London 2012: ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’

A review of the London Olympics and a comment on its potential legacy…

Eternally branded as ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’, the London Olympics needed its greatest stars to perform to emphasize this claim – and empathically, they did. Just as Euro 2012 benefitted from some stellar performances from the biggest names in the game, so the Olympic Games were lit up by some of the greatest Olympians of all time.

In the pool Michael Phelps cemented his place as the most decorated Olympian in history. Though he did not enjoy the same total domination as in Beijing four years ago, the American still managed to claim four gold medals and two silvers, increasing his overall haul to 22 Olympic medals across three Games, of which 18 were gold.

As the focus shifted from the Aquatics Centre to the Olympic Stadium, so the spotlight fell upon Usain Bolt, who, whilst only 95% fit, resoundingly fulfilled his ambition to become a ‘living legend’ by defending the three gold medals he procured in such stunning fashion in Beijing. Athletics has never known a more charismatic or idiosyncratic personality as the Jamaican, who has single-handedly restored the world’s faith in sprinters.

The London Games were blessed to accommodate such sporting superstars and for the Greatest Show on Earth to truly live up to its billing, it requires not just an ebullient host nation, but a successful one. Team GB’s hubris-laden slogan that proclaimed ‘Our Greatest Team’ delivered resoundingly, far outstripping the brilliance of Beijing. To finish third, behind the two sporting Super-Powers of the US and China, with an unprecedented 65 podium finishes and a staggering 29 gold medals, was inconceivable 16 years ago when only a single gold was won in Atlanta.

A Sporting Nirvana

It is rather fitting that as these Olympic Games draw to a close, and as the Closing Ceremony is aired to billions, so the curtain raiser for the new footballing season, the Community Shield, ushers in nine more months of Barclay’s Premier League football to be watched by billions more.

For sports fans, the beginning of the 2012-13 footballing season will ease the Olympics hangover, but for many impartial observers it will serve to accentuate the differences between the sporting humility and sporting avarice that the two popularly represent.

The magnitude of the Olympics was evident during that astounding Opening Ceremony, when the athletes embarked upon their lap around the Olympic Stadium – their sheer delight to just be a part of the Greatest Show on Earth was obvious; it was endearing and most of all refreshing.

How invigorating it is to listen to these athletes expound such virtuous humility and pride in mere participation, they display tenfold the personality and gratitude of their more illustrious footballing counterparts. The Olympics have once again illustrated the universal values of sporting integrity, in contrast to the materialism and greed that has corrupted ‘The Beautiful Game.’

Yet it is the popular narrative which has caused these perceptions to cement in the national subconscious – football pundits are unlikely to label a side ‘unlucky’ for failing to win a football match, whilst the relentless conveyer belt of BBC pundits are never likely to question either the attitude or the talent of an athlete who failed to win a medal.

The British media has been united in its celebration of this fortnight of sporting nirvana – yet, with the new football season fast approaching, the old witch-hunts and recriminations will perpetuate the back pages as ever.

British Sporting Personalities

British sportswomen were conspicuous by their absence in last year’s Sports Personality shortlist, yet they are likely to lead the list this year after dominating the headlines during these Olympics. Though the media lamented a dearth of top-quality female sports stars in 2011, they have been celebrated in 2012 – Ennis, Adlington, Trott and Pendleton have become household names and synonymous with the sporting success of their gender.

As ever during an Olympic year, the Sports Personality of the Year is likely to have been decided within this two week sporting bonanza, just as it was in 2004 and 2008 when Dame Kelly Holmes and Sir Chris Hoy received the prestigious award.

2012 is likely to be no different, yet it is impossible to discern between the likely contenders. Bradley Wiggins is arguably favourite having become the first Briton to win the Tour de France, before following this up with an Olympic gold in the time trial – and in the process becoming the most decorated British Olympian, but he will face fierce competition from compatriots Hoy, Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah, Andy Murray and Ben Ainslie.

A Sporting Legacy?

Though the Olympic Games are at a close, the measure of its legacy has only just begun. Its noble motto ‘Inspire a Generation’ was not coined lightly. Although the Games have undoubtedly proven an overwhelming initial success, in delivering a fortnight of bombastic patriotic pride and an unprecedented batch of medals, their true success – their legacy – will not be realized for another quarter of a century; a generation.

The 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney had a similar effect upon the Australian public as the British, and inspired unparalleled sporting success as the hosts finished fourth in the medals table with 58 medals and 16 golds. Yet skip forward just 12 years and the true legacy of the Sydney Games is palpable by a glimpse at the medals table; the 410 Australian athletes who competed this summer gained only 35 medals and just a solitary gold medal in athletics, along with six others in cycling, swimming, sailing and canoeing.

What then has become of the legacy of the Sydney Games? The biggest success story of those Games, Ian Thorpe, sits in the BBC Studio opining on today’s swimmers, when his talent and expertise is surely required on the poolside, not on the sofa.

Truly, the legacy of the London Games will not become apparent for another generation, and whether this current generation has been suitably inspired. But if the spellbinding sporting spectacle that was the London Olympics fails to inspire a generation, then surely nothing will.

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