By JULIE JAG
LONDON – In a whirl of color and sound bites of familiar tunes by British stars, London said goodbye to the Olympics.
Sunday’s closing ceremonies packed in the slightly stale stars and the crowds, filling the 80,000-seat Olympic stadium fuller than a steak-and-ale pie. Yet, that fanfare and the excitement over the torch being passed to Rio de Janeiro in 2016, paled in comparison to the Games themselves.
Perhaps it’s because this is the city’s third go-round with the Olympics, or my first time covering them live, but London seemed to know the script by heart. Here were some of the highlights:
Best Athletes in the Best Venues
The number of dream matchups that play out during a short 17-day span is mind boggling for someone who hasn’t been to an Olympics before. Every day I was here I felt like I saw one epic sporting event and missed three or four more.
I saw Serena Williams, probably at the top of her career, completely dismantle Maria Sharapova in the intimate atmosphere that is Wimbledon. A week later I went to Wembley, the historic soccer stadium, to watch the USA women’s team get its sweet revenge and a gold medal against Japan. In between, I crammed into a press box to glimpse Usain Bolt proving he really is the fastest man alive and snuck into swimming to see Michael Phelps get a step closer to the Olympic medals record. That list doesn’t touch the memorable moments from swimming, diving, equestrian, boxing, wrestling, taekwondo, volleyball, basketball and more that have sadly begun to blur together.
Giddy over Girl Power
Women had more of an influence on these Games than any other. The U.S. sent a higher number of women than men for the first time and they repaid the effort with far more medals than their male counterparts. So did the women of China and Russia. But that’s not what made this Olympics one of girl power. That had more to do their lasting impact.
Gabby Douglas stood out for more than her hair and may have altered the sport of gymnastics as a result. Gold medal beach volleyball players Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor gave a clinic in how far a strong bond, bolstered by some couples therapy, can take a team. And Claressa Shields and Marlen Esparza made a big impact by winning medals in women’s boxing, a new sport this Games, to show women can be tough and feminine and to keep the U.S. from its first-ever boxing shutout.
And that’s just for starters. The maturity, grace and freakishly fast swimming of 17-year-old Missy Franklin and the spunk of the U.S.’s first judo medalist Kayla Harrison made a lasting impression. So did the picture of a Saudi Arabian woman running the 800, marking the first time that country allowed a woman to represent it in the Olympics.
Brits Break Out the Olympic Spirit
It turns out the Olympic Spirit does exist, and not just in the text of the International Olympic Committee’s charter or the words of an official’s speech.
Though there had been some grumbling about the cost of hosting the Games during an economic downturn, the British turned out in droves to support “Team GB.” When local sweetheart Jessica Ennis won the heptathlon, they created more noise than a fleet of jumbo jets. But they didn’t limit their applause to the home team, [which is good since last-minute tickets weren’t available to foreign fans], giving rousing support to any valiant effort.
Nor did the British limit their goodwill to the stadiums, which seemed to take even them by surprise. In one press conference, a British reporter asked a panel of IOC and London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games [LOCOG] about the troubling trend of people actually talking to each other on the Tube, as the underground railway is called.
“I would like to unreservedly apologize to you for the outburst of excitement and commeraderie on the Tube,” Sebastian Coe, the LOCOG chair, responded in typically wry humor. He added, s“I think it’s fantastic.”
The pleasantries may not last long. One local reporter suggested they might be over before Sunday night’s dousing of the flame since two popular soccer teams with little love for each other, Manchester City and Chelsea, began their preseason Sunday afternoon.
Still, one can hope that the effects, like the careers of the many aging stars brought out for the closing ceremonies, will linger.