I am a dyed-in-the-wool Olympics lover. I will shake with nerves, scream at the television, watch endless replays, sob at medal ceremonies and allow my every waking thought to be occupied by the latest triumph or tragedy from the greatest show on Earth. The fact it’s happening in our backyard, well, that makes me even worse.
British people are addicted to the Olympics. Every shop is full of products emblazoned with the Union Flag – biscuits, scarves, socks, umbrellas. You can buy Cadbury’s chocolate gold medals and GB nail transfers, Olympic breakfasts and red, white and blue notelets. Newspapers and magazines can hardly be bothered to write about anything else.
I even arrived at Heathrow – red-eyed and confused from my long journey from Bogotá – in the company of the Ukrainian ‘something’ team; a troupe of tall, bronzed athletes wearing garish blue and yellow trainers and looking fit enough to have contested everything from the hammer throw to team show jump.
It was an instant baptism into Olympic fever that has yet to subside; I’ve gossiped with off-duty soldiers in WHSmith (they’re not sure the nation appreciates their help with security, I firmly disagree) begged fellow train passengers for iPhone updates on the latest velodrome drama and memorised the Olympic medal table to a near nerd-like degree.
But I just can’t bring myself to enter into the fully British past time of making bad Olympics jokes at every opportunity.
Hurrying through Victoria station, I went through the turnstile because I forgot it would instantly clamp its jaws around my suitcase. Feeling sheepishly like a tourist, I had to enlist a station worker to open the barrier and reunite me with the luggage that was stuck on the other side.
“You need to go through the big gate with a bag like that,” he said sternly.
“Either that or get through like Usain Bolt. He’d have managed it.”
Ha bloody ha. The humour is endless – wags are even battling it out to deface London’s streets …. Ennis Road became ‘Jessica Ennis Road’ before it turned into ‘Andy won the TEnnis Road’.
And the reason we can’t stop smiling? We have kicked ass at our home Olympics, so much that some of the most disappointing moments have come when our athletes have been forced to ‘settle’ for silver… on at least three occasions when it really should have been gold.
The velodrome is our baby – we won seven out of the 10 possible golds plus a silver, a bronze and a disqualification. When the French complained there was something “different” about our wheels we replied calmly that they were just “very round”. Amusingly, you can buy the British team’s bikes in shops. Even worse, the French made all their wheels.
But the indoor cycling isn’t even half the story – just seven golds out of the 22 we have won. We may blister them in the velodrome but you know something special is happening when we smash the opposition on horseback and in the gruelling triathlon too; out in the sailing and in athletics events as disparate as long jump and 10,000 metres. Heptathlete Ennis is in a stratosphere of her own – in the past she has high jumped as high as any British woman in history (1.95m) and it’s not even her best event. Don’t get me started on the hurdles.
Overall, our Olympics is a race for third place – no-one can touch the USA or China… or can they? Eyebrows were raised when we came within eight golds of our over-the-pond cousins. We’ve pretty much adopted the US’s four-time Olympic champion Michael Johnson as our own these days (he’s ace on the BBC) and even he acknowledged the possibility, saying he “couldn’t go home” if that happened. It can’t happen, it won’t happen, but the fact it was even considered is evidence of the magic we are seeing at London 2012.
And what of my adopted country? Of course, I’ve been watching and cheering for Colombia – the country has won five medals, including that emotional silver for Oscar Figueroa. I rooted for Colombia in person at the Aquatics Centre too and from my sofa when Daniel Bluman performed so beautifully with horse Sancha in the show jumping.
I even managed to have my photograph taken with the first person I could find in a Team Colombia shirt at the Olympic Village – easy because his yellow shirt was glowing through the smog.
I guess I should just wish you all a “Happy Olympics”. I’ll be back in Colombia before I know it, but in the meantime I have at least 22 chocolate gold medals to eat. In record time, of course.