The Olympic Games in London opened on July 27 with a sense of playful wonderment and closed on Sunday evening August 12 with a raucous and irreverent celebration — participated in by many of those who competed and contributed to making this an awe-inspiring event. As always, these Olympics — in their 17 days — taught many lessons. Here are our major takeaways.
Great Britain Is Great!
Mitt Romney may have had his doubts about whether London and Great Britain were ready to host the Olympics before the games began. There was absolutely no doubt, however, from the opening ceremony onward that indeed they were — and, indeed they did in a spectacular fashion.
That opening ceremony — crafted by Danny Boyle of Slumdog Millionaire fame — was powerful, charming, small and idiosyncratic. It demonstrated that in Great Britain history matters and citizens matter. It also showed that you didn’t have to spend billions to have an impact. Just have the Queen and James Bond jump out of a plane. Begin with the agrarian society, go to the industrial revolution, throw in Mary Poppins, the National Health Service, and wrap it up with rock’s British invasion and beyond.
The closing ceremony was also delightfully British and a participant sport. Focusing on rock and roll and featuring singers from different generations including the “older” Spice girls, it became a giant sing-a-long. It was a most appropriate send-off from this nation-state whose primary export for the past fifty years has been its music.
I Am Woman — Hear Me Roar!
For the first time ever, there were more women than men competitors. It wasn’t about the quantity, however. It was about the quality of the athletes.
All of the women were wonderful — but we found the American team especially compelling. They came in all shapes and sizes. Ranging from 6’1″ Missy Franklin in swimming to 4’11” Gabby Douglas in gymnastics. But what counted for these female team members was not their height but the size of their hearts.
America’s women team members exceeded all expectations. They won gold in events they weren’t expected to — like taking the soccer over World Champion Japan and Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings winning women’s beach volleyball for third time when it appeared coming into the Olympics that they could be past their prime.
They broke world records. They not only broke them. They shattered them. Our women’s 4×100 relay team of Carmelita Jeter, Bianca Knight, Tianna Madison and Allysson Felix beat the world’s record that had stood for 27 years by more than half of a second. This level of performance was astounding.
It wasn’t just American women. We reveled in seeing Ethiopians’ Tirunesh Dibaba and Meserat Defar fight it out in the 5,000 meters with Defar reclaiming the gold metal that she had won in 2004. This after Dibaba had won the 10,000 and was expected to prevail in the 5,000 as well. It was competition at its finest as was so much of what went on in the women’s events.
To all of the female athletes of 2012 Olympics, we say “thanks for the memories.”
The Fastest Man and Mouth in the World!
Usain Bolt was one of the male athletes who excelled in this Olympics. He did so in convincing fashion by repeating as the “fastest” man in the world in the 100 and 200 meters — the first time this has ever been done in Olympic history – and anchoring Jamaica’s winning team effort over the U.S. in the 4×100 meter relay. Bolt put his stamp on the Olympics not only through the running but also through the running of his mouth after his victories.
After he won the 200 meters, Bolt proclaimed that “I am now a legend. I’m also and the greatest athlete to live.” At the end of the games, Bolt observed, “I made a goal to become a legend.” Now I need to sit down and find something that motivates me to come out and do great things.”
Bolt is an extraordinarily talented athlete and an ebullient and entertaining individual. He is without doubt the fastest short distance runner ever. A legend — in his mind perhaps, but not yet in ours.
Profiles in Courage!
These Olympics had many personal bests and stories of athletes overcoming overwhelming odds just to compete — let alone to win. At the top of our list for these profiles in courage are Oscar Pistorius, Manteno Mitchell, and Tahmina Kohistani.
The story of Oscar Pistorius is the stuff of legends. The “Blade Runner” from South Africa who is called that because he runs on fiber carbon blades due to having his legs amputated halfway between his knees and ankles at the age of 11 months. In prior years and even before these Olympics, some thought that these blades might give Pistorius an unfair competitive advantage in the 400 meters in which he competes. They did not. But they did allow him to compete (he finished last in both his trial heat and as a member of South Africa’s 4×400 relay team) and to demonstrate to the world the triumph of the human will over what some might call a handicap.
Manteno Mitchell from the United States also demonstrated uncommon courage. Running in 4×400 relay preliminaries he broke a fibula as he started his leg of the race. Mitchell ran his leg in spite of that, so that his team could complete the relay rather than be disqualified. The American team went on to win the silver metal in the finals.
Tahimina Kohistani from Afghanistan was by far the slowest woman in her race of the 100 meters preliminary running 14.42 seconds against a winning time of 11.60 seconds. In spite of this, Kohistani easily beat her personal best time of 15.0 seconds. Her real victory though came from being the first and only woman from her home country to compete in an Olympics. She ran in the Islamic hijab (a headdress and clothing that covered her arms and legs) and against the will of the conservative males in her country. She soared above prejudice and set an example for her sisters in the Arab world to follow.
Beyond the Metal Count!
The analysts at the Olympics spent a lot of time tracking the metal count for each country. From our perspective, that was the least important aspect of this event. Admittedly, we had a sense of personal pride when an American athlete wins, especially when it is unexpected such as David Boudia winning the gold metal over favorite Qui Bo of China. We even shouted out an occasional “USA” when someone from our homeland prevailed.
We took equal pleasure, however, in seeing small countries such as Grenada and six others winning their first metals. And, in England Andy Murray’s partial redemption by winning the gold in singles tennis so convincingly over Roger Federer of Switzerland, after losing to Federer just four weeks earlier in the Wimbledon finals.
We Need Our “Political Best”!
Our final lesson is an insight gained from the Olympics. The whole world watches in marvel when countries put their best talent up front to do their personal best. If the same standard of quality for selecting athletes could be applied to picking government leaders at all levels and in all areas to do their “political best”, our world would indeed deserve the gold medal (or, at least watch in marvel).
We have to admit that when the Olympics began, we didn’t think we would watch much of it. We were wrong. This Olympics was seductive and compelling. It proved once again that it’s not about winners and losers. It was about the back stories and a reaffirmation of our shared desire as Americans to see our country’s representatives doing their personal bests and to see those from other nations doing theirs as well.
The London Olympics were a smashing success. While there was some disappointment reported in the business press at the lack of revenue raised in London and Great Britain during the games — that perspective will be short term. These Olympics have left an indelible impression on millions around the world. They will generate a financial and psychic return for Great Britain for years and decades to come. They have made the London Eye the London We.