Why this country didn’t do that well at the Olympic Games

…and other debriefing notes.

Olympic Stadium, London 2012

1. Team (Great) Britain (and Northern Ireland) didn’t do as well as everyone thinks at the Olympic Games.

OK, controversial one to start with. We did good, no? Well, maybe. Certainly we smashed the pre-games medal target set by our own Olympic Association. However, those who analysed the country’s prospects more thoroughly (particularly Infostrada, whose research was bought by media outlets worldwide, including The Times) reckoned we’d get 64 medals, almost exactly what “TeamGB” eventually delivered. The main difference was the number of gold medals, which vastly exceeded the predictions.

Infostrada’s forecast didn’t take into account “home advantage” though; they said this wasn’t something which could reliably be factored into the analysis. But it was clear that home advantage did play a part in improving UK competitors’ performance; too many of them said so for this not to have been true, however unquantifiable the impact. So whether or not home advantage gained us 2 extra medals or 20, the athletes would have failed to meet the forecast without it. And the significant number of athletes who moved up a place or two thanks to the crowd support probably explains those additional gold medals. But not enough moved up from 4th and 5th in the world into the medal positions. This may have been the UK’s “greatest team ever”, in terms of where we ended up in the medals table, but I don’t think the athletes as a whole outperformed expectations in the way many commentators are taking for granted.

2. We’re better than ever at “sitting down sports”.

Whether it involves bikes, horses, rowing boats or yachts, nobody is better than the British at the sports where the competitors spend most of their time in the sitting position. Or, as it’s also been pointed out, at the events which aren’t so much sports, but just using ingenuity to travel from A to B. We got almost half of our medals (31 out of 65) in these sports, leaving Australia (14 medals) and Germany (12) trailing as a speck on the horizon. They at least made an effort though; the Americans and Chinese didn’t even get out of the starting gate.

Usain Bolt vs Jason Kenny vs anyone on a horse? Sorry Usain, these are the real speed merchants.

3. We need to work out how it all worked out so well.

Yes, they hugely overspent, but they did predict how much they were going to overspend by, if that makes sense. What needs to be learned from the London Olympics is how this project went so well when big ones usually go so badly. I think that it might have been down to certain individuals having a vision and the power to see it through, rather than it being designed by committee. Which is why we could still never stage a decent football World Cup.

4. The Closing Ceremony was a late own goal.

It’s not unreasonable to say that our female athletes were the role models of the games. So we cringed when supermodels were wheeled on (literally) in the Closing Ceremony. What next? Cheerleaders?

And after the Opening Ceremony had shown “ethnic” art like Indian-inspired dance so effortlessly part of our culture, two weeks later its role was to give Eric Idle something alien to point at. At times it was like they were trying to say “right, that’s all over with, now get back to your Daily Mail everyone”.

5. The newspapers read it all wrong.

Well, many of them did. Firstly, there were those who sneered at the Opening Ceremony, realised they were totally at odds with 99% of the population, and quickly shut up. Determined not to make the same mistake, they unquestioningly lauded the Closing Ceremony (“What A Finale!” – Daily Mail front page) when the population at large was thinking quite the opposite.

Then there was the question of tickets. With so many people crying out for tickets before the Games, most newspapers pretended to be slightly embarrassed by their unrestricted access. They carefully explained that they’d decided to send people with no interest in sport (Coren, Gill etc) for our entertainment. Halfway through, it was decided that the previously ticketless public were managing to get seats after all (wrong!) So back to Plan A, and their columnists were allowed to publish articles saying how tough it was having to visit three events in one day when you weren’t interested in any of them, and how nice it was to leave early without feeling you were wasting any money. Big mistake. The likes of Giles Coren may delight in winding up their readers, but the self-obsessed drivel they penned during the Olympics made me hate them with a genuine passion. And I had tickets.

6. I couldn’t pick a top ten moments from the Olympics.

I couldn’t even narrow it down to a top twenty.