What London 2012 Was Really About
August 13, 2012 by Angus Saul • Print Story •
The Medal Haul is surely what matters most to each country, in terms of how good this particular Olympics was, and this has been the case for many years. But something changes at every Olympics, however small or insignificant. In Beijing, it was the mark of China's rise to sporting dominance, coming out of nowhere to win more medals than any other country.
But that is not what is changing at the London Olympics. Britain's recent census showed there were around 61 million people living in Britain, paling in comparison to China's 1.34 billion. So, of course, in spite of "Home Games' Advantage," Team GB were never going to live up to the Games' previous hosts.
What is changing was displayed at the Opening Ceremony. If you, as I did, sat through the entirety of the Opening Ceremony, you would have seen the lighting of the Olympic Flame. You would also have noticed that it was not one, but six young athletes who lit the flame.
Some of the most prominent retired British athletes selected a young, rising star to pass along the baton to and to pass the flame. It signified something more than simply, "Here are young athletes, they will do well at these Games; it is time for us to hang up our boots." It was more than just the changing of the guard.
It is getting more Brits involved, and indeed more people all around the world, in one of the few truly international events. The medal tally might be low this time for some countries, but in four year's time, it will pick up — people are watching sports they have never seen before and are thinking, with time and effort, I could be in Rio in four years.
As it turned out, London 2012 produced Great Britain's best ever medal tally, including more gold medals, too. The second Saturday has already become known as Super Saturday in Britain, where there were three gold medals won on the track, and another three elsewhere — the most gold medals won in a single day by Britain in over a century.
But the important thing here is to capitalize on the success of these Olympics. After Australia's dominance in Sydney 2000, the Australian team has faded away. London must not let this happen. It is a tremendous privilege to host the Games, and the success that was borne in the East End will hopefully spark hopes and dreams in thousands of youngsters, each now hoping to compete in Rio 2016.
We have seen these Olympics and we have seen how sport progresses through time. This time around, the medals table ended China, USA, Britain, with Russia not far behind. In 2020, where the Games will be hosted by either Istanbul, Tokyo, or Madrid, who knows what the sporting world will look like. It will surely depend on how people respond to this year's Games.
In terms of passing along the baton and giving future generations the determination to succeed, what better example can there be than that of Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin? Phelps retired from swimming at London 2012 with 18 gold medals to his name and 22 overall, making him the most decorated Olympian of all-time.
Missy Franklin is the new breakout Olympian, at her first Games. Franklin shot out of the blocks with nothing to lose and won four gold medals and a bronze. And she's only 17. She's certainly got two more Games in her, and permitting she doesn't retire early to start a family, she could easily still be competing until 2024.
For American swimming, there can be no better advert than that of Phelps, Franklin, and Ryan Lochte (who has a medals total of 11). It will not be difficult to coax young Americans into swimming.
In much the same way, it will not be difficult to coax young Brits into cycling. For the second Games in a row, Team GB has won almost every event, and had it not been for a change in the rules, meaning only one competitor from each nation was allowed per event, they would have won almost every medal in the velodrome.
Sir Chris Hoy, who carried the flag during the opening ceremony, is now the most decorated British Olympian of all-time, with six gold medals and one silver. Bradley Wiggins is another cyclist who has captured the public's imagination, winning Olympic gold and becoming the first British man to win the Tour De France.
London 2012 was all about passing on the baton. We can only hope that the baton is passed with good grace, and that sport will benefit from such a marvelous event.