The media has been full these last few days of pre-Olympic curmudgeons like myself holding up their hands and saying ‘Got it wrong. The Games were a fantastic success. Every day something happened that made me proud to be British. Didn’t think it would all work out like this. Got to take my hat off to all those involved.’
So let me join my fellow doubters in eating large helpings of humble pie. Let me raise a glass to Jess and Mo and Sir Chris and Wiggo and the quietly dignified, modest David Rudisha – probably the best moment of the fortnight for me – and all the others, winners and losers. Watching Usain Bolt defend his two gold medals was breathtaking but he raised the eyebrow of this viewer by declaring himself ‘the greatest’ and ‘a legend’. It’s up to other people to confer that status, Usain. Perhaps it was a tongue-in-cheek remark, part of his well-managed showmanship, but it came across as boastful – not a very British quality. As to being the greatest – well, sprinter, yes. But not track athlete. That title goes to Jesse Owens. In 1935 in America he broke three world records and equalled another all in the space of an hour. One of these was the long jump record which held for 25 years. The following year, at the notorious Berlin Olympics, Owens won gold medals for the 100m, 200m, long jump and 4 x 100m. No one has since matched these achievements. Now Jesse Owens is a legend.
And then / The end was near / And so we reached / The final curtain… if the Opening Ceremony was dotty, overwhelming, bizarre, magnificent and a million miles from the joyless regimentation of Beijing, the Closing Ceremony was a complete toe-curler. It was nothing more or less than a rock concert on a massive scale, a parade of songs and names that, were you under 30, meant nothing. Some of the performances wouldn’t have got past the first round of Britain’s Got Talent – I give you the awful Russell ‘I am the walrus’ Brand. How he and George Michael got invited to the party must be a mystery. Neither of these guys are exactly role models of which the country can be proud. And why was Michael allowed to sing two (crappy) songs? The Spice Girls caught the spirit of the occasion and, unexpectedly, the egomaniacal Eric Idle sang his theme song brilliantly. The John Lennon and Freddy Mercury tributes were effective, but why were Kate Bush, the ELO and others not there in person? At least there was no Elton, Cliff or Mackers, the last now well past his sell-by date if the Opening Ceremony was anything to go by. As for classical music, we got a 10 second burst of cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, perched humiliatingly on top of a plinth, playing Elgar’s Salut d’amour, perhaps one of the most parodied pieces of music ever written by an Englishman. Of the great composers our country has produced, there was not a single note. Not that I’m suprised. Classical music is a minority taste. Yoof culture sees it as elitist and inaccessible, and any classical piece, had one been included, would have been politely applauded as an interruption to the party.
Someone wondered why the Prince of Wales, rather than Prince Harry, had not represented the Queen. Easy. He had insider information, took one look at the running order and begged his son to take his place. There are advantages to being a royal occasionally.