LONDON — The London 2012 Olympic Games wind to a close today. After 17+ days of competition — including the soccer games in the days before the Opening Ceremony — Sebastian Coe declared the Games “an extraordinary fortnight, just amazing, amazing scenes.”
The 1980 and 1984 Olympic gold medalist in the men’s 1500m run, Coe is the chairman the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG).
From the minute Kenneth Branagh read quotes from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Mr. Bean hammed it up with the London Symphony Orchestra playing Chariots of Fire, and Sir Paul McCartney belted out “Hey Jude” at the Opening Ceremony, the British embraced the 2012 Olympics. Yes, there was some grumbling in the days before rowers Helen Glover and Heather Stanning and cyclist Bradley Wiggins won the UK’s first gold medals on August 1. But the British fans came out en masse to support Team GB from the start. Their deafening cheers for gold medalists like Mo Farah (5,000 and 10,000 on the track) and track cyclists Laura Trott and Chris Hoy resonated through the souls of even the most ardent cynics. And the staid stiff-upper-lip set was seen on their feet, cheering, smiling, and waving the Union Jack as Team GB racked up 29 gold medals and 65 total, the most ever — and the team’s biggest haul since 1908 when the Olympics were first held in London.
Team USA also had huge reason to cheer, winning 45 golds, more than China, which surpassed the U.S. in 2008 in both golds and total medals won. At the 2012 Olympics, Team USA collected 104 total medals and made these Games far more than the Michael Phelps Farewell Tour. Mr. Phelps added four more golds and two silvers — for a grand total of 22 Olympic medals and enough gold to earn him the third consecutive title of “King of the Games.” To match, Missy Franklin earned her first “Queen of the Games” title today with her four golds.
But Team USA’s glory moments were spread across sports and venues in the Aquatic Center and beyond. The archery team won its first medal since 2000, and Georgia Gould’s bronze was mountain biking’s first trip to the podium since 1996. Galen Rupp broke a 48-year medal drought in the men’s 10,000m run. And newcomers like Katie Ledecky and Haley Anderson won swimming medals — gold in the 800 for Ledecky and silver in the open water swim.
To name just a few …
The spectators loved it. By Saturday morning, LOCOG counted 7.7 million people who had attended events at all the venues over 16 days. Of that number, 2.4 million came through the Olympic Park gates, making the massive Park a giant United Nations. People from all corners of the earth came to London for the Games and many dressed to support their countries’ athletes — from the guy with bright orange dyed hair to the many “morphsuits,” head to toe faceless spandex suits that made them look like the Blue Man Group in national colors.
They waited in long lines — queues! — to get in, and not just for events. In Olympic Park, thousands lined up to watch the equestrian events, cycling races, beach volleyball, you name it, on giant TVs in a Henman-Hill-like grassy meadow called Park Live. (Henman Hill is the grassy terrace at Wimbledon where tennis fans without tickets watch matches on a big-screen TV.)
Olympic Park was prettiest at night, when colorful lights made the venues glow. The basketball arena, a temporary venue that resembled a giant white pillow, was aglow in red, as was “The Orbit,” the tall looping structure that marked Olympic Park. The field hockey arena’s scaffolding was cast in a golden glow, and the Olympic Stadium itself was a reflection in red, white, and blue — Team GB’s colors. Upon leaving the final track events on Saturday night, one spectator looked back and declared it magical.
But it was the historic venues that really made this feel like London’s Games. Wimbledon came alive when Andy Murray won gold in tennis, and iconic Wembley Stadium rumbled with chants of U-S-A as the American women’s soccer team sought redemption, and a gold medal, against Japan.
The cycling events and marathons finished on The Mall (pronounced “mal”) in front of Buckingham Palace, and cycling brought people to Hampton Court, once Henry VIII’s country home where he rode on the grounds listening for the cannon to announce the beheading of two of his six wives at the Tower, 15 miles west. Archery introduced many to Lord’s, the home of cricket, while beach volleyball was contested near Parliament at the Horse Guards Parade, once home to jousting tournaments during Henry VIII’s reign, now site of parades and royal functions, though it’s amusing to wonder what King Henry would have thought of beach volleyball.
He probably would have liked it as much for the spectacle as for the sport. As Kerri Walsh Jennings said, “Sometimes it’s just the beer and bikinis that get people to come watch, but it’s the competition that keeps them here.”