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Let's get behind a truly great event
I was not one of those who cheered seven years ago when London was unexpectedly awarded the Olympic Games for 2012.
It seemed to me that Paris had a far better case and that there were security implications which proved only too true the following day when the London bombings killed scores of people.
But I also felt the Games had become far too big and commercial, far removed from the Olympic ideal, and that often they were not a blessing for the host city.
It was also hard to tell in events requiring stamina which athletes were on performance enhancing drugs and which were clean.
All this I articulated in an article on this page in The Argus and there has been little since then to change my mind.
It would be impossible now to hold the Games without sponsorship but the likes of McDonald’s, Cadbury’s and Coca Cola seem far removed from the healthy eating essential for every medal winner.
The torch relay, which featured these and other sponsors prominently, was tasteless and tacky when I saw it in Hove nine days ago.
When the Olympics were last staged in London, there was an engaging amateurism about most of the competitors which lingered from 1948 throughout the Fifties.
Great athletes like Roger Bannister were strictly part time and not in it for the money. It was not until the era of Steve Ovett, deservedly installed this week as a freeman of Brighton and Hove, and Sebastian Coe, creator of the 2012 Games, that athletics became a commercial sport.
Chris Chataway, later to be a TV personality and MP for Chichester, liked nothing better than to smoke a cigarette after one of his record breaking runs. You can’t imagine that happening today.
His friend and rival Chris Brasher, founder of the London Marathon, was a better businessman than he was an athlete despite picking up a gold medal in the 1956 Games.
We are told the Olympics will regenerate huge swathes of east London but that did not happen in Athens where some stadia are rusty and rotten.
The financial benefit is reckoned to be £13 billion but Montreal is still paying off its debts almost 40 years later.
Sussex, being close to the capital, was earmarked as an area that would benefit from the Olympics. Yet few teams are staying or training there.
Inevitably as the opening ceremony approaches, there have been negative stories. Small businesses have been forced to change their names for fear of offending sponsors.
Special traffic lanes have been reserved for Olympic grandees while strikes could cause more chaos. There has also been the debacle over security with troops called into help at the last moment.
All this has tended to disguise the genuinely good things about the Olympics and there are plenty of them.
Until a few weeks ago, Lord Coe and his team had enjoyed a remarkably trouble free build up to the Games with all the main venues completed on time.
Because they will probably be the last Olympics held in Britain during any of our lifetimes, there is a real interest among millions of people in seeing something of them.
The spectacular victory of Bradley Wiggins in the Tour de France, one of those rare moments when sport jumped from the back to the front page of papers, has shown how a British success can create a feel good factor.
It has helped build an enormous interest in cycling and I have seldom seen the seafront bike lane in Brighton as crowded as it was on Sunday afternoon.
Every weekend cyclist was imagining he was Bradley Wiggins entering Paris in the same way as cricketing victories over Australia in the Ashes series revive interest in our national summer sports.
So like many other critics of the Games, I feel it’s time for the carping to stop. Let’s hope that when the rest of the world looks at the London Olympics from Friday onwards it sees a true British spectacular, well planned and organised.
And most of us will be backing British athletes to carry on where they left off in Beijing four years ago, winning a host of medals.
It would be particularly good to see a British success in the main athletic events so that we had a new running hero to follow in the golden footsteps of Steve Ovett.
Like them, loathe them or regard them with indifference, the Games are about to begin and despite all my doubts I hope they really will be the greatest show on earth.
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