The Olympics: The End or the Beginning? By Angela Caldin
London has been seized by Olympic fever for the last two weeks and it’s all gone amazingly, astonishingly well. From the triumphant opening ceremony, a true celebration of Britain past and present (who can forget those superb industrial revolution chimneys and the tribute to the NHS), crafted by the visionary creative force that is Danny Boyle, to the closing ceremony, horrendously naff, but people were too euphoric to care; it’s been a brilliant time to be British. The medals, the venues, the crowds, the wonderful striving of the athletes for perfection and glory; the whole thing has been magnificent. Even the weather was generous and kind. And no terrorist managed to sabotage these few magic and marvellous days.
How refreshing it’s been to watch the news and not be bombarded by utterly gloomy and depressing economic statistics and forecasts, not to hear George Osborne saying that well, yes, the latest figures are a little disappointing. To be bombarded instead with news of triumph and success, of dedication and hard grind, of parental sacrifice and joy, of having a goal and pursuing it single-mindedly.
What stands out above everything for me is the beauty of the bodies of so many of these athletes. I think of Tom Daley standing on the edge of his diving board, on his toes and arms outstretched, with the tiniest of swimming trunks looking as though they might fall off at any minute, and I think that he looks truly glorious. So does Jessica Ennis, draped in the Union Jack, stomach muscles rippling, arms and legs perfectly toned, and as for Usain Bolt, it’s hard to describe that huge frame of glistening muscle. These images are so far from the overly sexualised models we see posing, often very unnaturally, in magazines and which are held out as being something young people should aspire to.
Something else which hits you between the eyes at these Games is that the Big Society, which David Cameron is so fond of advocating, is already well and truly here, and has been for some considerable time. There were 70,000 people working as volunteers, selected from more than 250,000 who applied. They were of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, walks of life and beliefs, doing all kinds of duties in and around the venues. Most just worked away quietly, doing long shifts, often making difficult journeys, getting home late, but delighted to be part of it all. One or two had rewards above and beyond the norm, like the young man who was given a beanie by Usain Bolt. And some expressed what a privilege it was to be involved, like the volunteer who was working with horses and was asked if he minded shovelling manure, to which he replied ‘But this is Olympic manure’.
These volunteers are only the tip of the iceberg. There are so many people up and down the country volunteering in all sorts of capacities. Training young people in sport or dance, working in charities such as Citizens’ Advice or Victim Support or Age Concern or in homeless charities or in the magistracy or in the field of justice and peace or in mental health – the list goes on and on. I just hope that Mr Cameron, seeing those 70,000, has realised that his ‘new’ concept is not new at all.
We’ve had a great two weeks and it’s done us good as a nation. It’s lifted our spirits and people are definitely smiling more. What will the legacy be? We’ve heard some of 2012 athletes say how they were inspired by those achieving gold at Beijing and before. We’ve got all these fantastic venues which we hope will benefit the East End of London. We’ve got the government promising to reintroduce competitive sport to schools. All these things are more than welcome. But the main outcome that I want to see is for us to realise once and for all what a multi-faceted and multi-cultural nation we undeniably are. If the volunteers come from so many different backgrounds, then so do the athletes, and that is something to be celebrated.
It’s cost a bomb and who knows where the money came from. Perhaps we could have built a hospital or a hostel for the homeless or an old people’s day care centre. Perhaps we could have done a lot of things. Has it been worth it? I don’t know. But I do know it’s been a great two weeks, it’s cheered us all up no end and it’s reminded us again that we can put on a really good show. And there’s still the Paralympics to come!