London Olympics Wrap in Style

Thank you, Kim Gavin, for an awesome Closing Ceremony. And thank you, London, for an awesome 2012 Summer Olympics! (Reuters: Dylan Martinez)

During his tenure as International Olympic Committee President, Juan Antonio Samaranch used to “grade” the Olympics in his Closing Ceremony speech. It was a somewhat meaningless grade, considering he called every Olympics except for Atlanta’s “the best Olympics ever,” and Jacques Rogge (who, while maybe an a-hole, at least isn’t an actual fascist) abandoned the practice when he took over as president.

Were he to appraise these Olympics, Rogge would have to call the Games of the XXX Olympiad the “best Olympics ever.” From an Opening Ceremony that managed both elegance and humor to a Closing Ceremony that rocked like none other (not even Sydney, despite Men at Work and Slim Dusty), these Olympics thrilled, satisfied and entertained like none before.

Watching Sunday’s Closing Ceremony, I kept observing over and over how much fun the athletes and spectators at Olympic Stadium seemed to be having. Screaming and clapping, dancing and singing, every athlete wore a smile that could rival Gabby Douglas or Missy Franklin.

And why shouldn’t they? Kim Gavin’s masterful musical line-up matched Danny Boyle’s, and the crowd seemed to go wilder for every new rock star that appeared on stage. I especially liked the appearance of One Direction – not because I like boy bands (though “What Makes You Beautiful” is pretty catchy), but because it shows a concerted effort to appeal to a younger crowd.

Many past Olympics drew exclusively from an older, classic-rock heavy cast of musicians. That may draw the dads (or grandads), but it turns off the tweens, teens and 20-somethings who just grew up with different music. Alienate too many young people, and they may lose interest in the Olympics as they have with other gala events (the Oscars, for example).

By bringing in One Direction and Artic Monkeys, by doing a section of his Opening Ceremony on young romance in a technological, smart-phone-saturated world, Gavin and Boyle helped include the younger generation – who make up the grand majority of Olympic athletes, remember – in the Olympic spirit. Another generation will grow up loving the Olympics, and Gavin and Boyle are two reasons why.

And for those slightly too old for Jessie J and Taio Cruz, we still got the Spice Girls, Fat Boy Slim, George Michael and Annie Lennox (among others).

Between all those rockers, Bhangra (a style of dance whose inclusion makes perfect sense given the UK’s Indian population), and samba and capoeira (freaking capoeria!!) in the Brazilian section, this Closing Ceremony had an international feel to it unlike any other. I said in my Opening Ceremony column that Boyle wanted to show off England’s place in the world.

The Closing Ceremony, as a contrast, showed the world’s place in England.

And after another stirring speech from Sebastian Coe and a beautiful dissolution of the Olympic torch-flower, it all came to a close. The world might not stop for the Olympics, but it definitely slows down a little bit.

Now, it has to speed back up.

Epilogue: Lots of Success, Much Less Suspense

Only one thing bugged me about these Olympics: between the time-difference and social media, I accidentally learned the winners of far too many competitions before the prime-time NBC broadcast. Both the New York Times and NBC Olympics apps on my iPhone notified me the women’s gymnastics team had won before I even knew they’d do that; I stopped going to ESPN.com after it ruined the first Michael Phelps-Ryan Lochte race; and I learned to close my Firefox homepage at home, CNN.com, as soon as I started the program after it killed some of the swimming relays.

And then there’s Facebook. Friends of mine spoiled (unintentionally, sure) several competitions, including the men’s tennis final and the men’s 5000m final. And as a journalist, I’ve “liked” several news feeds on Facebook, and they played their part in killing the suspense.  The Boston.com account, for example, told me Aly Raisman had won gold in floor ahead of time.

That makes sense – Raisman’s from Needham. But the next day, Boston.com posted about the U.S. women’s soccer team winning. Another major competition I suddenly had far fewer reasons to watch.

I’m not bashing Facebook and social media. It’s a legitimate form of human communication, and I liked that NBC devoted some time each night to analyzing the social media world’s thoughts on the Olympics. I even thought Ryan Seacrest did a competent job.

But with so few live broadcasts of consequence and so much revealed ahead of time – including the events of both Ceremonies, btw – watching often lacked the emotional punch of previous Olympics.

I like watching sports. I like not always knowing the outcome. My favorite event was Canada-USA women’s soccer, in part because I had no idea who’d win.

The next Summer Olympics will be in Rio de Janeiro. With the city just an hour behind our eastern time zone, there should be far fewer spoilers and far more live broadcasting in 2016.

I could’ve waited to know more of the outcomes of the London Olympics. I can’t wait to see who wins in Rio.

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