London's Olympic Games rocked, rolled smoothly
LONDON — With a final show of American basketball brilliance and a final shooting of fireworks over Olympic Stadium, the Games of the XXX Olympiad closed as a rousing success, first and foremost, for Britain.
“London promised an athletes' Games, and that's exactly what we got,” Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, said Sunday in his closing news conference. “It was exceptional. Uplifting and energizing.”
It was all that and more, by any reasonable measure.
The closing main event had LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and the rest of the NBA stars filling the U.S. roster overcoming a game Spain team, 107-100, for the gold medal. When it was over, the NBA players stood at center court and applauded the 20,000-plus jamming the world-famous O2 Arena.
Then, across the way in the 80,000-seat stadium housing the Olympic torch, the Closing Ceremony offered another celebration of the culture, particularly the pop music, of this storied city and nation. Headline acts were the Spice Girls, The Who, George Michael, Pet Shop Boys and Jessie J, with audio riffs ranging from the Beatles and Stones to the Sex Pistols and Clash.
London organizers overcame early issues with empty seats — the result of IOC sponsors not using their complimentary tickets — and wound up selling nearly 8 million tickets, plus a record 2.2 million tickets for the upcoming Paralympics. After the first week, nearly every seat at every event, large and small, was filled.
Rogge called the issuing of tickets “difficult” but vowed to review it before the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro.
They also overcame what many felt would be their most difficult challenge: providing transportation. Relying almost entirely on the existing — and ancient — underground railroad network to handle a 30 percent uptick in passengers, it was successful. One mishap with a signal caused a five-hour delay on the Central Line in the first week, but that was it. Trains were packed, but they came every two minutes on the busiest lines.
Security always is an issue at the Olympics, but there were no significant or minor incidents. Of the $14 billion organizers spent on the Games, about half went into security. Although the firm hired to manage security embarrassingly fell 3,000 officers shy of its promised 10,000, the British military — including some recently returned from Afghanistan — filled the gaps.
Police dogs and visible machine guns were everywhere, but all concerned moved about with a smile and nod. The 242 arrests made at or near Olympic venues were of the minor variety such as a bomb hoax, five robberies and a man swimming in the Thames River.
Same was true of the 70,000-plus volunteers, young and old, omnipresent not just at Olympic venues but also at strategic points throughout central London. In the dead of night, some were still working.
Small wonder all concerned expressed pride as visitors packed to depart.
“This is a very confident country that has delivered something on time, on budget and superbly well done,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron. “We are a country that cannot just deliver but shine when it does so.”
Organizers won't know for a while whether the Games were profitable. The total cost was less than half the estimated $30 billion Beijing spent in 2008, mostly because the majority of sports facilities built here are temporary. Some, such as the entire structure for field hockey, are being sold to the Brazilians for use in Rio. Others, such as the Aquatics Centre that required extra seating for those eager to catch a glimpse of Michael Phelps, were designed to be downsized.
As with any Olympics, the victory for the host community tends to be less tangible.
“This is about the story of London going out to the world,” said the city's outspoken mayor, Boris Johnson. “And we have quite the story to tell.”
The Brits were winners on the medal stand, too, collecting 29 golds and 65 total medals, both national records. The host country always gets a pick-me-up from competing before the home fans, but this was an advantage one could feel in most venues.
“This is our greatest performance of our greatest team at the greatest Olympics ever,” said Andy Hunt, Great Britain's chef de mission.
‘We like to come in first'
The Games included several landmark moments, from Usain Bolt's breathtaking runs to reassert himself as the fastest human in history to Phelps becoming the most decorated Olympian ever. The competition was deemed among the cleanest, with only seven athletes suspended for doping.
But the broader success of the United States wound up the biggest story.
The Americans finished with 46 golds and 104 total medals, retaking the top spot from China — 38 golds and 87 total medals — after the Chinese went all-out in Beijing. That flew in the face of a public prediction earlier this year by Sebastian Coe, London's chief organizer, that China again would top the United States.
“I told Seb in April we were going to work very hard to prove him wrong, so I'm very happy about that,” said Larry Probst, chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee. “There was a lot of opinion about where we would finish as a team. We like to come in first, and there's nothing wrong with that. The last time we did was in Athens (in 2004), so it's been a while.”
It was due mostly to the women, who represented the majority of the U.S. team for the first time and outpaced the men in gold medals, 29-17, and total medals, 58-45.
“I hope girls everywhere see what we've done over here and get inspired to participate in sports,” said Hopewell's Christa Harmotto, a silver medalist with the U.S. volleyball team. “It's a great message to send back home.”
Harmotto was one of four athletes raised in the Pittsburgh area to medal. McKeesport's Swin Cash won her second gold in basketball; Rochester's Lauryn Williams, a gold for her alternate's role on the 4x100 relay sprint; and Waynesburg's Coleman Scott, a bronze in 60-kilogram freestyle wrestling.
Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.