Thursday, 16 August 2012

Legacy? It's just back to reality

SO what was all that about then? And what hangover can we now expect after waking up from the biggest wipeout of national consciousness in most of our lifetimes?
The end of the Olympics is a bit like walking out of a cinema blinking in the light. Disorientated to find it’s still daytime in the real world, buses still going past and people going about their ordinary business as if all our existences had never been under threat from space aliens at all.
For two weeks words like “omnium”, “ippon”, “repechage” and “countback” have entered all our dreams.
We have all become instant experts in the intricacies of taekwondo and the rules of handball.
People we had heard of barely if at all – people like Jo Rowsell, Max Whitlock, Jade Jones and Liam Phillips – have had us cheering, praying, crying.
People we can just about con ourselves into believing we have always known and loved – Ben Ainslie, Chris Hoy, Jess Ennis, Mo Farah – have become gods in our hearts.
And now it’s over. Time to go back to work. Back to our normal dull routine of soaps and football.
To find, soberingly, that back here in reality climate change is still a threat, Europe is still in crisis, the Tories are still in power and the bankers and industrialists still have the rest of the world over an oil-barrel.
We’ve all been at a party. A really good party. The kind that leaves you buzzing. For a while.
The kind of party that’s bound to leave you feeling a bit flat once the buzz wears off – which it will start to do disarmingly quickly.
The kind of party you wake from wondering how the world has changed. Only to discover, disappointedly, that it hasn’t.
From even before the moment, seven years ago, when London was awarded the Games, one word has been associated – optimistically or cynically – with these Olympics.
That word is “legacy”.
The athletes themselves have caught the bug.
In the moment of their greatest triumphs, many have spoken of encouraging youngsters to take up their various sports – as if that was what it was all about.
Which – let’s be honest – it isn’t.
The glory of a victory on the cycle track or in the pool is in its own moment, not in some mythical future.
If Vicky Pendleton really believes that her greatest achievement will be if some children get on their bikes next week because of her, she is demeaning herself. If they do – and let’s hope they will – it will be a welcome bonus, not her crowning glory.
The great success of the Charlton brothers, Bobby Moore, Nobby Stiles and co was achieved at Wembley Stadium in June 1966. The fact that it started me (and others of my generation) on a lifetime’s love of football, and to play it eagerly, though badly, was merely a by-product.
Vicky, and Jess, and Jade, and Mo will have inspired some kids, just as Nobby and Bobby did, but each success is more than wiped out by the sale of a school playing-field somewhere.
So let’s not kid ourselves that Britain will gain some great legacy from having staged the Olympics.
We’ve gained some pride, yes. From unexpected successes in the sporting arena – and even more unexpected success in organisation. But all that is temporary.
What will last are a collection of memories, many of them more than slightly surreal.
Did I really spend a lunchtime watching women try to kick each other in the head – and even cheering them on from my sofa?
Did I really get excited for a few moments each by dancing horses, girls twirling coloured ribbons, and grown blokes hurtling down a slope on kids’ BMX bikes?
Is it really humanly possible to hold your breath underwater while your legs go through a whole hip-hop routine above the surface, then fling another person out into the air – and all with perfect grace, timing and a Farrah Fawcett smile?
Was Nicola Adams’ grin after becoming the Olympics’ first female boxing gold medallist really even broader than her Yorkshire accent?
And did Ladbrokes really pay out on Brad Wiggins being named Sports Personality of the Year even before all those events took place, and four months before the vote?
Yes, indeed, it was a fabulous party.
Was it worth £9.2billion – approximately £1,400 for every man, woman and child in Britain?
Set against the cost of bailing out Northern Rock (£3bn, £30bn, £55bn or £100bn depending how you calculate it), or the tens of billions wasted on the Trident missile system, it looks like a bargain.

CRACKING Games though they were, and despite records galore in other arenas, surprisingly few were set in the athletics stadium.
Maybe that’s in part testimony to success in cleaning drugs out of the sport.
But the concentration on home successes allowed one world record to slip largely under the radar. Pity, because in a way it was the most historic moment of the whole Olympics.
When the US quartet of Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix, Bianca Knight and Carmelita Jeter ran the women’s 4x100m relay in 40.82 seconds, they smashed a mark that had stood for 27 years.
And wiped away the last reference in the world record books to the name East Germany.

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