Five things we learnt about the Olympics and Paralympics 2012

Powered by article titled “Five things we learnt about the Olympics and Paralympics 2012” was written by Owen Gibson, for The Guardian on Sunday 9th September 2012 20.32 UTC

1 The Great British public love sport

Had conkers or tiddlywinks been ordained as an Olympic sport by the panjandrums in Lausanne, one suspects there would have been a scramble for tickets and endless discussion of the home team’s chances in the good natured queues snaking through Westfield to the Olympic Park. Part of the success of the London Games was down to the fact that every session of every sport (except football) was sold out and packed with knowlegable , noisy fans. If one side effect of the sometimes controversial ticketing policy was residual frustration, another was that people who entered any of the venues felt as if they had a golden ticket and acted accordingly. The remarkable atmosphere was aided by presentation, from the tone of the MCs to the excellent music. Not only was every morning session in the stadium across both Games packed with noisy fans but, when the “house full” signs went up for a meaningless goalball clash between Sweden and Japan in the Copper Box, organisers knew their work was done.

2 Athletics can fill and thrill stadiums

London provided a glorious reminder that, staged properly and featuring a cast list of genuine global stars, athletics can still thrill huge crowds. Lord Coe essentiallybuilt himself the ideal athletics bowl, at once intimate and imposing. As was well documented, the atmosphere on the biggest nights – from Mo Farah and Usain Bolt during the Olympics to David Weir and Oscar Pistorius during the Paralympics – rivalled any sporting event anywhere in the world. At times it also felt as though the crowd was reconnecting with a sport embedded deep in the British DNA but with which they had become disenchanted over time. Aided again by intelligent programming and presentation, the field events also got the recognition they deserved. The challenge for those taking over the operation of the stadium from spring 2014 is to work out how athletics can co-exist with football and pop concerts and other sports. But they will do so in the knowledge that if they get it right then the rewards could be huge. Lord Coe, likely to be the next president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, will take a close interest.

3 Investment in elite sport is a no-brainer

Any debate over whether the £312m invested in Team GB over the four years to London 2012, or the £49.2m poured into Paralympic sport over the same period, from lottery and exchequer funds is good value for money appears all but over. The former prime minister John Major deserved the warm reception he got as a result of being the man who introduced lottery funding to British sport. The cheers for Gordon Brown were more of a surprise but perhaps they also knew he was the chancellor who approved a major uplift in investment once the London Games were won. That money, allied to a “no compromise” approach pioneered by UK Sport’s Peter Keen, and put into practice by a generation of enlighted performance directors in individual sports, has delivered in spades. Whether it can continue to do so without the focus of a home Games is another matter. Keen, who has now moved on to a part-time advisory role, insists it can.

4 Paralympic sport has gone mainstream

The 2.7m people who thronged the venues for the Paralympics may have bought their tickets for all sorts of reasons. Some wanted a cheap family day out, others had missed out on tickets to what they saw as the main event. But all soon became enraptured by the sport on show. Soon enough the Park echoed to the sound of groups of ticketholders discussing David Weir’s tactics or waxing lyrical about Ellie Simmonds’s turn of speed, as well as the inspirational life stories of those involved. That they no longer saw any differentiation between Olympic and Paralympic sport is one of the enduring triumphs of the second act of London’s sporting summer. All involved claimed a lasting impact on perceptions of Paralympic sport and disability. The huge challenge, both for ParalympicsGB and for the International Paralympic Committee, is to work out how to use the momentum generated if they are not to slip from view for another four years. There are pressing issues around classification and technology to deal with and much work to be done to develop a competitive and media friendly programme of international events. But London is a great launch pad.

5 Co-operation is not a dirty word

One of the major reasons for the success of London’s two Games was the fact that they were delivered in a spirit of co-operation. Coe and his chief executive, Paul Deighton, decreed very early on that cross-party co-operation was vital to the success of the project. Politicians of all hues deserve credit for ensuring that the line largely held, even if it is unlikely to do so in the legacy debate that follows. This was also true of the delivery of the team. Britain’s sports administrators largely put their petty politicking aside in the knowledge they had to deliver on the biggest stage of all. Already there are signs the uneasy peace that resulted is breaking down. But, if the same spirit can be shown towards the delivery of an enduring legacy by those politicians so quick to don a Team GB shirt and grab a slice of the action, then there may be a chance that the “inspire a generation” mantra could become more than just rhetoric.

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