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2012 Summer Olympics lived up to host London's promises

London organizers merged the competitions with iconic sites and created a successful sports setting in Olympic Park. And in the end, everything worked.

August 13, 2012|By Philip Hersh
  • A view of the Olympic rings by Tower Bridge.
A view of the Olympic rings by Tower Bridge. (Julian Finney / Getty Images )

LONDON — In summing up London 2012, the temptation is to deliver a glowing eulogy. Such a discourse, filled with lofty expressions of praise, would reflect the ancient roots of the 17-day festival that ended here Sunday. The praise also would accurately reflect how London did in its third go-around as an Olympic Summer Games host.

"Everyone here has had an absolutely amazing time," U.S. swimmer Missy Franklin said.

There is no need to temper that observation with the caveat that anyone who won four titles and five total medals and set two world records is likely to have a rather golden perspective on the Olympic kaleidoscope. No matter who looks at them or how one looks, the London Olympics fit Franklin's description.

"London has absolutely refreshed the Games in many aspects," International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said.

The organizers had the brilliant idea to turn sights into sites, using some of London's iconic buildings and royal parks to have sports competition on stages unique in Olympic history. They merged sport completely into the city.

Olympic Park blended eight venues, social gathering areas and restorative natural beauty — wildflowers, rivers, trees — into a setting both pragmatic and romantic.

Athletes in traditional sports settings performed brilliantly. Sprinter Usain Bolt and swimmer Michael Phelps were the surpassing stars for the second straight Olympics, and the home team echoed an underlying theme by exceeding expectations.

Brits no longer have an empire on which the sun never sets. But they managed to keep it shining on these Olympics most of the time after having endured months of ceaseless rain. God apparently was interested in saving more than the queen, who made a sky-diving entry to the opening ceremony.

(No, that wasn't Elizabeth II in a parachute. But it was the queen in the video skit leading up to it, and that also was amazing.)

"These were happy and glorious Games," Rogge said just before declaring them closed.

That the queen had been a good sport set a tone. During the 40th anniversary year of Title IX, in the first Olympics where all 204 nations had at least one female athlete, in a country with a female monarch, women also ruled on the fields, on the courts and in the pools and seized on each other's success.

"As a woman who has a mandate to promote gender equality in sports, we are very pleased and happy for them." Jamaican runner Veronica Campbell-Brown said of the U.S. women who had easily outdistanced her team and the 27-year-old world record in the 4x100-meter relay. "Everyone talks about Bolt. Now we can talk about ladies."

That the United States led the world in both gold (46) and total medals (104) owed significantly to its women, who won 63% of the golds and 56% of the total. No. 2 China got 53% of its 38 golds and 56% of its 87 total from its women.

The IOC worked very hard to get three holdout nations — Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia — to include women for the first time. The remaining question is whether those countries will go beyond their token representation here to expand domestic sports programs for women.

That the London organizing committee chairman, Sebastian Coe, is a distinguished Olympic champion made his promise that these would be an athletes' Games seem more like the standard rhetoric from cities that bid to host the Games. It was a promise fulfilled.

Britain's national-record medal haul provoked a nationalism so overwhelming that the public-address announcers at the track competition in the Olympic Stadium felt compelled to keep the crowd updated on British contenders elsewhere.

Yet that British pride also provoked the most beautifully overwhelming reaction of the Olympics, the ear-ringing roar that accompanied Mo Farah down the stretch of his victories in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters.

Farah's triumphs moved Coe, two-time Olympic champion in the 1,500, to call the Somali immigrant "the greatest runner we have produced."

Not everything was for the best in this best of all possible worlds. The sight of empty seats belonging mainly to international sports officials infuriated Londoners who had vainly tried to get tickets. Some were later filled by the military, which took over security duties when a private company botched the staffing.

Thrown into the breach, the soldiers did the job with smiles and professional efficiency. Their performance was a reflection of everything around them. To sum it up demands no high-minded classical rhetoric.

Jolly good show, London.

phersh@tribune.com

twitter.com/olyphil

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