Published on November 1, 2012 | by Sam Rowntree0
Team GB’s Golden Games
This summer, London played host to one of the greatest sporting spectacles of all time. The country was brought to a standstill while a selection of the world’s finest athletes ran, jumped, cycled and sometimes even double-reverse-pike-dived their way into the nation’s hearts and the history books. With a tally of 65 medals, 29 of them gold, Team GB delivered their most successful Games ever and created a new standard for hosting a worldwide sporting event.
As a veteran of three Olympic Games, javelin thrower Steve Backley, a medallist at Atlanta, Barcelona and Sydney, is well qualified to put London 2012 into the pantheon of great Games: “Where do we start? The thing is, as brilliant as the Games were, you’ve got to take the whole year in perspective. The Queen’s Jubilee, Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France, it was teed up to be the greatest Olympics the world has seen.”
Surely though, a track and field event in this country could not compete with football and its impassioned fans? “People were sceptical I think, probably quite rightly so. We are healthily sceptical in this country, but as the Olympic torch started to meander around the [United Kingdom] I think people began to realise just what an occasion it was going to be. And then there was the opening ceremony with Danny Boyle’s artistic input. It was the greatest entertainment I think I’ve ever seen as the pre-amble to the greatest sport I’ve ever seen.
“The first couple of days were not the gold rush that was anticipated. We actually used the phrase gold rush before we had won any gold, so I thought we jumped the gun a bit there. Then when the floodgates finally opened we just went from strength to strength. By the time we got to the athletics, we were already on the way to it being a great Olympics and the greatest performance from Team GB we have ever had. After Beijing, where we won 19 gold and 47 medals in total, even the biggest sceptic had to be impressed. And even the biggest optimist couldn’t believe it. That’s just how good it was, with Super Saturday the highlight.”
Team GB’s performance was a vital ingredient in the euphoria whipped up by the Games, and no support was more frenzied than in the Velodrome, the arena which produced 12 medals, (the same tally as Jamaica’s eventual total), eight of them gold.
Gold medallist Joanna Rowsell, who won the team pursuit in world record time, alongside Danielle King and Laura Trott, explains the pre-eminent position cycling held at the 30th Olympiad: “Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France was an absolutely massive achievement, and I think because he made it look easy. Everybody thinks it’s easy, but it was seriously massive to win that race with such a lot of history behind it, so that was a massive result. Then we had a great Olympic and Paralympic Games, so a pretty good year for cycling.
“I was just trying to take in the whole experience really, it was a weird sort of moment. People always ask me, ‘what does it feel like?’ and it was such a mixture of feelings. I was so happy that we had won, but also overwhelmed by all the crowds. I was trying to take in the fact I was actually Olympic champion and what that meant, because we spent the whole build-up telling ourselves that it was just another race. I was just trying to make the most of it and trying to take it all in.”
On the atmosphere in the Velodrome, Rowsell is unequivocal: “It was absolutely incredible. I’ve heard it was the loudest venue and people who had been to watch other races said it was the best venue to be in. I think because the roof is so low and with 6,000 spectators, who can make a heck of a lot of noise in such a small arena, they can really make a difference to us.”
For many, the Games will always be remembered as the event which gave back to the people, rather than being used as a political statement that the Olympics has so often become. Instead of an extravagant showing, we gave the world an insight into a quirky isle. Inside the park, fans were allowed to come and witness the once-in-a-lifetime athletes – Usain Bolt, Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis, the domination of Chris Hoy and Ben Ainslie, as well as many others.
Judo silver medallist Gemma Gibbons rode the wave of good feeling to get on to the podium after entering the tournament ranked 42nd in the world: “The crowd were absolutely amazing and I think that no matter how long I continue in the sport of Judo I’ll ever experience anything like that again. I think for a lot of people there would have been added pressure but for me, it was my first Games so, of course there was pressure, but I also felt quite relaxed because I wanted to do myself proud. After getting the first fight out the way, I began to enjoy it and was more relaxed. The crowd was phenomenal. I saw how the crowd reacted to some of my teammates when they were fighting and they were as good, if not better when I was fighting. They were brilliant.”
Greatest Games Ever
So where to place London 2012 in the list of Olympic Games, among the list that includes Beijing 2008, Sydney 2000, Barcelona 1992, et al? Backley sums it up nicely: “I’ve had that Boxing Day feeling since the closing ceremony of the Paralympics, because of course the Paras were just as incredible. We charmed and inspired the nation and off we went. I’ve been a little bit flat since. I want to talk about it all the time, I want to relive it, I want to watch videos of it.
“I don’t think it’s even in question that it was the greatest [Games]the world has ever seen in terms of entertainment. In terms of sport and in terms of access it was the most watched Games, it was the most filmed Games, it was the most communicated in terms of new media and they were the first Games where the world has embraced Facebook, Twitter, digital media and online viewing, where you could watch any of the events, any time, and that’s never been the case before.
“One of the greatest compliments I heard came from an Australian I was hosting with, who said: ‘Yeah we did it well in Sydney, but you guys smashed it to pieces.”