CHARLES GRAHAM - My Olympic vision...

Bradley Wiggins
Bradley Wiggins

THEY call it the greatest show on earth and after the last three weeks who’s to argue?

With the benefit of hindsight I can now happily, and with much relief, report how silly I was to have been worrying about the Olympic Games’ organisation in London, especially with regards to security.

I said I was looking forward to reflecting on its success once it was all over.

But even as I hoped for everything to go as smoothly and as well as possible, I didn’t envisage just how wonderful the whole experience would be, both as it happened and in retrospect.

The opening ceremony was stunning in its scope and depth of celebrating British social and cultural achievements. It was particularly pleasing to see an injection of humour, something which has generally been completely lacking from comparatively po-faced and pretentious efforts at previous Games.

And it was onwards and upwards from then on in.

There might have been a few grumbles about empty seats here and there but these have been the best-attended Games of all time and the crowds have been stupendous, not least when braving the elements for some of the street-based competitions, but also in their warm appreciation of winners and losers, home-grown and foreign competitors alike.

The tributes from departing overseas athletes this week were particularly heart-warming.

Other landmark triumphs should also be celebrated, not least the fact that this was the first Olympics where women competed in all the same sports as the men.

It was a fantastic window on British multi-culturalism too. How wonderful, for instance, to see an ecstatic stadium full of people cheering on a Somali-born devout Muslim (“I’m British, mate, and proud of it”) as he achieved athletics immortality.

The BBC deserves full credit for masterly coverage of all the sports. A more slick, knowledgeable and comprehensive production we could not have hoped for (a far cry from the Diamond Jubilee river festival coverage).

And it was marvellous to hear the most sustained applause during the closing ceremony reserved for the thousands of volunteers who played such a special role in holding this gigantic event together.

BUT for all the organisation and broadcasting excellence, the Olympics are only as good as, and usually best remembered for, their sporting performance.

And I don’t think there are many who will consider London 2012 a flop on that score, either from an overall quality or Britain’s own endeavours are concerned.

The Olympic motto does stress that the taking part is far more important than the winning, but it’s very difficult to keep that in mind when a little island like ours is doing so phenomenally well in the medal tables.

Some news channels kept the rolling tally permanently on our television screens, so fast was the figure growing.

Commentators and presenters too were sometimes having to pick their words very carefully about folk “only” winning silver or bronze.

After all those gongs can mean so much more to some athletes than others. Diver Tom Daley who, for a teenager, has been under an unimaginably huge amount of pressure and scrutiny on top of his well-publicised domestic tragedy, was utterly delighted with third place in the 10m board while Chinese rival Qiu Bo looked like his world had ended with silver.

In fact there has been an unprecedented amount of navel-examination in China about what winning at all costs means. This particularly after an hysterical weightlifter sobbed hysterically, apologised and said he had let down his country after gaining a silver.

The Chinese do seem to have taken the industry of medal-winning more seriously than anyone. But we can hardly distance ourselves entirely from such practices either.

Per head of population, Britain did far better than the US and China (the only nations above us in the table) in terms of medals gained, and it was country miles ahead of our other traditional sporting rivals such as Russia, France, Germany and Australia.

We also gained more golds as a percentage of all medals than most too.

Home advantage and huge enthusiastic crowds doubtless helped spur many to that extra stride, centimetre or punch that made the difference between gold and silver, although there was evidence, as pointed out by the always sage Michael Johnson, that for some folk the added support and expectation was counter-productive.

I would single out Jessica Ennis above all other British contenders for overcoming such pressures.

Not because I rate her sporting achievement above Mo Farah’s wonderful long-distance brace of golds (I’ve never shouted louder at the telly), Chris Hoy’s record haul, adopted Wiganer Bradley Wiggins adding gold to the Tour de France or the magnificent Ben Ainslie making sailing history.

It’s just that she was Team GB’s poster girl and in a sport where there are so many technical things that can go wrong.

I sat watching her first event - the 100m hurdles - fearing that she would fall flat on her face and instead she posted a time that would have won her gold in the Beijing hurdles proper!

More personal bests followed and it was great to see her storm to victory in the final 800m too, rather than just do enough to stay ahead of her rivals and drift in an anti-climactic seventh. What a fighter and such an antidote to so many of the vacuous and talentless “celebrities” who unduly pre-occupy younger generations and the popular media.

ONE sore athletics point still festers though: why on earth did we only field one competitior in the women’s 800m?

This is of course a particular bone of contention round these parts because our own Jenny Meadows fell foul of the flawed selection process.

I would certainly not have begrudged Lynsey Sharp her place even though she didn’t make the final.

But when you saw some of the athletes who passed muster for their own nations’ selection processes trailing in almost a lap behind the favourites in the first rounds it beggars belief that someone of the calibre of Meadows and her other A-grade colleagues who were overlooked, couldn’t have been given a place.

She may not have been match fit but you never know with middle-distance races what results can be thrown up because different tactics produce different winners.

Athletics chiefs, acknowledging the folly of the current system, have now promised a review of the selection process.

Stable doors being slammed as far as Meadows’s shattered London dreams are concerned but perhaps there is still hope for Rio.

As our sports editor pointed out the other day, she will then be the same age as Dame Kelly Holmes when she did the middle distance double in Athens after years of injury-hit disappointment.

BUT I shouldn’t get too side-tracked when considering the panoply of supreme sport we have been treated to over the last few weeks.

Seeing Andy Murray gain sweet revenge over Roger Federer was another highlight for me, our continued excellence in the rowing and cycling was truly inspirational (especially in the latter where the governing body did its level best to break GB’s medal stranglehold by mucking around with all the disciplines, all to no avail. Perhaps someone could try to stop the Chinese from winning the table-tennis every Games instead!).

It was a long time since I had seen any showjumping but our team gold was a great reminder of how thrilling that sport can be too.

In fact I think I love above all else that the Olympics tear us away from our endless obsession with (and mediocre performances in) football to show that there are so many other fantastic and exciting sports out there.

More than that: we are rather good at a lot of them.

THERE has been much talk before, during and now after about an Olympic legacy and opinion remains divided on whether the huge outlay on this spectacle will be worth it in terms of long-term positive effects (aside from the already completed regeneration of a relatively small piece of London) once the short-term feel-good after-glow has worn off.

I sincerely hope it encourages lots of young people to take up sport who otherwise wouldn’t and also hope that it puts in reverse the erosion of sport from the school curriculum as timetables and budgets are squeezed while playing fields are sold off.

Perhaps by the time the Rio Games arrive in four years’ time we should know then whether London 2012 really was good for us.