Mo Farah and the two faces of Olympic legacy

Wow.  Well, well, well.  A truly euphoric day spent in the Olympic Park, on the last day of the Games’ athletics programme.  And now, the next morning, I’m sitting with my laptop propped on my duvet, trying to write before the pleasure of the previous twenty-four hours inevitably fades.  It feels like the final day of one of the best vacations I have ever taken.

These two weeks have been an impossible high that will soon subside.  And that’s fine.  No feeling of ecstasy can truly endure.  After all, even the greatest love affairs can’t maintain their initial breathlessness.  There are those first two weeks of almost every golden relationship when you can’t keep your eyes or your hands away from the other person.  However, after that glorious fortnight, your senses need to return to the world around you, much as you may still be loved-up. Hey, there are bills to pay and jobs to do.

But, like all great loves, the memory of this moment must endure.  Yesterday, I saw a version of Britain that I rarely see in the media.  And it was thrilling.  I saw volunteers, regularly working 14-15 hour days, powered by little more than pride in this city and their country and the warmth of their new community of peers.  I saw architecture as inspiring as anything I have seen in and around New York’s Central Park.  I saw people united in their love of competitors who actually seemed to become more humble the more that they achieved.

I also saw an Olympic Park that too few people were able to experience.  I had friends frantically contacting me at the last minute, asking me to help them sell wildly overpriced tickets that they had bought in haste.  I heard of local children who had worked on this project for three years prior to the arrival of the Games, but who were not granted the chance to step into the Park to see the extraordinary culmination of their efforts.

I saw fervent commerce: a monolithic McDonalds in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium, a steady diet on whose fast food would be one sure way to deny admission as an athlete.  By contrast, I heard of Leyton market-traders sold expensive licences on the promise of Olympic business that never emerged.

All this, both good and bad, was the legacy of the Games.  The story of a truly astonishing spectacle made by countless hands; and the story of those who were swept aside as it was created.

Last night I watched Mo Farah win the men’s 5,000 metres final on a screen the size of a shopping mall, surrounded by thousands of similarly elated Brits.  For only the second time in my life – the first being the election of President Barack Obama, given the symbolism of that occasion – I was moved by a public spectacle to tears of joy.  That joy is fleeting, even though it still simmers in me as I write now.  It has lasted long enough, though, to remind me that there is a Britain out there which celebrates the good achievements of people regardless of where their parents came from; that there is a Britain out there, far from the sneering mouths of many, which lauds its often-lambasted youth for their wonderful work ethic.  It is a reminder that I needed, as it is a Britain that I do not see nearly enough of in public discourse.  For now, the memory of Mo will have to do.

2 comments

  1. Great piece! I also think its a great shame more people couldn’t get into the Park at least, if not any of the events, but I suppose they have to control numbers? I’ve been tweeting about ‘Daily Mail reader’ (a family member unfortunately) they say they can’t support Mo, I would like to have seen their face when he crossed the line, I bet even they smiled a little bit! I have loved these games, the crowds especially have demonstrated what the majority of British people are, supportive accepting tolerant and really good at cheering & waving! Haha

  2. Pete Taylor says:

    Spot on. There were lots of things I loved about the Olympics (the opening ceremony, celebrating multiculturalism, the NHS, Mo, Ennis, the rowing, the women’s boxing, watching random sport) but plenty I disliked (the BMWs, empty corporate seats, lack of cycle lanes, the Spice Girls, McEverything and team GB t-shirts made in China).
    There’s a Britain out there somewhere we can have – I feel inspired to hope, work and campaign for it.

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