A few final thoughts on the London Olympics, and especially about the opening and closing ceremonies.
The closing ceremony seems to have been as universally criticised as the opening ceremony was praised, but at the time I quite enjoyed it all, even if I now can’t remember why.When George Michael came on I thought he did OK at first, but then instead of doing the obvious thing (Faith) he played a new song. Beforehand we had been told that the event was a celebration of British music and was intended to be a giant singalong so I was expecting the big hits and not unknown material. I was fully expecting the cheesiness of stuff like Wannabe and Our House and looking forward to it.
I knew that, being aimed at a mass audience, it wouldn’t feature the things that would really make it special for me – Motorhead playing Ace of Spades, the original line-up of Gang of Four, Depeche Mode but I didn’t think they would go for a selection that wouldn’t be out of place at a royal jubilee concert: Brian May, Take That, Annie bloody Lennox. I was just surprised they didn’t wheel out Tom Jones and Robbie Williams.
I still can’t understand having the Kaiser Chiefs doing a Who song when the Who were in the building and not letting them do one of their own songs, which are absolutely perfect for a giant singalong. I groaned mightily when faced with Ed Sheeran murdering Wish You Were Here.
On the plus side, I thought Jessi J, Tinie Tempah and Taio Cruz did well in their segment and it was good to see the Spice Girls looking so damn healthy. I really think they all looked so much better than they did in their prime.
I guess I’m lucky that even in the worst bits I found plenty to enjoy because I just love the technical wizardry of the lighting and the inventiveness of the props like the giant octopus or the Lennon face. Having endured the huge delays of getting one band replaced with another at Live 8 it was great to see that you can jump from one act to another so easily in a much more technically demanding environment.
The biggest missed opportunity was when they still had the London street scenes at the beginning. OK so Madness played on the back of a lorry, but that would have been the time to roll out some British reggae – either a band or a decent Notting Hill carnival sound system on a truck. I would have liked to hear Soul II Soul as well. How could you not have a massive party with Back to Life belting out?
The biggest cringe of the evening had to be the supermodels bit. Those women earn fortunes for supposedly being beautiful. So many of the athletes are actually better looking and with bodies that are near-perfect through hard work and healthy living. Were they supposed to be in awe of people who are just skinny through starvation and cocaine but get swooned over? In contrast, we later saw the ballet dancers who probably have trained as hard as many athletes to get where they are. I’m sure many of them could have been gymnasts instead.
My biggest feeling while watching the closing ceremony was relief, because this is the sort of thing I had been dreading and half-expecting for the opening ceremony. It worked as a closing ceremony because that is just a giant party, but it would have made a dreadful opening.
What we actually got to open the games was spot on and more than a bit subversive of the whole Olympic thing. In the past I have felt uneasy during games because of the elitism: the IOC members and especially the head being treated like heads of state, the brand policing, the infamous ‘Zil lanes’ and everything else. When the games come to town the IOC has a rider that would make Mariah Carey blush – whole hotels turned over to them, preferential treatment on the roads and everything. What we got in Danny Boyles’ show was a healthy dose of equality with nice little touches like the construction workers being let in, dresses decorated with the faces of people who couldn’t make it as volunteers and giving the prime spot of lighting the flame to youngsters.
You might think that elitism is the whole point of Olympics – being the fastest, the strongest or the best? Up to a point that is true, but it is also quite arbitrary in the way certain people are excluded because they excel at a sport that isn’t an Olympic event or they turned professional in a sport like boxing, which sticks to the amateur ideals of the games instead of, say, tennis or basketball which don’t.
The more I think about it, the bolder it was to make that statement of ‘this is for everybody’ in the opening ceremony. That idea lasted thoughout the fortnight and into the closing ceremony where the biggest applause was reserved for the army of volunteers who made it all happen.
One final thought about the Olympics: why is there only one of them? Most sporting events are single-sport tournaments or collections of related events (athletics championships) held in the same venue, but most sports have several competitions. Golf and tennis have their tours and grand slams, football has a world cup but also European and national competitions as well. There is really only one multi-sport, multi-venue event. Its roots are in the ancient panhellenic games, but there were several of them: the Nemean games, the Pythian games, and the rest. I understand there was a bit of a campaign to start up the Nemean games again. Wouldn’t that be fun? Would the IOC welcome a bit of competition?
It is our only hope now. We won’t see another Olympics in the UK in our lifetimes so the only way to enjoy a summer of sport like this is to re-launch the Nemean games and bid to host them in 2031!