London: Olympic Games fever has taken hold of Britain.
Unlike the magnificent flame that illuminates the main athletics stadium, it was a slow burner.
The quirky, funny and inspirational opening ceremony was a triumph for its artistic director, the Academy Award winning filmmaker Danny Boyle.
Boyle celebrated our past and present and showed that we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
He also included a tribute to the National Health Service, our system of health care which is free at the point of need.
It seems the USA has been tearing itself up on “Obamacare” as if treating sick people and not sending them a bill would be communist. Over here we view it as fair and decent to collectively look after the health of our citizens. We do pay a lot for it in taxation but the NHS is a source of national pride so this was a nice touch.
Team GB’s competitors initially struggled to take their cue from Boyle and while the Games in general were going well, we were way down the medal table.
Britain traditionally doesn’t do sporting excellence.
In the Atlanta games in 1996 we managed just one gold and were ranked number 36 in the final medal table. Usually, there are nations most Brits would struggle to throw a dart at on a map who walk away with more honors. Last time out, though, at Beijing in 2008, things were much better. We were fourth best with 19 golds in total.
Sights were set high going into the London Games but after a slow start, I must confess I had Georgia on my mind. One of our great early hopes, Tom Daley and Pete Waterfield, crashed out of the synchronized diving event in spectacular style.
After doing well in their first three dives, the duo’s hopes of medal glory were high. But the only thing synchronized about their fourth dive were the heads of the audience shaking at yet another British sporting disappointment.
Their timing was so out that Daley was toweling off at the side of the pool before his buddy hit the water. We won a bronze – yes, the W word can be used for a bronze medal – in men’s gymnastics for the first time since 1904.
That’s right, our first since Theodore Roosevelt was president. In your face, USA! And we were really pleased about that.
It should have been more but Japan protested at something and took the silver medal at out expense. Other nations might have kicked up hell but our response was – hey, we got bronze! Great!
Our athletes from the start have been a credit to the country. Not for sporting excellence initially but for looking really pleased at finishing anywhere near a gold medal and for giving it their best shot.
But through the first week of the Games things changed and with humility came high achievement as well.
We started to win stuff. Mainly, but not only, cycling and rowing events.
And then last Saturday came. Wow. And it was a big wow. Three athletes helped take team Team GB to a whole other level. Jessica Ennis won the heptathlon, Greg Rutherford won the long jump and Mo Farah cruised home to take the men’s10,000 meters gold. It was stirring stuff and created pure joy which was felt across the country.
It happened on the same night the men’s football team – without David Beckham, of course – were eliminated on a penalty kick shoot out by South Korea. (Beckham would have made that PK. )
No one was really bothered about that, though, as the focus was on the athletics successes. Soccer for once was resigned to the margins as other sports enjoyed – and deserved – the spotlight. (By the way, in case you forgot the United States team didn’t even qualify.)
These Olympics have been wonderful and will be remembered as such, no matter what happens in a sporting context now. We have gone from being placed behind countries that don’t even have a proper roads system to sitting third behind the USA and China.
And as both those world powers have way more people than us we kind of think we’ve done better. There haven’t even been many things we’ve got wrong.
However, one spectacular foul-up involving the benighted state of North Korea is worth a mention.
Their women’s soccer team came to my home town, Glasgow, Scotland, and were given a warm welcome as they took to the field before their first match. Pictures of the players were flashed on the stadium screens as the announcer read out the starting line-ups. Pretty hard to mess that up, you would have thought.
But the images were accompanied by the flag of South Korea. Kim Il-sung, the country’s Eternal Leader, must have been spinning in his mausoleum. His chubby-cheeked grandson, Kim Jong-un probably considered the nuclear option as retaliation. The North Korean team left the field in protest and the handful of people they had allowed to come to the Games looked shocked, or feigned looking shocked at least.
The fuss soon past though and the match was eventually played.
It is estimated that the final cost of the 30th Olympiad may be in the region of $15 billion. I can’t even imagine what that would look like piled up in a room. But I know it’s a lot.
We find money for all sorts of things when we need to – bailing out a corrupt and failing banking system for one – so I don’t begrudge this inspiring festival of delight one dime. These wonderful Games have brought joy to millions of Britons.
The have given the country much in just over a week and we have the medals and smiles to prove it.
Gordon Robertson is a Glasgow reporter, who also happens to be a football club chairman and a coach. He lives in Glasgow and travels to the East Coast in the United States frequently in the summer.