It’s the morning of the opening ceremonies of the London 2012 Summer Games and, ho-boy, I’ve seen this movie before. There’s a national biorhythm—an emotional arc de triomphe, if you will—that plays out during the span of every Olympics I’ve attended. I saw it in Calgary in 1988 and in Vancouver in 2010 and in a bunch of other Olympics in between.
It begins on the high of winning the Olympic bid, then it peaks and troughs many times over the long years of preparation. The successes, as the winning city basks in international limelight, are soon worn down by doubts, fears, cost concerns, internal bickering and impatience with a process that takes so bloody long that it seems the whole country is in the back seat of the family Buick screaming “Are we there yet?”
And then we are.
So, finally, it’s the opening morning of the XXX Summer Games. (A word of warning: don’t type that into your search engine because we’re talking Roman Numerals here and not the sort of, um, unsanctioned activities that a Google search will turn up.) But I digress.
What the Brits have been experiencing is an amped-up version of the anxiety that any good host feels in the moments before a pile of guests arrive at your home for an elaborate dinner party. You cast your eyes about the house and realize that, whoa! you really should have shampooed the rug, and the canapés got a bit singed, you neglected to ask if anyone has food allergies and, oh, my, whatever are we going to talk about with all these strange people?
Today, a read of the morning papers reveals the inevitable next phase. The door has been thrown open, you’ve shoved drinks at the guests and, by God, we just might pull this off! As the Guardian said in its lead editorial today: “London has a smile on its face and the country seems to have a sense that the next 17 days may actually be pretty wonderful.”
Or as The Times opined: “As the Games begin, we must remember that it is not only the athletes who have the attention of the world. All of Britain does. With the perfect combination of humility and pride, we should bask in it.” And, finally, the Daily Telegraph: “The Games of the XXX Olympiad, to give them their official title, promise to be one of the greatest spectacles this country has seen, to be remembered, we hope, for all the right sporting reasons.”
If anyone should know how this arc of angst goes, it’s Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for the U.S. presidency and the savior of the scandal-plagued 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games. And yet he put his foot in it while visiting London, expressing to NBC anchor Brian Williams that he found the security cock-ups and the threats of labour unrest “disconcerting.” He wondered if the country will come together and celebrate. “That’s something which we only find out once the Games actually begin.”
Well, the newspapers here are aflame. Never mind that their scribes shouted the same doubts from their bully pulpits only yesterday. That a foreigner said more or less the same things, expressed in the mildest possible terms, is interpreted here as a major diplomatic blunder. “’Nowhere man’ Romney loses his way with gaffe about the Games,” quoth the Times.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, quick to read the welcome switch in national mood, fired back at Romney. “We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.”
Ouch, take that, Utah!
Oh yes, the Games have begun.