Run with an Idea #1 Did the Olympics Inspire a Generation?

I’m excited to have been asked to be part of a new blogger collaboration Run with an Idea which aims to stimulate debate among fitness bloggers – exploring the numerous different views that are held on subjects from the banal to the essential across the blogosphere.

Every fortnight the panel members will post their own views on the topic for the fortnight and we hope that you’ll join in the debate with us. I love a good discussion and to be stimulated or challenged by other people’s opinions so I’m looking forward to getting things started.

For our inaugural discussion, since it’s nearly a year since London 2012, we’ve decided to share our thoughts a year on from the Greatest Show on Earth. Did the Olympics achieve its aim of ‘Inspiring a Generation’? Are children or adults more active as a result of the Games? What legacy have the games left behind?

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As a Londoner living less than 3 miles away from the Olympic Park (I can see the tip of the Orbit ‘sculpture’ from my bedroom window) I’ve decided to focus on the legacy aspect. I’ve lived in East London for 18 years now so I think I’m reasonably well qualified to talk about how things have changed on this side of the City, for better or worse as a result of the Games.

I remember very well the day that it was announced that London had won the race to hold the Olympic Games. It all seemed a bit odd – I think I’d assumed that we’d lose the  bid to the French and it was all such a long way off that it seemed a bit surreal. The Olympic Games coming to London, and not just any part of London but in my backyard.

Then 7/7 happened and all thoughts of celebrations went out of the window as the city reeled from the after effects of the senseless acts of that day. We had been attacked, we felt threatened and vulnerable yet determined not to let it change our city. However, my already slightly paranoid mind made a connection between the Games and the threat of terrorism that lingered.

I went from being quite happy about the Games coming to town to being full of cynicism about the whole thing. We’d never pull it off, it would be a total shambles and even if we did manage to run it smoothly it would be a massive target for terrorists, a security nightmare.

Then bit by bit a large area of waste ground near Stratford, that I passed every day on the way to work, started to be transformed. I watched the Olympic Stadium and Aquatics centre and the rest of the Olympic Park rise from the earth and it was fascinating. I admired the project management and organisation but I still felt detached from it all.

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When the tickets went on sale I was one of the only people that I know of that didn’t even bother to apply. I had no interest, still convinced that the whole thing was going to be a shambles and make an international laughing stock of us all.

Only when the torch relay reached our shores did I feel any sense of excitement about it at all. And then the mascots started appearing across the City and at last it felt real.

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As the time drew closer and closer it started to reel me in. Something amazing was going on in my City and at last I felt like I wanted to be part of it.

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Watching the opening ceremony made me burst with pride. As well as with slight disappointment that I hadn’t figured out that the only way that David Beckham could get his speedboat from the Thames to the Olympic Park was via the marina that we live next to. I realised too late to run outside to watch! We could see and hear the fireworks from our balcony – it had started and we were living right in the middle of it!

The two weeks of sport that followed along with the subsequent Paralympic Games were fantastic. The television coverage was amazing. The Olympic Park, London and the rest of the UK looked beautiful – we put on our very best show. Everyone did the country proud and none more so than Team GB.

London was a wonderful place to be during those 5 weeks – the feel good factor was palpable. Strangers were talking to each other on the surprisingly quiet tubes. Talking to strangers on the tube. No-one EVER looks at another person on the tube, let alone TALK, unless you’re a tourist/northerner who doesn’t know the London code. Or a nutter!

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And then it was over.

The Olympic Park closed and we soon realised that we weren’t going to be allowed in there for a number of years while it was all redeveloped. I thought it was a shame that it couldn’t have been left open for a while longer to allow people the chance to visit and reflect on what had gone on.

And pretty soon London went back to normal. The mascots disappeared from around town. The smiling and chatting on the tube stopped as the City resumed business as usual.

So a year on what remains?

Well there’s a great new shopping centre in Stratford that is rammed full of shoppers each weekend. I have no idea where they all come from and you would never know that we were supposed to be in a recession.

Interest in sport is perhaps increased. The crowds on the street for the London Marathon this year were without a doubt bigger than the year before. But that could also have been a show of solidarity with Boston following the bombings there.

The Olympic Park itself now lies empty while it’s being redeveloped. The stadium is used now and again for events. I’m taking part in the National Lottery Anniversary Olympic Park Run next weekend along with thousands of others. The demand for entries was incredibly high, so much so that the online registration system crashed in the first minutes of it being open. So people still definitely feel a connection to the Games. I for one can’t wait to run around the park and in particular into the stadium where Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis did their thing so brilliantly.

It was a brilliant summer that I’ll never forget and the feel good factor that it brought to the nation was priceless. But I’d be fascinated to see the cost benefit analysis that must have been done as part of the approvals process for the original bid. I struggle to see at the moment how it could possibly add up.

I think it will be a good few years until we are really able to say whether or not the Olympics left a lasting legacy. Perhaps when the next generation of athletes cite watching Mo win his double gold as the thing which made them take up sport, then we’ll know whether London 2012 really did ‘Inspire a generation’

So, what do you think? If I in London don’t feel that much of a sense of legacy then what about people in the rest of the UK? Do you as a fellow Londoner disagree with my assessment of how the Games affected the city and what’s now left behind? Is there anyone out there living in cities that have previously hosted Olympic Games – what’s your experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

18 thoughts

  1. Hi, I don’t live in an Olympic city. I’m just outside of Boston where we are lucky to host a world class event each year.
    The legacy may take time to materialize. After the US Women won the soccer gold there was a surge of interest in soccer/football in the US. We even had a women’s pro league for a few years, maybe 5? I went to a few of the games and they were great.
    The legacy may be some kid who decides to take up Judo or Field Hockey. We will only become aware of their story when they are at a futue Olympics and tell the story of how the London 2012 Games inspired them to get off the couch and go for a run or practice their goal kicks.

    1. You know I think you’re right. It’s hard to measure legacy so soon after an event. It will be in years to come that we’ll be able to answer this question properly. Thanks for the view from across ‘the pond’!

    2. I agree that it’ll be those kids who were inspired by the likes of Mo Farah or Usain Bolt or Jess Ennis who’ll be citing the 2012 Olympics as the life-changing moment that got them into sport.

      But given the dangerously increasing rated of obesity in the developed world we need the Olympics to inspire the adult generation too surely? How do you quantify adult involvement other than looking at plain old simple numbers of people getting into sport?

      I think a whole swathe of people have been omitted from the ‘legacy’ issue – it’s not just kids we need to inspire, it’s their parents too – the ones who set the example for the next generation at basecamp/home level.

      1. Good point Caz. All very well inspiring the next generation but if their parents are insistent on feeding them crap then it will be of little use. I think on the whole the adults I know that were inspired were already into sport and fitness. I don’t know of anyone who, on the back of the Olympics, has said ‘right that’s it I’m getting fit’.

        Maybe seeing super fit people excelling at their sport isn’t the best way to inspire unfit adults? After all the chances that they’ll be able to match their achievements are very low – with kids it’s a possibility. Perhaps more realistic role models are what is required to inspire adults? Perhaps dare I say, even people like you and me who have got off our couches and done something about it 🙂

      2. Carrie- There has been an adjustment/clarification in the word ‘generation’ as far as the Sportmakers campaign goes. We are focusing on everyone getting more active, not just kids. In fact the Sportmakers campaign is for people 16+. But I do agree that we won’t see the inspired children for another 5-10 years *if* the funding doesn’t get cut now that we aren’t the home team.

      1. I’m not really into cycling but even as a casual observer I’d agree about the TdF thing. That definitely seemed to be the greater achievement and while Wiggo winning Olympic Gold was also amazing, it was really just the cherry on the cake which was the TdF win.

  2. Very interesting. We had the Olympics 13 years ago in Sydney (13!!!) and I don’t think it altered anything much in the way of fitness or tourism. BUT it was great whilst it lasted. A lot of wonderful memories so that is something.
    Look forward to following your blog.

    1. Wow an Australian reader – that’s brilliant. I adore Sydney, one of my favourite cities in the world. Hard to believe that the Olympics there were 13 years ago. I feel old! Interesting that you don’t feel there was much benefit in the way of tourism. That’s one thing that I think London has benefitted from that I didn’t pick up in my original post. Totally agree that the memories are something that we’ll keep forever. Something very special about the atmosphere that the Games brings with it.

      Hope you enjoy reading my blog!

  3. Great post Becca!

    I agree with your observations on London before the Games, I didn’t really feel the enthusiasm until quite close to the start (I think the Jubilee helped warm us up, and then Bradley Wiggins win in TdF made us realise what we had to be proud of).
    I actually thought that the reaction of the public was one of the biggest legacies, the thousands and thousands of volunteers who gave up their time to see the events succeed was amazing. The community spirit is still there, but we need a bit of encouragement to display it.

    1. I feel I have a unique perspective on this ladies. You both live in London and see the impact of the Olympics on a daily basis. I live 300 miles away in the grim north near Newcastle upon Tyne (it’s not grim btw, it’s beautiful), and the only involvement we had with the Olympics was a few football matches held at St James Park which we REALLY tried to hype up. The trouble is that post Olympics there’s no sign of it ever having happened because we’re simply too far away from it all. I bet there weren’t many Geordie playmakers (or was it gamesmakers, I forget, it was so long ago now!)

      The Olympic legacy just didn’t extend this far north so what chances does, say, rural Scotland have?

      1. Carrie – you’ve answered my question with pretty much the response I expected. If I struggle to feel a real sense of legacy and I can see the park from where I live then what chance do people who live outside of London have? It will have been a real waste in my opinion, if the legacy of the Games is only felt in the capital city, which in most cases isn’t short on investment and opportunities anyway.

        And yes, I’ve been to Newcastle and Gateshead and thought both were striking and stunning places. I’d love to have a chance to visit for longer. Great North Run for me one year perhaps.

    2. I actually thought the volunteers in pink, not the Gamesmakers, but the other ‘helpers’ was something that London ought to have all the time. People there to help out tourists and make the place seem a bit friendlier. I wonder if people would be willing to give up their time to do that though if it wasn’t associated with the Games?

  4. I went to Barcelona many years ago and really wanted to see the Olympic stadium. I dragged my husband there and I had visions of being able to see the track and that maybe there would be a gallery of the 1992 Olympics. Well I should have known when we walked past the derelict diving pool what we would find. The stadium had been taken over by a football team and there was no sign that the Olympics had ever been there. I was gutted. The track where I had seen my heroine Sally Gunnell win gold was no more.
    Thinking about this has made me wonder if this is why the Olympic Park has been closed off so soon. Are they hoping to prevent a ‘Barcelona’? I know that as part of the bid London had to prove how they would sustain the Olympic park and the legacy, so maybe this is a part of it so that the park remains useful to all rather than falling to ruin like Barcelona and probably many other stadiums. Maybe they have to do this in the short term to allow the legacy to grow in the long term.

  5. Thank you for sharing this! Not only was this was such a great read that made me wallow with nostalgia, but I completely empathise with you. I felt and feel the same way as you did about the Olympics – disbelief, a little cynicism, anxiety, excitement and eventually pride-bordering-on-obsession… such that I wrote a post about it too! I still think about those two weeks with immense pride and fondness, and will do for the rest of my life no doubt. I’m curious to see how the legacy is going to pan out; it was as big a part of the agenda as the Games themselves, and I like your idea about the volunteers in London serving as walking tourist information points – I’d do that 🙂

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