer, only recently come to the sport competitively, could improve so much without performance enhancing drugs. Several badminton players were thrown out of the games for trying to fix matches by not trying although they were eventually reinstated. Water polo joined the claims for unfairness with the disallowance of a last gasp goal creating havoc in the Spain/Croatia match.
In cycling, Britain’s inauspicious start improved dramatically as Bradley Wiggins, the man of the moment, won gold in the time trial with Sir Chris Hoy adding two more in becoming Britain’s most decorated Olympian. The British team went on to win the team sprint, breaking their own record on the way although the ladies suffered a disqualification when a takeover rule was broken. They’d also broken a world record on the way but it was short lived as China broke it again minutes later.
Surprises abounded at the games and an ‘almost there’ was the result for the GB team in losing by one point to Spain, fancied for gold but eventually proving runners up in basketball. At the same time France’s Floret Manaudou achieved an unexpected gold in the 50m swimming event, racing in his first major final.
The big guns were coming up trumps with Jessica Ennis sweeping to the expected gold medal after a near perfect heptathlon and Michael Phelps winning his 21st gold medal with victory in the 100m butterfly. Mo Farah also added to the gold tally with one in the 10,000m and a further gold in the 5,000m whilst Andy Murray confounded all his critics by thrashing Roger Federer in the tennis final, a repeat of the Wimbledon final a month earlier although the form deserted him in his mixed doubles final with Laura Robson.
Usain Bolt, in his usual modest style, acknowledged himself to be the world’s best sprinter after taking gold in the 100m and 200m sprint then helping Jamaica to gold again in the relay.
Day ten of the games saw more mayhem as a ninth competitor was ejected for not trying. Taoufik Makhloufi was later reinstated and went on to prove his critics wrong by winning the 1500m. Doping reared its ugly head with Nicholas Delpopolo claiming he had ‘inadvertently’ eaten marijuana laced food.
Another first happened when a Saudi woman, Sarah Attar, raced in the 800m whilst in a funny but dangerous incident, Cuban pole-vaulter Lazaro Borges snapped his pole attempting a mammoth vault.
Great Britain were again disqualified in a relay, this time the men’s 4 x 100m, for an illegal baton hand over, reminiscent of their plight at the last games when they were accused of being amateurs, so poor was their baton change. In another track event, this time the women’s 1500m, Turkey won gold after the American competitor tripped and the tactics led to a very slow race.
It was always going to happen but Phillips Idowu paid the price for his pre-Olympics mind games by failing to realise his potential. A lack of steel under pressure saw favourite Shanaze Reade only manage a sixth place in the BMX competition whilst Britain’s main judo hope for a gold crashed out in the second round. In football, the GB men’s team lost again on penalties – a familiar sight in football competitions, whilst the ladies suffered an agonising defeat to Canada.
Then there was the physical pain of Manteo Mitchell who ran half of his 400m relay heat with a broken leg and the German diver Stephan Feck who spectacularly mistimed his dive and landed on his back in the water.
So, as the last note of the fabulous finale concert echoes around the Olympic stadium, we can reflect on what will be remembered as a historic Olympic Games, widely acclaimed to be the best ever, and look forward to the next games in four years’ time in Rio.
The Olympics have been a spectacular success but the smiles and pride that adorned the closing ceremony have been won through personal sacrifice and determination as much as through skill and talent; tenets that the ancient Greeks at Olympia would have been proud of.