London plays the Games

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With so many friends and family having tried and failed to acquire tickets for the Olympic Games in London, I feel fortunate and a little embarrassed to be at several events, thanks to an aggressive bidding strategy, the US National Olympic Committee (long story) and a lot of luck. It’s also thanks to the patience and understanding of Martin Moodie and my long-suffering colleagues at The Moodie Report, who are having to put up with me working, shall we say, ‘flexible’ hours during Olympic fortnight.

It’s now nearly a week since the Opening Ceremony, and a good moment to assess the mood here in London. During the run-up to the Games, the international press made much of British cynicism towards our staging of the event, and of our gold-medal standard moaning about topics ranging from the cost, the likely impact on London’s transport and the weather (although we don’t need the Olympics to complain about the latter).

We do enjoy a whinge, and we are a little cynical. Much of that is part of the British mistrust of authority, and our reluctance to display enthusiasm too openly. Neither of those is a sin in my book. But our love of sport trumps almost any other national stereotype, and that’s why London is the perfect venue for these Games.

Wary as I am of exaggeration, the Opening Ceremony already feels like something of a watershed moment for the British. The country was near unanimous in its appreciation of Danny Boyle’s attempt to portray a complex heritage with pride and humour, and the results ‘felt’ right, to this viewer at least. From that moment on, London’s chances of staging a successful Olympics looked a great deal better.

So far this week, I’ve been to the Royal Artillery Barracks (shooting), Horseguards Parade (beach volleyball), Lord’s Cricket Ground (archery) and ExCel Arena (weightlifting and table tennis). Everywhere I’ve been, fears over transport, security, lack of atmosphere and even the weather have been laid to rest. Where the army have been brought in to oversee security, they have done so with competence and good humour. Dozens of security lanes have been available at each venue, ensuring queues are kept to a minimum, and the legions of London 2012 volunteers deserve medals for their patience, knowledge and friendly demeanour. Even the Tube has been functioning immaculately in my experience (although I’m hearing of a meltdown on the Central Line this morning – hey, this is London).

And although the row over empty seats continues, every venue I’ve visited has been full or close to it. Horseguards Parade in particular was a joy to be at – a fantastic location and a capacity crowd even for a sport that most Brits consider something of a joke. And Lord’s remains one of the world’s greatest sporting venues, even if watching archery feels somewhat alien at the home of cricket.

This is shaping up to be a great Games, and for that many deserve credit – including London’s airports, placed under great strain this past fortnight but responding admirably to the task. I’ll never forgive the IOC for awarding the 1992 Games to Barcelona rather than Birmingham – the pork scratchings down Broad Street are better than any tapas you’ll find on Las Ramblas – but I’m thoroughly enjoying stealing the 2012 edition back.

And Martin, if you’re reading this, I’ll be in late on Wednesday (taekwondo). Sorry…

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