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London Olympics… more mullings

So the London Olympics have kicked off and are pootling along nicely, and something rather strange has happened… towit, the whole thing hasn’t actually been an unmitigated disaster.

Now, I know it’s a little disloyal to look at an event hosted by your native city with an eye of ‘oh why try, it’s going to fail’, but you have to understand the native hypocrisy of Londoners.  Take, for example, the comments by Mitt Romney, who, while on a trip to London, suggested to the world’s media and the Prime Minister that he wasn’t 100% convinced that the Olympics in London were going to be a success.  Which, frankly, is what every Londoner has been thinking, and often shouting.  But here’s the thing… as Londoners, we are allowed to disparage the Olympics, because they’re ours, and there’s nothing a Londoner does better than gripe and moan.  London Underground, arguably one of the most extensive and successful urban transport networks in the world… it’s crap, innit?  Hundreds of theatres, internationally renowned plays and vibrant culture… too expensive, yeah?  Olympic games, the world’s greatest athletes competing in our East End… don’t see the point, mate.  And so on.  But!  Should an outsider, should someone who, even worse than being a not-Londoner, is in fact a sly Republican with two left feet and a less than flashy record on immigration (and what is London if not a city of immigrants?  For that matter, what is America?) … should such a one come to our city, meet our Prime Minister and most of all, rubbish our Olympic Games, then let the wrath of ages descend upon him and may he be fined the maximum possible fee for parking infringements where’er he venture, amen.


And what of the Olympics themselves?

Well, the first thing, the most important thing for Londoners – so important, in fact, that the BBC has run daily stories on it – is this.  The transport system has not, in fact, melted down.  This is something of a shock to everyone concerned, as if there’s one thing you can rely on London, it’s signal failure at Liverpool Street and a fire alarm at Piccadilly Circus and over crowding at Kings Cross and so on.  Sure, there’s been delays here and there, busy stations, silly diversions and so on and so forth, but nothing nearly as catastrophic as anything we expected in the least.  No one really knows why.  Which makes our traditional gripe-and-moan pastime that much harder to embrace.

Then there’s the Games themselves.  I’ve never really understood sport, but I must admit, the fact that the BBC are streaming multiple stadiums directly to every PC in Britain does make it kinda tempting to watch despite yourself.  Gymnastics is fascinating, for example – far more so, I find, than watching people run very fast.  And when, every now and then, a Brit actually goes so far as to win a medal, I am surprised to find a small tingling of pride stirring up in the pit of my soul, along with a great deal of surprise.  Actually, perhaps it would be more honest to say that what I experience isn’t so much pride, as a sense of well-at-least-it-wasn’t-China.  I have nothing against China, I hasten to add, and find the history, culture and language absolutely enthralling, but if the Olympic Games hold any real excitement for me, it’s when the underdog triumphs against unlikely odds.  I am cheering Angola.  My heart is really with the Federated States of Micronesia.  I desperately, desperately want the ‘Olympic Independent Athletes’ to achieve something, and for the sake of women everywhere, I’d love the female athletes from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to go home with medals, while the blokes on the same teams, do not.  Sorry lads – my motivation is purely political, not personal.

Thankfully, the British attitude towards our sportsmen is something similar to our attitude towards the Games themselves – we’ll disparage constantly, rouse ourselves up with a cry of ‘yeah, but they’re never actually gonna win, are they’ but, if anyone else should dare say a single word against our team, a storm of acrimony will be unleashed and a flair of stubborn pride.  The role of British sports is to get just close enough to success to raise everyone’s hopes, and then fail.  That’s what we expect in the UK, and that’s usually what is delivered.  And when a Brit actually does win, a great wave of startled surprise and cheering passion sweeps through the nation, as we suddenly all turn round and discover that we really care about canoe slalom, shooting and the ability to pedal very, very fast.  All of which works for me, as my policy of cheering the underdog makes it seem only logical, to cheer the British team, as culturally everything we ever do in sport is seen as underdog territory, with the occasional moment of plucky delight.  That at least, is how I justify my enthusiasm to myself.

Finally, a note on the Olympic opening ceremony.  Oh my lord, but it was very British.  The Brits loved it.  The rest of the world… I hope you kept up.  For my part, my adoration for the works of Danny Boyle has reached new heights.  A comedian with far greater wit than I aptly described a great sound running through the nation as the opening ceremony opened… the sound of an entire country’s cynicism melting away.  It was vibrant without being forced, spectacular without being scary, and more to the point, it celebrated good causes in an exciting way and was in places, genuinely moving.  My only question… did anyone spot any live sheep on stage?