Britain sprints for the line

We did it.

Yes it was the athletes with their astonishing acts of human endeavour. It was the stories of triumph over adversity. It was the legion of volunteer Gamesmakers who sacrificed time to ensure everything ran smoothly. It was the staff, even the G4S security staff, and the armed forces who as so often stepped into the breach. It was the politicians who aimed high: Tony Blair, Ken Livingstone, Boris Johnson, Lord Coe. But it was also something more collective than all that.

We did it. Whether we were spectators in the park, or on our screens. Whether we shone with pride at the wraparound covers on each day’s Times newspaper, or nearly broke down in tears as the final act was played out last night. Great Briton dipped for the line and took the crown.

But it didn’t have to happen this way. There was no guarantee that putting thousands of elite athletes in a corner of East London would provoke such collective euphoria. We could have failed, we could have gambled high and became the laughing stock of the world. We could have been so overcome with cynicism that no matter the achievements on the track we would resent the imposition on our lives. The transport delays, the hiked up prices, the tourists crowding every corner of the place we call home. We even had a sitcom in Twenty Twelve to parody how it would turn out, ready to give us a reference point and a cultural validator when it failed to live up to the hype.

Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony got this perfect. Out of the chaos and melee of ideas, hopes and dreams, emerged something which summed us up. It was self-deprecating in its treatment of our tendency to self-deprecate. It was humble, cautious, loathe to make claims too lofty, reluctant to fuel hopes it could not fulfil.

It was at that point we came together for a summer we will never forget. As if in that moment the cloud of limitation was lifted off us all. Out of chaos came beauty. At the moment when it could have all fallen apart something incredible emerged.

The crowds roared for the favourites and new ones to took up residence in our hearts. On the eve of the Olympics Britain received the shot in its arm to spur us on. How dare Mitt Romney say that we were a little country that never achieved anything? In a master stroke no planner could have dreamt up the country came together.

And together we found our voice. We found who we are.

We did not look on others with envy, wishing the days of the Empire returned. We did not shrink in the shadow of China’s economic growth, America’s military might, or the coming carnival Rio 2016 will bring to the world. We learnt the best is not an imitation of another.

We shrugged off the challenges and sprinted for the line. Achievement can never be taken for granted, but nor is it ever out of reach. Britain learnt this summer that self-deprecation is no alternative to success. We may have a joke at our own expense to mask the fear that we might not make it.

But we made it. Britain, you did good. Very good.

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