As I cycled along one of the capital’s canal paths on a balmy evening late last week, it felt great to be British, great to be a Londoner and great to be alive.
The national anthem rang out from a TV in a crowded open-air bar across the canal as another gold medal was awarded to a Brit, Londoners jogged towards me sporting various Union Jack attire and tourists wobbled along on Boris bikes, looking a little unsure of themselves but obviously loving the experience.
And as I cycled home a few hours later, I spotted Olympic bunting draped along a moored barge and a small, nondescript set of Olympic rings nailed above one of the canal tunnels, difficult to see against the brickwork but a touching reminder that the Olympics were everywhere.
It’s been said before and it’ll be said again, but London and Britain have shined during these Olympics. And I’ve been as moved as everyone else by the friendliness, the camaraderie, the fun, the patriotism and, most of all, by the incredible feats of so many athletes from around the world.
The message I take away from these Games is that anything is possible and that it’s down to each one of us to create the life we want to lead.
We choose how we want to respond to our circumstances and to things that happen to us. We decide how we want to react to our past and make use of our present. We make choices with our hours, our days, our weeks and our years. We define our futures.
So many of the Olympians had been through so much, from losing a mother or father at a young age, to injury, frustration, sacrifice, self-doubt and disappointment. One athlete, Oscar Pistorius, is a double amputee. So many had battled grief, heartache, physical and emotional pain and crises of confidence before they even got to the Games.
It’s no surprise then that, win or lose, many ended up in floods of tears on the podium or at the finish line. And it seems I’m not the only one who cried along with them. There is something so moving and inspiring about human endeavour, about triumph in the face of adversity and about commitment and dedication taken to such an extraordinary level.
I was particularly moved by Gemma Gibbons, the British judo
gold silver medallist who lost her Mum to leukaemia at the age of 17 and who looked upward and mouthed “I love you Mum” after beating her final opponent. There was Tom Daley, the 18-year-old diver, who dedicated his bronze medal to his Dad who died of cancer last year. And as a reminder to myself that my own minor aches, pains and injuries don’t need to deter me from doing the sports that I love, Nick Skelton won a showjumping gold at the age of 54 and having had a hip replacement, two knee operations and a lot of broken bones. Then there were our rowers, swimmers, cyclists, heptathlete Jessica Ennis, double track gold medallist Mo Farah and the well-deserved tennis gold won by a much more relaxed and confident Andy Murray. How could you fail to be inspired?
I loved Seb Coe’s quote at the closing ceremony: “We know more now as individuals and as a nation what we are capable of”.
The only thing I didn’t like was the tendency of some of the athletes who hadn’t achieved their dream of a medal to say they had let everyone down. I can understand their disappointment (or at least try to as I’ve never worked or trained so hard for anything) and can see why they might feel that way – they are often the product of an incredible coaching team and supporting family and friends who may have also made huge sacrifices. But as the commentators tried to tell them, they had let nobody down. And it’s not the best message to be sending out to those who look up to them – that winning is the only thing that counts.
That aside, I think the Games lived up to their stated aim of inspiring a generation. I’m certainly inspired. Maybe not to sign up to my local athletics club as I have to respect what my body is telling me about the impact of hardcore running. But perhaps to try a fun team triathlon with a few friends (I would swim or bike), to commit to daily exercises to strengthen my body and improve my flexibility and to make sure I’m taking part in team sports that lift my soul.
More importantly, though, the courage and devotion of the Olympic athletes have inspired me to choose the life I want to lead, to decide how I want to respond to my circumstances, to channel any grief, anger, frustration or disappointment into commitment and dedication to a better life for myself and for others and not to allow my past to stand in the way of a glorious, golden present and future. The Olympians have also reminded me that our dreams are worth fighting for.
In a short BBC sports psychology film I watched during the Games, the athletes interviewed said it’s all about believing you can win. As long as you believe that and do your best, the outcome doesn’t really matter. That’s the Olympic spirit.
If, like me, you want to soak up more of that spirit and hang on to the Olympic magic for a little longer, check out some of the great videos that are around: Golden moments from 2012, 20 Memories of London 2012 or Team GB singing Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now.
And if you’re suffering from Olympic withdrawal syndrome (as I am), check out this great article in Athletics Weekly, London 2012 Olympics: the perfect hangover cure, which suggests getting involved in sport and makes some great points about the humility of the athletes.
Finally, you could take a look at some of my Olympic snapshots below, from the opening ceremony rehearsal, which really was an incredibly moving spectacle, to images of the Olympic Park, the hockey and handball, the big red London bus doing press-ups in my neighbourhood and the cuddly Olympic mascot, Wenlock.
Thank you to London and Britain for making it all possible and to the world for joining in.