David Owen: London 2012 may have given Britain back its confidence
Sunday, 12 August 2012
"I don't think any city that has staged the Games has ever been the same after the Games," he mused, as Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), listened intently beside him.
Sitting in the vast bowl of the Olympic Stadium being showered in red white and blue confetti after a gloriously batty Closing Ceremony, it was possible to believe that these might be the Games that gave Great Britain back its self-confidence.
It may all seem very different tomorrow when those of us who have spent the past two weeks in the cartoon world of the Olympic bubble return to real life with its utility bills, its laundry and its zero growth.
But shell-shocked by an onslaught on the senses that embraced The Who, the Spice Girls, Eric Idle as a failed human cannonball, Queen featuring Jessie J, and countless others, I find myself prepared to be optimistic.
Quite what this so-called symphony of British music had to do with sport, or the Olympics, or anything very much, I have no idea.
There were times when it was like being trapped in a giant disco holding 80,000 people, Fatboy Slim in a cellophane octopus and a cabaret featuring most of London's traffic.
I quickly decided that the best approach was just to sit back and let it wash over you.
But the mish-mash of a show ("ceremony" was largely a misnomer) sure rammed home that when it comes to popular music – and comedy (I am thinking the nun with Union Jack pants here) - we British are world class – and have been for a very long time now.
Given our growing reputation for Olympic sport – a reputation underpinned in London by 65 medals, 29 of which were gold – and the fact that the country has shown itself up to the task of putting on the greatest, and most fiendishly complicated, show on earth, there are plenty of (to quote a song that didn't make it onto tonight's playlist) Reasons to be Cheerful.
Among other lessons these Olympics have taught us:
● For all our British standoffishness, we can be as friendly and helpful as any other nation; the superb volunteers have reminded us of that.
● We really do need to rethink the way in which we have allowed bottom-line-driven private entities to encroach so far into the realm of public services; the G4S fiasco and the no-nonsense, highly efficient manner in which armed forces personnel stepped into the breach was a textbook vindication for those who maintain that the frontiers of the state have been shunted back too far.
● London truly is a special city; albeit one that tends to shut down early even when the Olympics are in town.
As Coe also said, this time when he took to the microphone as the short ceremonial part of tonight's "ceremony" began: "What we have begun will not stop now."
For many reasons, let's hope he is right.
David Owen worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2010 World Cup. Owen's Twitter feed can be accessed by clicking here