A year or so ago I posted a response to the London riots. It was a bleak time. Well, what a difference a year makes. With a Jubilee and half an Olympics behind us we are bursting with civic pride, each and every person is walking a little bit taller, suddenly willing to look each other in the eye and, every now again, crack-out a smile. So, as we search around for a long-term legacy, perhaps it has been staring us in the face all along? The very process of bidding, preparing and hosting the Games has changed us for the better. This is our legacy.
A nation at ease with itself – Somewhere between Danny Boyle’s incredible three hour advertorial and Mo Farah becoming the first British athlete to claim gold in the 10,000 metres we may have finally started to understand and accept a contemporary version of Britain and what it may achieve. A Britain where a granddaughter of the Queen and a child of parents fleeing persecution can compete and win alongside each other. A Britain that can cheer on its own and its visitors with equal gusto (trust me, I was in the crowd as the competitor from East Timor came past in the Women’s Marathon – the noise was deafening). A Britain that can host the worlds greatest sporting and cultural event – and do it well.
Positive Role-Models – Role models aren’t what they used to be. They used to be famous for just being famous, or for being on Big Brother or TOWIE. Well not anymore – bring on the class of 2012. Jess Ennis, Katherine Copeland, Gemma Gibbons, Zoe Smith to name but four. And I name women deliberately (with apologies to Farah, Rutherford et al) as they prove you can be a world-class, world-beating athlete without worrying that your femininity will somehow be diminished. Every medal winner, in fact every Olympian comes with their own back-story but some things remain consistent – hard-work, dedication, courage, determination, sacrifice, self-discipline. Not bad traits to pass on to our next generation.
Grace in Victory (and defeat) – You can learn a lot about people in the way the celebrate victory. Our Olympians, to an athlete, have won with grace. They have showed emotion and pride, but have also been willing to share their victories with those around them, whether it be their coaches or support staff or even us sitting in the grandstands or on sofas in sitting-rooms around the UK. That same grace has been shown in defeat where, often devastated athletes blame no-one but themselves and still have time to thank fans and family. Not bad lessons to live by.
Respect – Compete hard but fair and be respectful of your opponents. It is something I was taught when I started playing (a somewhat lower level of) competitive sport 25years ago and it seems to be the very embodiment of this generation of Olympians. Witness Jess Ennis and the rest of the heptathlon field link arms for a collective lap of honour, the favourite for the men’s 400metres asking to swap his name bib with Oscar Pistorius, Usain Bolt tweeting after his victory to commiserate with Asafa Powell and to say the whole Jamacian revolution was down to him. Being an Olympian is about more than competing, it is about respecting a code, the memory of all who came before you.
So our legacy challenge? Well of course it is to get more of our kids active, to make the good ones better, the great ones greater but it is also simpler than that. The last week has given Britian a chance to see what our country can be like when we choose to unite around a single purpose rather than let smaller differences divide us. The power of hope and optimism over despair and cynicism. I have never felt prouder to be British, I want that feeling to last forever.