London's pride in truly momentous games
Nothing compared to being present for some of the more exhilarating moments, but TV does have its compensations
NOTHING PREPARES people for the Olympic onslaught.
What hits you first is the sheer mind-boggling size of the thing – it’s impossible to get your head around the scale of it.
Then there’s the commercial side. Everything from the Olympic rings to burgers is brand-dominated and brand-protected. It’s pricey food, pricey souvenirs, pricey everything.
It’s a lucrative business. The Olympic mandarins should consider amending their famous motto to “Citius Altius Fortius Sponsorus”.
They get away with it because of the compelling athletic brilliance at the heart of the games. No other sporting event comes close.
The football World Cup, which is massive, deals with just one sport, a much smaller number of competing nations and a manageable number of games.
London 2012, on the other hand, showcased the most mixed offering imaginable from wrestlers to rhythmic gymnasts, basketballers to BMX bikers, sailors to sprinters, and it housed and fed all the athletes, support teams and national officials while welcoming their excited supporters.
Hundreds of thousands of spectators packed into stadiums and lined race routes every day. They had to be marshalled and minded.
Visiting heads of state and assorted royalty had to be fussed over by protocol squads and watched over by detectives.
It has been an immense security operation, with a last-minute entry by the army.
And recording it all was the media. More particularly, the broadcast media, beaming those all-important images to the farthest reaches of the planet.
What the Olympics does is produce a perfectly packaged televisual feast for the world to savour – dicing and splicing every minute of action into portions of human frailty and triumph. Irresistible.
The main media centre in Stratford was a bewildering babel of word and voice. Right next door, the International Broadcasting Centre was the world epicentre of ego – like one big convention for Anchorman’s Ron Burgundy.
The pictures they produce of those heroic achievements, the close-up shots of agony and ecstasy, the back stories that play at the heartstrings, make the Olympics.
It was wonderful to be in the stadium on the night Usain Bolt smashed it in the 100m final, or when Michael Phelps swam his last race for the US.
For all that, you really do see far more on television. But what you don’t get is the fabulous frisson that only being there for the big occasion can bring.
When Bolt walked nonchalantly into the stadium, the atmosphere changed in an instant. A number of field and track events were going on. It was hard to concentrate. With one glimpse of the Jamaican superstar, the noise level rocketed. By the time Bolt got to his blocks, the huge stadium was in his grip, the excitement and air of anticipation infectious.
A rolling roar before the start got louder and louder. Think of the sound seconds before an All-Ireland final throw-in, or the bone-shaking wall of noise that rises before the start of the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Everyone stood up.
This time, it was to the track and not the big screen that eyes turned for the seconds it took Bolt to seal his legend. Exhilarating, momentous and reason alone to be there.