I was going to write a post straight after the Olympics to say how right I was about how great London 2012 was going to be. But now I have a whole summer of sport to praise. What a summer.
First up we had the end of the Premiership season, the most dramatic climax of all time. Think Man Utd v Bayern Munich, think Johnny Wilkinson v Australia. Stunning, just stunning. Just days later, somehow, against all the odds Chelsea won the Champions League. And before you had time to catch your breath we were off to Poland and Ukraine for what we were assured would be a three week long racially fueled fight. It wasn’t. The expected reports of violence were noticeable by their absence, the tournament was more entertaining than World Cups, England didn’t embarrass ourselves (and in a noble gesture bowed out on penalties in the 1/4 finals so someone else could win it) and we saw Spain win their 3rd tournament in a row – greatest international team ever? They have earned their place in the debate, certainly the best of my generation. Good start sporting summer.
And with football done with we had the staple diet of our normal summers up next. The soon to be knighted Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France. The first British man to ever do it.
The British Grand Prix yet again provided an unpredictable weekend of sheer excitement and The British Open saw the most spectacular collapse in recent memory – Ernie Els somehow triumphing over a devastated Adam Scott.
Cricket provided us with a thrilling three match series between England and South Africa. We may have lost, KP continues to divide opinion but tearing your eyes away from the contest was near impossible.
With Wimbledon we had the usual question – could we find a British winner for the first time since Fred Perry in 1936? No, but not for lack of trying. Andy Murray came close; taking a set off Roger Federer before succumbing in 4 in the final. There’s no shame in losing to the greatest player of all time on his best surface but we all shared Murray’s pain as he broke down in the post-match interview. Could he recover? Well the small matter of Olympic gold 28 days later and beating Novak Djokovic in 5 sets at the US Open to become the first British Slam winner in 76 years certainly made up for the loss at SW19.
And meanwhile in the sport of kings two stories were capturing the imagination. Camelot ultimately came up short when trying to win the Triple Crown but Frankel continued to leave commentators looking for new superlatives as he first kept on trouncing his rivals and then did it with even more ease when stepping up in distance. He retires to stud after Champions Day next month – savour him while you can.
And that would normally be that. Except it wasn’t. We had the small matter of hosting the Olympic games in London to deal with. And didn’t we do well.
I didn’t see much of the Paralympics, but a sell-out of 2.5million tickets suggests that others may have done. We won 34 gold medals, 43 silver and 43 bronze to finish 3rd in the medal table behind China and Russia – but ahead of USA. Not a bad effort at all and with an uncountable number of touching stories. David Weir won 4 gold medals in his wheelchair ranging from 800m to the marathon. Ellie Simmonds won 2 golds, a silver and a bronze in the pool – despite being just 17. Wherever you looked there were success stories and the games captured the public imagination in a way never before seen. On an international level they were also notable for having the most athletes and participating countries of all time.
As for the Olympic games themselves? Started off by a stunning opening ceremony by Danny Boyle that included James Bond, Mr Bean, a cameo from the Queen, the red arrows and all manner of other guest appearances from famous faces and sporting legends it could surely only go downhill? Well they surpassed all expectations. 29 golds, 17 silver and 19 bronze medals. An incredible 3rd in the medal table. The most successful British team ever. Crowds packed cycling and marathon routes up to 20 deep the whole way round. Every event was sold out. Every athlete afforded a rousing reception. Every reception for a British athlete threatened to take the roof off. 70,000 games-makers kept everyone smiling, armed forces kept spectators safe and it all coincided with the only dry spell of the summer. All the cynics and doubters held their hands up – we pulled it off in even more spectacular fashion than us cheerleaders had dared hope.
And stand out moments? Well Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian of all time and Usain Bolt proved that he is superhuman.
From a British point of view? Take your pick. Bradley Wiggins following up the Tour de France with another gold medal? His 4th gold, and 7th overall in 3 games. Andy Murray gaining revenge on Roger Federer by beating him in the Gold Medal match? Sir Chris Hoy gaining his 6th gold medal in the velodrome to overtake Sir Steve Redgrave as Britain’s most successful Olympian? Or the changing of the guard as Jason Kenny won the sprint in place of Hoy. Whilst on the waves Ben Ainslie won gold again – for the 4th games in a row. Laura Trott’s omnium win was one of the most tense races you could wish to see. Team GB gaining a bronze in the team gymnastics was another incredible achievement – made all the more sweet by the fact it was so unexpected. Tom Daley in the diving had it’s own emotion attached. Mo Farah winning his second gold, in the 5000m, defied belief and watching the Brownlee brothers get gold and bronze to take home to Yorkshire was another of those moments that sticks with you.
Of course it goes without saying that we dominated rowing and cycling. But the best moment for me? That glorious hour in the Olympic Stadium when British Athletics rose like a phoenix from the flames. First the poster girl Jessica Ennis completed what had become a procession in the Heptathlon in front of an adoring crowd of 80,000. But that was just the start. Out of nowhere Greg Rutherford took gold in the Long Jump to set us up for the grand finale. Mo Farah had the simple task of becoming the first Briton to win the 10,000m. He did it. The stadium erupted. The commentators lost all semblance of neutrality. And so capped the greatest hour in British athletics history. The 3 gold medals made it 6 for the day. Super Saturday indeed.
And now it is all consigned to history and stored in the memory. A glorious summer of sport made unforgettable by the joy of hosting the greatest show on earth. Sport’s Personality of the Year should make for unmissable viewing this year. 2013, and every other year after it for that matter, will do very well to come close to the sheer joy the summer of 2012 gave us sports nuts.