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Olympics 2012 Through Eyes of a Lankan in London

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by Dr Upul Wijayawardhana | Cardiologist

I really have enjoyed the bliss of retired life, being able to watch the London ‘Olympics’, savouring the great moments in real time without the hindrance of work!

Niluka Karunaratne of Sri Lanka hits a return during his men’s Singles Group Badminton victory match on Day 3 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Wembley Arena-pic: London 2012

When I read the negative comments of ‘I can C’, who obviously could neither see nor appreciate the finer points of the opening ceremony, in your paper of 31st July I wanted to respond but delayed as I still had lingering doubts whether things could go wrong and I may be speaking too soon.

Of course, it was balanced by your, as usual, excellent editorial titled ‘When the Queen vowed the world’ on the same day. I have followed, with great interest, all subsequent correspondence.

Why did I have doubts? Was it the usual media hype of negativity? Was it the bad times we were experiencing? We are still experiencing a recession; we had seen how corrupt our politicians are, manipulating their expense claims; we had seen our free( but not fair) press at its worst. May be all of this but the biggest worry was a terrorist threat, a problem for which UK government, unfortunately, exhibits double standards.

How can we forget what happened the day after London, rather unexpectedly, won the Olympics. The euphoria of that night was replaced by the despair next day with the July 7th bombings in London by a group of misguided young Muslims born and bread in this country. I still recollect vividly how I was trying, desperately, to contact my son who lives in London. When we left Sri Lanka 25 years ago, partly due to the prevailing problems at the time, we did not expect terrorist attacks in London!

Now that Olympics have passed without incidents, I can breathe a sigh of relief and pen the thoughts over the past 16 days. First, my grief at the way my ‘Motherland’ handled this great event, putting politics before sports. Your editorial on 3rd August, : Why this hullaballo?’ summed the position beautifully. I laughed so much I was worried that I may fracture my ageing ribs!

The opening ceremony was a spectacle which kept us spell bound and will be never forgotten. Danny Boyle created a masterpiece, a beautiful song, a great painting, an enthralling story, all rolled into one. His vision was to honour the unsung heroes and highlight the Great British Institutions.

We were not fortunate enough to get tickets but were glued to the television as ‘the green and pleasant land’ unfolded before us showing all the ‘village’ activities including cricket! Suddenly, greenery was replaced by four giant chimneys signalling the industrial revolution, which started in the UK. Isambard Kingdom Brunel, great engineer who revolutionised public transport and pioneered modern engineering appeared in a corner reading Shakespeare! I am pretty sure many Americans thought it was Abraham Lincoln in view of his ‘Top hat’! A stream of molten metal flowed right across for the workers to craft a huge ring which ascended to join four others in the sky to form the Olympic rings which glowed with molten metal sparkling down. What a spectacle it was.

Homage to the NHS, which I was privileged to work for nearly 25 years, was comical with children from Great Ormond Children’s Hospital dancing on their beds and then hiding under the sheets to read while outside J K Rowling read, not from one of her books that have sold over 400 million copies all over the world, Peter Pan. There was the inevitable fight between the good and the evil with good triumphing and many more, too much to write about.

The most poignant moment for us was the appearance of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the ‘World Wide Web, who dedicated it to everyone rather than patent for personal gain, in true British spirit. I remember watching a television interview, shortly after he received Finland’s first Millennium Technology Prize in 2004, when he said he could now afford to add a conservatory to his house! A true ‘legend’ who preferred to serve the people than to be ‘greedy’ rich was honoured in the most dramatic way; a couple, young lovers, separated in the crowd, when reunited using www say ‘Thank you Tim’ Sir Tim appears briefly, wetting our eyes!

Words can not describe the beautiful dance of the youngsters choreographed and led by Akram Khan while a montage of those who can not be present to witness the great event was shown.

There was so much displayed beautifully but with humility but the crowning glory was the Cauldron. A petal was carried with each of the 204 teams taking part to assemble into a giant Cauldron which was lighted by 7 promising young athletes nominated by 7 of Britain’s greatest athletes in keeping with motto: ‘Inspiring a generation’. This was preceded by the flame being carried in a boat, illuminated in red & blue, along the Thames by David Beckham, one of the most popular foot ballers in the world who was born in the East end of London, where 700 acres of toxic wasteland was regenerated to build the Olympic park on time and within budget, contrary all the predictions. He handed over the torch to Sir Steven Redgrave, who has probably an unbeatable record having won gold medals for Roving in five consecutive Olympics, who carried the torch through a guard of honour by the workers who built the stadium.

Much has been written about the Queen’s appearance with James Bond including your editorial but I must emphasise that no one watching believed it was Her Majesty herself till she turned around as the clock turned to 20.30. There would have been a million gasps at that moment!

We watched with amazement British Athletes doing unexpectedly well in all disciplines except swimming, which has the largest number of medals. In spite of this Team GB ended third in the league table with 65 medals of which 29 were gold and 17 silver. I can not remember a period when I shed tears of joy so much!

How did GB, a team that won only a single gold medal in Atlanta in 1996, achieve this? Can Sri Lanka learn from their experience? Quite a number of athletes, including the super-heavyweight boxing champion, Anthony Joshua and Silver medal winner of women’s modern Pentathlon Samantha Murray, started their relative sports after the Beijing Olympics! It was talent spotting and training that produced the results. I am sure there is enough talent in Sri Lanka waiting to be spotted and nurtured. Without the resources of Team GB, we need to concentrate on the few sports we are good at.

Much has been written about Usain Bolt’s achievements, which was expected, but to me Mo (Mohammed) Farah’s wins in 10000 and 5000 meters, only man to do so in the same Olympics, was much more moving. Born in Mogadishu, Somalia and moving to UK at the age of 8 years to win double gold for GB, when inquired, whether he would have preferred to run for Somalia, his immediate response was ’I am proud to be British’ This attitude, I am sure will dampen the anti-immigration lobby, who would surely have heard the massive roar of 80000 in the stadium and millions of Brits shouting at the screens!

Best of the best was the poster girl for London 2012, Jessica Ennis who got Heptathlon Gold. It was amazing to see her perform exceptionally well in seven tough disciplines, under the tremendous pressure of great expectations. With a Jamaican born father and Derbyshire born mother she epitomises the emerging British society.

The Closing Ceremony was totally different, complementing the Opening Ceremony, but equally gorgeous and was a celebration of British Music, one of the biggest exports, and Fashion. Only a small fraction of the British Musical talent could be showcased. Display of John Lennon & Freddie Mercury, on giant TV screens, while ‘Imagine all the people’ & ‘We will we will rock you’ was a well deserved tribute to two great musicians.Illuminations were beyond description and the fireworks marvellous. It was a joyous celebration of a job very well done.

London 2012 will go down in history as the Peoples Olympic and Women’s Olympic. Public participation from the time of the arrival of the Olympic Torch, which travelled the length and the breath of the country, and the magnificent part played by the volunteers, who were jovial, helpful and were adored by athletes & visitors alike, receiving the biggest ovation at the closing ceremony makes it a peoples Olympic.

All countries were represented by women, massive cheers being received by women athletes from countries like Saudi Arabia in spite of not performing that well, and women participated in all sports for the first time. Leeds born Flyweight boxer created history by winning the first Boxing Olympic Gold Medal. Big medal haul for Team GB was started with silver and finished with silver, both by women. It is a shame it took 30 Olympiads to achieve equality for women but London will surely be remembered for this. With excellent Opening and Closing ceremonies together with memorable Athletic performances I have no doubt that it was the best ever Olympics. I am sure it will be enhanced by the Paralympic Games due to start in 2 weeks time. British Athletes who got the biggest haul of medals in Beijing are likely to repeat their performance.

Olympics has made me proud to be British as millions of others but my wish is that I may live till the next Olympics, which I am sure will be a grand show in Rio, to see a Sri Lankan Athlete win Gold so that I can be equally proud of my Motherland too courtesy: The Island

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