Although I now carry a US passport and make my home in bucolic New Jersey, I am British through and through. Above all, I am Londoner. I was born in Paddington, raised in Chelsea, schooled in South Ken and lived in various parts of London till I was 25.
There was no way, I was missing the Games in London, tickets or no tickets. In fact, thank to my mum I did quite well. We saw some of the Women's Marathon swim in Hyde Park. We watched the Women's and Men's 470 Medal round at the Nothe in Weymouth on Friday. Yesterday, we were among the French and Swedes for the Handball Final at the Olympic Park - Allez Les Bleus (OK I am a little bit French too).
When London won the bid, I wasn't too sure what to expect. I heard about the plans. Impressed but skeptical that things were on track. Shared the concerns about traffic, security and general organization. But I HAD to be there.
To say, that my expectations were exceeded, is beyond an understatement. I am blown away by what London achieved. This is not just hometown everything just worked. No everything just worked BRILLIANTLY.
Despite the threats of long waits at customs, we were through Heathrow in less than an hour. Traffic. What Traffic? Everyone cleared out of London. There were times when there were so few cars on the road, you could have filmed a post-apocalyptic movie in London. And transport? Getting to and from the venues was a doddle.
The weather was wonderful. We got here on the middle Sunday and have had no rain all week. Mostly just bright sunshine and pleasant temperatures.
There are three things that will make it one of the greatest memories of my life.
The first was the volunteers. Seventy thousand ordinary people (mostly but not all Brits) gave up weeks of their free time to do whatever needed to be done. Quarter of a million had applied. Almost everywhere you went in London, there was a smiling face in a purple shirt and khakis ready to help. They helped to make London into a genuinely friendly place. Not plastic, smiley, Disney, smiley. Not Cor-blimey-lawks-lummy Cheeky Cockney friendly. Just genuine, humble, "Can I help" friendly. It made one of the largest and often intimidating cities into the world into the World's largest small town.
Next was the way, LOCOG used London. Beach Volleyball at Horse Guards? Utterly brilliant. The sailing venue was perfect. A short, steep hill, overlooking a bay where you could see all the action. The Olympic Park does have somewhat of temporary feel to it but it's impressive. More importantly, I feel LOCOG can genuinely deliver on the rejuvenation story. As our train wound its way through the poorer parts of London yesterday, it was easy to see the positive impact it is having on the area. I hope it's sustainable.
Last but not least was the accomplishment of Team GB. I watched the first week in the US. As proud as I am of the US accomplishments, the NBC coverage lived up to its reputation of being overly US-centric. I can't blame NBC for focusing on US athletes but it does so at the expense of larger stories. But I digress.
I am unabashedly, patriotic about Great Britain and what Team GB achieved was incredible. The way the UK has directed lottery money into sports has been extraordinarily effective. The medal tally was something that would have exceeded anyone's wildest dreams twenty years ago. As a child, I remember everyone getting excited about a Silver or Bronze. Now people have greater expectations. In my view, that's positive.
The numbers are great but the stories are what made it. Big Ben getting angry and getting even. Kath Grainger finally getting her gold. The look on the women’s lightweight scullers face when they won. The look of sheer joy on Mo Farrah's face. The Ginge. Jessica. The cyclists. The Tae Kwondo leap for joy. The boxers. The kayakers. The list goes on.
Although it’s in absentia, I could not be prouder to be Londoner.