Goodbye London 2012, we'll miss you
In the end, every one of us was inspired by a month of extraordinary sport. Tom Peck considers how the Paralympics, in particular, gave the nation a summer to remember in the form of new heroes, golden moments and perhaps, even a legacy
It is yet another line from Shakespeare's The Tempest that is sad but undeniably true this morning. In the words of Prospero (for those not familiar with the play, he is the Lord Coe character): "Our revels now are ended."
It is tempting to wonder if Danny Boyle realised, on finding inspiration in The Tempest, quite how apt it would prove to be. As well as the sorcerer overlord Coe, we have seen the beautiful but steely-willed Miranda played to perfection by Jessica Ennis, the spritely mercurial fixer Ariel in the form of Paul Deighton - freed from long years imprisoned by an evil witch (read Goldman Sachs), and as for Caliban, the twisted mooncalf prone to poetic soliloquy, well it is almost as if the Mayor has been doing it on purpose.
So what to make then, of this summer like no other? For seven years the Games loomed ever larger on the horizon. Now they are in the rear view mirror, and will vanish just as fast. It was only the other week that the gleaming venues, and the gleaming people in them, in their gleaming uniforms, were buzzing with anticipation of what was to come. Now, already, apparitions hang about them. Glance up at the velodrome and you can see Sir Chris Hoy crying on the podium. Beneath the curving roof of the swimming pool, Ellie Simmonds's thousand watt smile is lighting up the place. And under the stadium's triangular floodlights the roar is reverberating ever louder, as Mo Farah and David Weir come round that top bend, opposite the Olympic cauldron, winding up the pace.
Others are already consigned completely to history. The stunning equestrian arena at Greenwich Park is being dismantled. At the Excel Centre, where Nicola Adams punched her way into the warm heart of the nation, there will soon be an international arms fair. And when the colour is trooped for her Majesty on Horse Guards Parade next summer, there is unlikely to be a bikini-clad beach volleyballer's bottom in sight.
Much of what was best, came last. After the superstars – Bolt, Phelps and their ilk – it felt quite right to be humbled. By a Chinese backstroker with no arms, crashing headfirst into the touch pad to break the world record. By a blind Brazilian footballer, jinking a ball with a bell inside past three players, and chipping it over a fully sighted keeper (how strange to think he will never see the replay). And of course some Paralympians whose names and triumphs will live long in the memory. A tearful Ellie Simmonds, finally cracking under the weight of a nation's expectations - but not until the job had been done. Jonnie Peacock. David Weir. And Oscar – after the controversy and the setbacks, arms aloft as he obliterated the field in the T44 400m, the last race of London 2012 on that now-famous track.
It is an emotional assault from all angles, the Paralympics. A shark attack, the Haiti earthquake, and a 200 mile an hour car crash have all led people to Stratford this last fortnight. Then there's the raw drama of the sport, much of it as skilful, fast and fierce as anything that has been seen in London these last few weeks. Should we feel guilty for being moved to tears as well as euphoria by the likes of wheelchair discus thrower Josie Pearson, who now has a gold medal hanging round the neck she broke in a car crash that killed her boyfriend? Who knows.
Either way, the pink foam fingers worn so cheerfully by London's volunteer army point only to Rio de Janeiro now. So many of Great Britain's Olympic heroes, young and old, have, when asked about the future, said words to the effect of ‘What is the point of carrying on? Nothing is ever going to better this.'
It is a depressingly astute sentiment. It will be hard, now that the main event is over, to psych ourselves up to make sure that promises to “inspire a generation” are kept. That schools and sports clubs are equipped so that they don't drop a baton that will now be thrust into their hands at dangerous speed. But we must.
It is a sweet peculiarity of 2012, that gloom will, in years to come, recall it. Decades from now, when another summer arrives where the sun never shines and the rain never stops, a bright young weather forecaster will breezily impart that ‘it's the worst summer since 2012'. And the kids will think the old fools crazy as they break into wistful grins at their misty memories of Mo and Jessica and Ellie and Jonnie and Bradley and that girl from down the road who ran with the Olympic Torch. And those brothers, from Yorkshire, who did the triathlon, what were their names? They all had their faces put on stamps you know, and the Queen, the Queen! She jumped out of a helicopter! No I'm not making it up! I was there!