The Olympic Games of London 2012 were hailed by critics as producing the very “Best of British”. From the dazzling opening ceremony to the smooth organisation and the finale that commanded the attention of over 26 million television viewers worldwide, the games could not fail to impress. Perhaps most impressive of all was that a total of 117 Olympic records were broken during the games, along with a further 44 world records. The world sat up and took notice of these gifted athletes and their achievements, whether they were seasoned professionals or competing for the first time. Swimmer Michael Phelps of the United States became the most decorated Olympian in the history of the games. Usain Bolt became a household name after achieving gold in both the 100 and 200 metre sprints. Sir Chris Hoy, one of Britain’s most celebrated cyclists, also made British Olympic history by winning two gold medals. Although the United States and China topped the medals leader boards with 46 and 38 golds respectively, Britain was a proud and impressive third, having achieved 29 gold medals. This marked our most successful crop of medals since 1908. With the 2016 Rio Games just around the corner, we look back on the moments, features and performances that made the London 2012 Games so memorable.
The Opening Ceremony
The London Games began with celebrated director Danny Boyle’s intriguing ode to England. “What a success for Great Britain,” commented Corriere Della Sera’s Beppe Severgnini. “Bolt, Boyle, Bond and Mr Bean. All the champions took to the field and no one was disappointed.” The ceremony was lauded as eccentric, cheeky and “unabashedly British”. Many newspapers, bloggers and pundits noted that the humour and self-deprecation were a welcome and refreshing change from several more solemn ceremonies. Britain has long been famed for its festival spirit and love of a party. Richard Williams of the Guardian commented that the ceremony set the tone for an Olympic Games that “never lost its capacity to charm and amaze”.The four-hour -long extravaganza featured a filmed cameo appearance by the Queen, British comedian Rowan Atkinson and performances by The Arctic Monkeys, Duran Duran, and Snow Patrol, amongst others. It was estimated to have been watched by a staggering 900 million viewers worldwide - the highest number of viewers for an Olympic opening ceremony in UK and US history.
Best of British
With 29 gold medals, Britain saw their most successful Olympic Games in over a century. A selection of successful athletes included Nicola Adams, a boxing gold medallist at Flyweight, fighting at the first Games in which women are allowed to compete in boxing. British boxers Anthony Joshua and Luke Campbell also came away with gold medals at Super Heavyweight and Bantamweight respectively. Both fighters later turned professional. Jade Jones scooped Britain’s first ever gold in taekwondo, and history was made in cycling also when Chris Hoy won gold (his sixth in total) to become the most decorated British Olympian in history. The accolade had formerly been rower Steve Redgrave’s with a total of five golds. Cyclist Victoria Pendleton also claimed gold and became the first woman to win the keirin in the Olympic Games. Mo Farrah braved a last lap challenge for first place to grab the gold in the men’s 5000 metres. Jessica Ennis’s impressive heptathlon performance also saw her clinch the gold. And celebrated tennis star Andy Murray claimed gold in tennis, winning in straight sets against the formidable Roger Federer. Murray called it, “the biggest win of [his] life”. There are some tough acts to follow, but many pundits believe Great Britain to be building its strongest teams yet. “Now that the world has seen what we can do, we don’t want to disappoint in Rio,” a British official commented. “There will be a few surprises in store.”
Britain’s exceptionally successful performance at the London Games means that the sights are firmly set on beating past records. 65 medals were won in all by the Great Britain team last year, with 29 golds. In boxing, Savannah Marshall has secured her spot for Rio 2016. The middleweight boxer has gold medals from both the Commonwealth Games and World Championships. Although professional boxers may also be considered for an Olympic place this year, former Olympian and celebrated fighter Amir Khan caused controversy by claiming he would be happy to fight for Pakistan, where he also claims dual citizenship. Jessica Ennis has also commented that she is keen to retain her Olympic gold medal status at Rio even after having become a mother. Triathlete brothers Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee also hope to defend their medals at the Rio games this year.
Records show that no hosting nation has yet been able to increase its medal tally in the following summer games. Simon Timson, the director of performance at UK Sport, commented that the goal would be a "huge challenge", but it is certainly one to which athletes should aspire.