August 5, 2012 by talkaboutyork
In 1995, South Africa hosted and won the Rugby World Cup. I was in a pub in Johannesburg when that magic moment happened, when Nelson Mandela came out in a Springbok jersey and presented Francois Pienaar with the Cup. The feeling of euphoria and togetherness, of a nation that had been separated by colour for so long now united by sport, was indescribable.
But South Africans, as evidenced by Bert le Clos, are almost childlike in their emotions. We are not a nation with a stiff upper lip or an ounce of reserve. I’ve never felt that same unity or joy in Britain.
There have been any number of naysayers bemoaning the fact that we have the Olympics in London. That it will cost too much, not do enough for the country outside of London, that it’s not bringing in as much business as expected, that getting tickets is a nightmare, the empty seats an embarrassment, the sponsorship dictatorship appalling, that the wall to wall coverage is interfering with their regular viewing of Antiques Roadshow…
But the miseries are being washed away in a tidal wave of very un-British unity. And it is a joy to experience.
We got to go to Old Trafford the day before the opening ceremony to watch Team GB v Senegal in the football. That was before the tsunami of Olympics mania had had a chance to sweep across the nation. But even then, the atmosphere was electric. Perhaps its the playing of the national anthem and the waving of the Union Jacks that instantly earmarks the events as something bigger, better, more powerful than a normal sporting occasion.
I have sat glued to the television for the last week, screaming at it, willing our athletes on. I’ve cried with their joy and their dejection, at the slow rise of the flags up the flagpoles, the strains of God Save Our Queen. I’ve been carried on an emotional roller coaster. And I’ve loved every minute.
In an era of austerity, the failings of bankers and politicians, the loss of lives in wars abroad, these Games have given Britain the chance to celebrate.
To celebrate the exceptional talents of normal people from all walks of life who don’t expect millions in transfer fees, who simply want to achieve their dream of getting gold.
To celebrate the perfection that is the human body when pushed to its limit.
To celebrate the talent we as a nation have in putting on an event that has run perfectly. The logistics. The volunteers. The clever little touches like the stamps and gold post boxes for gold medal winners.
To celebrate the peculiarity of being British and all that it stands for as evidenced in that incredible opening ceremony.
To celebrate collectively as a nation with our full range of emotions and not giving two hoots whether we cry and cheer or scream or laugh in the most undignified of ways.
Because we all feel it, the unity that the Games has brought. And for these magical two weeks, the potential it has inspired in everyone to be just little bit better at whatever we do.
The magic of 1995 has come alive for me once again. Well done Britain.