Fri, September 20, 2013

Simmons: London Games rank among best

By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency


Our Steve Simmons has nothing but praise for these Games -- and he doesn't want to leave just yet. (REUTERS)


LONDON - There is this feeling at the end of almost every Olympic Games that the party has gone on a little too long, that's it's time to pack up, time to go home.

But I'm not ready to leave. Not yet.

I want one more peak at Buckingham Palace, one more walk through Hyde Park, one more tube ride, one more conversation with a delightful, helpful volunteer, one more breakfast of grease on grease, one more stop in Trafalgar Square just to be mesmerized by the architecture and the beauty.

I want one more look at Hampton Court Palace, where Henry VIII once lived and the queen, Clara Hughes, rode her bike one more walk past St. Paul's Cathedral, one more crowded double-decker bus ride, one more plate of fish and chips, one more cheer for great Olympic track and cycling heroes of Team GB, one more step into traffic looking the wrong way, and one more viewing of the only athlete here capable of beating time and stopping it all at once: The Olympic Games are forever about individual achievement from individual countries.

Usain Bolt cut through all that once again. He, alone, belongs to the world.

But these Games belonged first to London, a city that wasn't supposed to be safe enough, transportable enough, engaged enough, to be Olympian in any way. That was the story coming in: It wasn't the story going out. The Olympics can be both huge and intimate and here it was both. The fears of transportation issues were just that: This was one of the most portable Olympics in history. Security was never an issue: In 14 Olympic Games, it has never felt so comfortable, so easy. If there was a disconnect at times, and most of that was early in the Games, it was between city and Games, and that was mostly geographical. The Olympics are a massive event and London is a massive city and it seemed to take some time before the city and country, spectator and citizen, fully accepted and took part in all that can be about hosting the world.

It wasn't Vancouver and it couldn't be Vancouver and it wasn't Sydney and it couldn't be Sydney. It wasn't that kind of street party. But when you put those celebrations aside, these were a hugely successful Olympics, logistically in sync, anal at times, with so many and too many rules, and had the pubs not closed at 11 every night -- this was a part of Olympic life that was hard to fathom -- the party may have found its way to the streets.

But this isn't New York: This is a city that sleeps.

To use the favoured British expression, these were a brilliant Games, in form and in athletic success. It was hard not get caught up in the British excitement. Somehow when there were cheers of USA-USA in Los Angeles in 1984 there was a certain obnoxious nature to the chanting bravado. Here, it seemed different, part amazement, part appreciation, part celebration for Bradley Wiggins and Sir Chris Hoy, for Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah, amazing Olympians all of them.

They didn't just pull off the Rubik's Cube that is the modern Olympics: They pulled it off, kicked some ass, and took home a record 28 gold medals. And they managed it with dignity. The best night of the Games, if there was such a singular thing, came at the Olympic Stadium, when three Brits all won gold for the very first time at track and field. The feeling in the stadium, in the country, was pure elation. From that night on, there was no looking back.

At any time, in any place, an Olympic adventure is purely personal. It comes down to what you saw, where you were, what happened to catch your attention. And sometimes, it's where you weren't: When Canada was playing the U.S. in the soccer game that captivated our nation at Old Trafford, I was three hours away in London. Captivating by diving. But you have to recover at the Olympics: I was smart enough to be at Coventry when the Canadian women won their unlikely but remarkable bronze medal. The Canadian moment from the Games, where our national colours were transformed to red, white and bronze, that will endure.

Like any Games, the rest is about what took your breath away, what you may never forget.

For me, it always begins with Bolt but the athlete whose spirit impressed me most was Oscar Pistorius, the South African runner without legs. It wasn't what he looked like. It wasn't about the debate over whether he belonged with his prosthetic legs. It was about his heart. He was the only athlete of the Games to change legs before coming to the interview zone, a place he never wanted to leave. He was so excited, so thrilled, so polite, he wanted to share his story and his enthusiasm and you ended being consumed by his smile: The happiest and proudest athlete at the 2012 Games.'

There were so many moments to remember and hold onto, as there are in any Olympic Games; Milos Raonic didn't win anything but Canada but admiration after his 25-23 third set defeat to Wilfried-Jo Tsonga but that didn't seem all that spectacular when Roger Federer and Juan Martin Del Potro did something similar in the tennis semifinals. Suddenly, Olympic tennis matters. There were the Canadian swimmers -- Ryan Cochrane, Brent Hayden and the kid, Richard Weinberger -- bringing home a surprising three medals. There was Emilie Heymans winning her fourth medals in four Olympic Games and wrestler Tonya Verbeek going three-for-three on the podium. There was the one gold medal, best in the world: Rosie MacLennan, trampoline gold,

And there was the scandal at badminton, where players tried to rig the draw by losing intentionally, four pairs were disqualified and two completely unknown Canadians became known for an instant as they lost out, were placed back in the draw and eventually played for a medal they would not win. Only the Olympics can create this kind of story and carry us along for the crazy ride.

Some people anticipated violence in London, and there was none. But sadly, there was a death at the Games. A local cyclist was hit by an Olympic bus and didn't survive. What followed was a debate over whether helmets should be mandatory for local cyclists. When the BBC didn't specialize in cheering on its athletes here, it specialized in intelligent debate.

The brilliance of the London Games was not all about sport. It was about putting the country on display and they managed that perfectly. Road cycling began beside Buckingham Palace. Time trials had Hampton Court Palace in the background. The triathlon and swim marathon began and ended at Hyde Park. There were sheep in a field opposite Eton Dorney where athletes rowed and paddled. Unlike Beijing, the buildings themselves weren't spectacular: The scenery was.

So today, the rest of the world begins to leave London, athletes from 207 countries and almost as many sports, after 17 days of splendour. I feel like the guest who doesn't want to leave. I want one more treat, one more race with Usain Bolt. One more chance to take it all in.

steve,simmons@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @simmonssteve