London Olympic Games: Saturday 4 August 2012

An experience like nothing I’ve ever known before

This is going to be one of the hardest posts I have ever written: I don’t want to rely on over-used superlatives to describe the experience of watching the Olympics in the athletics stadium last night, but that might be very tough indeed.

Where to start? Well, I guess at the beginning of the day. I had seats with two friends from my running club and we decided to try to absorb the whole atmosphere so we got to the Olympic Park nice an early – lunchtime for an evening session. The journey was painless, the process of accessing the park was easy and pleasant, the soldiers on duty (in place of the G4S people who were never hired!) were efficient and friendly.

The park itself – well that was very, very busy. Not long after we arrived 80,000 fans from the morning session of the Olympics tipped out and added to the masses that were milling around already. And this really is the basis for my only slight complaint. There were queues everywhere. For everything.

There were queues for the shops, for the steel sculpture thing, for the garden areas where the big screens are. But they moved fast and frankly I think given the enormous number that were there, the whole atmosphere in the Park was unbelievably friendly and relaxed.

After a couple of hours of soaking up the buzz around the Park, we went into the stadium to take our seats.

The stadium is really, really beautiful. There cannot be a ‘bad’ seat in the place and the arena is the perfect setting for Olympics. I really, really hope that all talk of a football club taking over is finally laid to rest. This needs to be the UKs centre for athletics for the future. It is stunning.

And then the sport started.

Actually I am not going to write a blow-by-blow account of the action. If you were living in a cave and didn’t see it or you just want to relive all the excitement (and I implore you to watch this again and again and again), the BBC is the perfect place to catch it for the first time or again. Click here for the Farah victory. And here for the climax of Ennis’ victory.

The atmosphere in the stadium was like nothing I have ever experienced before.

Jessica Ennis seals victory,

The people around me were all on their feet as Ennis started her two lap race and the noise as she ran off the front, was caught and then kicked past the two athletes who had passed her, grew and grew and grew until there seemed to be an explosion of emotion and cheering and whistling and screaming as she crossed the line.

Mo Farah. Olympic champion.

Photo: © Richard Gregory

Not that I am in any way taking anything away from Ennis’ victory, but if it is possible the noise around the stadium for the 10000m seemed to be a notch greater.

I suspect that this was because there was no certainty that Mo would win. For Ennis the 800m, baring catastrophe, was going to give her victory and the underlying emotion behind the noise in the stadium was jubilation and excitement.

But for Mo it was different. From the moment the gun went everyone I could see in the stadium was yelling encouragement. By the time he had three laps to go everyone was on their feet. And as he surged to the front with 450m to go and across the start/finish line for the final lap, the noise was truly unbelievable. It was as though everyone thought they could propel him to victory by making more and more noise. There was a sense of desperation, of straining, of fear in the noise. Victory for Mo was far from assured and the athletes that tracked him around that last lap always seemed poised to ‘pop’ out and streak past in the last few hundred metres or even last few metres to snatch victory.

So the noise when he hit the home straight and opened a 3 or 4 metre gap was – there is only one word for it – hysterical. Everyone around me was jumping and clasping each other and screaming and yelling. Really and truly, I have never known anything like it.

We were on our feet shouting and clapping for what seemed like hours after as Mo collected first himself, then his daughter, then a Union Flag and then his wife for a victory lap that I will always remember. It was a truly remarkable moment in a truly magical night.

So what now?

After the sheer unadulterated joy at what we had witnessed subsided just a little – by which I mean after I had left the stadium and was alone on my way home on the tube at midnight – I started to wonder what this will all mean?

I will write more on this no doubt. But one thing I want to ask, is whether it is too much to hope that this will make a real, sustainable and positive difference? I believe that big events can create lasting change and last night was a huge event. Not just for athletics and not just for the wider realms of sport. This was a big event on a much bigger canvas. Last night we saw – whether that was in the flesh or on TV – what ordinary people can achieve. Mo Farah is amazing, of that there is no doubt. But he is amazing because of what he has made of himself. He is amazing because of how hard he works. So I hope I am not reading too much into it all when I say that I believe that Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis and Greg Rutherford and all the other Olympians who are doing things far, far beyond what was expected of them and hoped for them, are showing all of us that there is so much more that we can achieve if we believe in ourselves and we work hard. Now we just need to make sure that this message reaches everyone and raises us all up to do more and try harder. That, in my opinion, is how significant what I saw in the Olympic stadium last night should be.

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