2020 - 2021 Modern Volume 14

Going for Gold: The Joy of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games

By Hannah McCann

The Olympics has always been a time for hope. In Ancient Greece, there would always be a truce across the land so athletes and supporters could travel easily to Olympia. Peace and the games go hand in hand. 

Yet, one cannot ignore the unprecedented violence and unrest that preceded the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games Less than 24 hours after the announcement that London would be hosting the 2012 Games, the city’s transport network was bombed during the 7/7 attacks. 52 people were killed and over 700 people were injured – the deadliest attack on English soil since the Second World War. Later, in the summer of 2011, five people were killed in the riots that spread across England following the death of Mark Duggan who was shot dead by police. 

However, this issue of New Histories is about hope following hardships. As Jacques Rogge (President of the International Olympic Committee) said at the closing ceremony, “these were happy and glorious Games”. The Daily Telegraph called the games a “Glastonbury of sport” in reference to its joyous nature. 

The Games drew the nation together, continuing on from the celebratory events that were held to mark Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. Initially, the committee organising the games had set a target of 70,000 volunteers to help run the events. Over 240,000 people applied for the volunteering role. Those who were selected would later be called the ‘Games Makers’. 

The Olympic Torch relay was carried out over 70 days and 8,000 people were involved in carrying the flame from Land’s End to London via a route that spread across the United Kingdom – passing many National Heritage Sites, places where key sporting events occurred and schools. Eventually, the torch was used to light the cauldron within the stadium during the opening ceremony. It contained 204 petals – each representing a country that was taking part in the games. 

The opening ceremony was directed by Danny Boyle and covered the history of Britain from the start of the Industrial Revolution. The five Olympic rings seemed to be forged in iron and rose above the stadium. They were then ignited and sparks dropped from the sky. This iconic image was printed in newspapers across the globe and will be remembered as a significant moment in the history of the Olympic Games. 900 million people watched the ceremony around the world, with 42% of the UK population tuning-in. The Times called it “a masterpiece”. 

Great Britain won 29 gold medals, 17 silver medals and 19 bronze medals, coming third in the overall rankings. However, the day that stands out in the history of the games was August 4th – Super Saturday. 

On that day, Britain won six gold medals in under an hour – 48 minutes to be exact. First there were two gold medals for rowing and then the team pursuit cyclists won gold at the velodrome. Three gold medals were won in the Olympic Stadium, in front of 80,000 people. Jessica Ennis won gold in the heptathlon, followed by Greg Rutherford who took gold in the long jump and finally – a few minutes later – Mo Farah was awarded gold in the 10,000 metres. It was Team GB’s greatest medal haul (in a single day at the Olympics) in 104 years.

The Paralympic Games were equally as exciting. The President of the International Paralympic Committee described it as “the greatest Paralympic Games ever”. The Paralympic Games were presented, rightly, as a sporting event that was filled with talented people, rather than focusing on their ‘perceived disabilities’. The Channel 4 coverage of the games was watched by two thirds of the UK and 2.7 million tickets were sold. There were more participants and more broadcasters than ever before. There was an increase of 291 athletes and 18 countries that were participating in the games compared to 2008. Great Britain finished third in the games, winning 34 gold medals, 43 silver medals and 43 bronze medals. 

In the 2016 games in Rio, Team GB came second in both the Olympics and Paralympics. This was the first time in history that a nation had improved on their medal tally following their home games.

The legacy of the Paralympic Games meant that one third of ‘UK adults changed their attitude towards people with an impairment’ and ‘eight out of ten British adults thought the Paralympics had a positive impact on the way people with an impairment are viewed by the public’. There was a definite sense of hope after the games with one Guardian writer suggesting it could “mark the end of Britain’s age of decline”. 

The aim of these games was to “inspire a generation” – an aim that was very much achieved. Sometimes history is viewed through rose-tinted glasses, but in this instance the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games live up to the happy memories of that summer.