Well that was unexpected.
Before the games, I like so many others, was highly questioning of everything they were saying about us as a nation and in particular the diminishment of our public spaces by commercial interests. That’s not a concern that can be completely put aside, but it has not been the story of these games. My fears were wrong. I was wrong.
The change didn’t start with the slew of gold medals. It started when Danny Boyle held up a mirror to our nation and said “this is who we are – and we have the faith and courage in ourselves to be proud of that”. But if the change had just been about dancing NHS nurses and Tim Berners-Lee it would not have been so profound.
The gold rush has been great. There are a great many new stars in the national firmament. People who worked incredibly hard, as individuals and as teams to achieve the pinnacle of their success. Too many to name, the records and medals came in as each of them triumphed and wrapped themselves in the Union flag and the warmth of Team GB. They’ve earned it, and they should enjoy it. From some lovely pictures over the last few days it looks like they’ve been doing just that. But the amazing and most consistent message that has come from every single member of Team GB is that they are just that: a team.
Every athlete winning medals for Britain has dedicated their victory to the team of people that got them there; to their fellow athletes, to their coaches, their masseurs, their fitness teams and the hundreds of thousands of people who have worked so hard to make this happen, right down to the millions more willing them on. The successes of the Olympics and the successes of the athletes are a decidedly collective effort with hundreds playing their part – from each according to their ability to each according to their need.
Many myths have been busted over this incredible fortnight. We started by showing the world that we don’t need an empire to be a proud, modern people. A new British pride –similar to the embrace of Britpop in the 90s, but deeper and more about the whole of the populace (well most of them). We’re a people that are happy in our own skins – and it doesn’t matter what colour that skin happens to be.
It hasn’t just been the events of the Olympics that have broken down myths, but the coverage too. The BBC has done a simply incredible job of not just showing us the Olympics but of helping us to live it too. I remember watching Gemma Gibbons defeat her Semi-Final opponent with an Ippon in the Judo and thanks to the expertise of the commentary, for a moment there, I knew what that actually meant. I haven’t been near a Judo mat since I was seven! That’s public service broadcasting at its very finest.
The incredible blending of commentary and participation that led Steve Redgrave to support an exhausted and disappointed Mark Hunter as John Inverdale incanted over and over again what the nation were thinking “you’ve let nobody down”. These were men extremely comfortable in busting the “boys don’t cry” myth right there in front of us. And there was none of that famous British reserve in the athletics commentary box as scenes unfolded almost identical to those taking place on my sofa as Mo Farrah brought home the 10,000m gold.
This is who Britain is now. We’re the country that worships Clare Balding and Bradley Wiggins for their individual talents and who understand that it was not those talents alone but their nurturing by our country and its apparatus that made their success possible. As the new heroes we have found speak out against the dismantling of state support for sport, let us listen to them.
Some have tried to claim the Olympics as a triumph of individualism and Tory values. But Team GB know better. It is the collective who have made this Olympics the triumph it has been. It is the collective who will continue to ensure that this small group of nations remains able to deliver for its people and its audiences so much more than the sum of our parts.