London 2012 – Final Thoughts

My final thoughts on London 2012.

I write this as the Paralympic Games come to a close in London, ending what has been a dramatic, eventful and exciting month and a half of sport during the London 2012 program.

In a matter of days, Olympic Park will close, only to reopen in about a year with a whole different look to East London. The banners with that familiar, yet still odd-looking logo will be taken down. The Games Makers who have spent countless hours helping athletes and spectators to make sure London 2012 ran smoothly, will go back to their ordinary lives.

And I will have stopped writing about London 2012 and move on with my life, just as other Londoners will be forced to do too.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost two months that I left for London, beginning a 27-day journey that much like it was for the athletes, was a life-changing experience. As this fantastic summer of sport known as London 2012 comes to a close and I’ve had more than enough time to reflect on the best month of my life, here are some final thoughts on the whole experience.

The British Love For Sport

With the exception of the whole ticketing and empty seats fiasco that angered fans who had been trying to get tickets for months, the British came out in full force to all the venues. I’ve never seen so much enthusiasm for sports like table tennis or field hockey. I’m not sure if you’d get the numbers of fans that London 2012 got in other potential host cities like Moscow, New York or Paris.

The demand for tickets, the enormous crowds at Olympic Park and the cheers for athletes these fans have never heard of illustrated that the British were more than enthusiastic for these Games. In each event that I went to, it was clear that the Brits welcomed these Games with open arms.

And it certainly helped that the British athletes were largely successful during these Games. They got a slow start, but once Team GB grabbed their first gold, they just kept coming. Everyone will remember that magical hour on Super Saturday when heptathlete Jessica Ennis, distance runner Mo Farah and long jumper Greg Rutherford each won gold.

I logged an interview with British comedian and actress Tracey Ullman, who explained it best when it came to British pride.

“What I love about these Olympic Games that seems to have happened in England is we’ve imported a ton of American self-esteem. We could never high-five,” Ullman said. “Now it’s like high-fiving, we’re winning gold medals. It’s astonishing what’s happened to Britain’s sporting achievements.

“We used to be down on ourselves…the British used to be like, even if we won a gold, we would say, ‘Oh it’s alright, I’d rather have the bronze.’

I’ll remember being in Hyde Park when a pair of brothers won both gold and bronze in the men’s triathlon. The performances of the likes of Sir Chris Hoy, Andy Murray and the bronze-medal winning men’s gymnastics team will live on in the minds of many Brits. And the flag-waving and numerous times we heard “God Save the Queen” will be the lingering memory for visitors like me.

Best Games Ever?

It feels like an eternity ago when there were worries about security. So much attention was paid on how organizers had to bring in military servicemen to make up for the shortage of trained security personnel.

But the military did their job and I honestly felt safer with members of the military checking my bags. They were friendly and they knew what they were doing. The men and women in green that were hired for security looked lost and confused each time they ran the scanners. It was a blessing in disguise that the military had to be brought in.

And remember all those nightmare scenarios that people predicted regarding transportation? While I was privileged enough to have a bus take me to and from the International Broadcast Centre, I did take the Tube several times during the Games to Olympic Park and some of the other venues.

Yes, there were crowds. Yes, there were lines. The worst experience for me was probably when I saw the triathlon at Hyde Park and it took forever for me to get back to work. But there wasn’t any chaos or incredible delays that were originally expected. People got to where they needed to be. Spectators got to their venues. I got to the IBC (on time on most days). The Games Makers did an incredible job directing spectators to the venues and to the Tube.

All in all, from an organizational perspective, the Games were a fantastic success that started with an Opening Ceremony that featured Britain at its best and that the Queen could make a grand entrance. The weather held up for the most part. There was less rain than expected following the largely wet summer. And everyone was happy. And in a world where all we hear about are protests, economic downturns and political controversies, the 17 days of the Games of the XXX Olympiad were certainly “Happy and Glorious”.

But were they the best ever? There’s a reason why London has hosted the Olympics three times. You only have to look at the success of these games to understand. But what will separate London 2012 from the rest will how its legacy will unfold. Promises of a new and revitalized East London won’t be fulfilled until at least next year. It’s not a transformation that can fully happen overnight. But if the motto of these Olympics was “Inspire a Generation,” then the success of London 2012 will never be forgotten.

“Inspire A Generation”

Speaking of the motto of London 2012, there were plenty of moments that were inspiring. Much of the media talked about the success of American women at these games, especially when it came to teamwork.

The women’s basketball team winning its fifth consecutive gold medal, a first for any women’s team at an Olympics. USA soccer winning arguably one of the best women’s soccer matches ever played in the semifinals against Canada, eventually beating Japan for gold in a rematch of last year’s world cup final. Women’s water polo winning its first gold by defeating Spain.

Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings’ three-peat in beach volleyball. The 4x100m relay team putting on a clinic on the track at Olympic Stadium by winning gold and smashing a record that hadn’t been broken since 1985. And the Fab Five, aka the American women’s gymnastics team, won gold for the first time since the Magnificent Seven in Atlanta 1996.

And when we’re asked what our favorite moments were from these Games, of course the performances of Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt will come up. Somehow, both were able to put on amazing encore performances from their time in Beijing. Gabby Douglas and Missy Franklin stole our hearts with their gold medal performances and their smiles. The US men’s basketball team met expectations, while the entire Team GB Olympic Team exceeded them. Oscar Pistorius proved on the track what he can do rather than what he couldn’t do.

Indeed there’s a vast collection of moments to choose from. But for me personally, there’s a few that I would never would have even cared about had I not worked for SportsDesk as a logger at NBC Olympics.

The SportsDesk Stories

To me, sport was never about the X’s and O’s. It’s not about the box score and who scored the most points. World records come and go. The final score won’t last long in our memories.

When I read back these blog posts and reflect on this unforgettable summer of sport, I’ll remember most the stories of athletes and of London that I logged and got to help produce.

I’ll never forget the story of Kayla Harrison, who recovered from some of the darkest days of her life and, through judo, overcame those self-doubts to achieve one-goal: to win Olympic gold. I’ll always remember shaking the hand of the man responsible for her success: her coach Jimmy Pedro.

Then there’s Martine Wiltshire, who’s not even competing in the Olympics. The day after London won the bid to host these Games, she was a victim of the London bombings that rocked the city’s public transit system. She lost both of her legs. Today, she is a Paralympian after competing as a member of Team GB’s sitting volleyball team in the now completed Paralympic Games.

And I’ll never forget Jan Ebeling’s story. The 53-year-old went to his first ever Olympic Games and competed in equestrian dressage, an event I never understood until I went to London. He rode on Rafalca, a horse partially owned by Ann Romney.

While I worked on plenty of inspiring stories, I’ll also remember the fun ones. Michelle Tafoya explaining some British terms to Americans, like how a cupcake is known as a “fairy cake” or how a thumb drive is called a “dongle”. Marshall Harris learning how to be a proper English Gentleman by playing cricket and getting a wet shave. And Lester Holt jamming with Philip Sheppard, who was tasked with scoring and arranging all 205 national anthems for the Olympics, including that of Uganda, whose national anthem was originally eighteen seconds and had to be stretched. That anthem, by the way, was only heard once at London 2012. And that was during the victory ceremony of the men’s marathon, which took place at the Closing Ceremony.

The best part about the Olympics are the stories you would never otherwise hear about if the Games didn’t exist. For 17 days, we become fans of badminton and judo. We learn about athletes from countries we’ve never heard of. We witness achievements that show signs of progress, like the first female athletes from Saudi Arabia or the man from the Philippines who ran a personal best despite finishing dead last.

Sport seems to bring out the best out of people and it’s at the Olympics where we get to see it on the biggest stage.

The Most-Watched Television Event in History

London 2012 was the most-watched televised event in U.S. history, according to NBC, with 219.4 million viewers catching at least part of the event. The family of networks put on 5,534 hours of coverage over the 17-day period. In a statement, NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus said, “There are thousands of dedicated and talented people in London and New York who take great pride in being part of these historic games and this television milestone.”

I am so happy to say that I was one of those thousands of dedicated and talented individuals. It was amazing to have had the opportunity to work with people who were truly passionate about the Olympics and putting on a good product.

I can say that everyone that I met had very special and unique qualities that seemed to have made broadcasting these Games a success. Each of the producers I met were smart and creative and I’m happy to have served them. The on-air talent were just as smart and personable and just as charming off camera as they were in front of it.

My supervisors were incredibly hard-working individuals who just knew what to do and were inspiring leaders. The interns I worked with were very enthusiastic and it was fun experiencing the Games with them and learning with them. The production assistants became some of my best friends at SportsDesk and provided some great advice and insight about the business, especially from the perspective of those just getting into the industry. The cameramen and audio specialists, studio crew members and even some of the food servers and coffee baristas at the commissary had great personalities and were great to work with.

The SportsDesk team received an e-mail shortly after the Games ended from one of the senior producers at SportsDesk. I’d like to share part of it because it best describes how hard working our department was during the Games:

“Every day, I marveled at your collective professionalism, positive attitude and willingness to go beyond what was necessary to get the job done. And it showed in the work – the Olympic Zone shows were consistently outstanding and, to me, the pieces we did were a great reflection of the Olympic experience. We did fun stories, serious stories, weird stories, and everything in between, and that’s a testament to the group’s amazing range and versatility.”

Team SportsDesk

From the day I arrived to the moment I finally rested my head on my pillow back in New York, every second was filled with something new and exciting, which can only happen at an Olympic Games. And there are few opportunities out there where you can say that you honestly had fun every moment you were working. While watching an Olympics is always something to look forward to, working to broadcast an Olympic is a whole new level and it’s something that I hope to get to do again in my career.

As far as what is to come next for me, who knows. I came into this summer thinking about whether or not I want to pursue a career behind the scenes or be a reporter/anchor in front of the camera. I was lucky enough to experience a taste of both during my time in London. After my time at NBC Olympics, I know one thing is for sure.

I want to go back.

So now I have a career goal, to go and work at an Olympic Games. Whether I’ll be a reporter, a host or a producer remains to be seen. But just like the athletes who’s goal is to make it to an Olympics, I hope to have just as interesting of a story as they do about getting there.

For now, I’m finally done writing about these Olympics and the unforgettable summer of sport that London gave us.

Cheers to you, London. And thank you NBC.

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