Olympics

SportsCentre Year in Review: The Summer Games in London

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Brian Williams
12/21/2012 1:10:46 PM
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Leading up to SportsCentre's Year In Review on Christmas Eve, TSN and TSN.ca look back at each of the Top 10 stories of 2012. And TSN's reporters and analysts who covered the events as they happened offer their personal reflections on the stories.

Today, TSN and CTV personality Brian Williams looks back at Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps highlighting the memorable Olympic Summer Games in London.

To get some perspective on the impact of the 2012 Olympic Summer Games in London, it's useful to look back at what took place two years earlier.

Vancouver 2010 forever changed our country in a profoundly positive way. No longer are we apologizing for winning. Instead, we are justifiably taking pride in the many great accomplishments of our fellow citizens.

The after-glow from Vancouver created an interest both in our Canadian athletes and in the London Games that was greater than any Summer Games I have seen, going back to my first in Montreal in 1976. 

While the medal total was not quite what Canadian Olympic officials had predicted, and there was but one gold, the 2012 Games and the stories set forth by the Canadian athletes captivated this country like never before. 

More on the Canadian athletes later on.

There is no question that for Canadians, London was the perfect city to follow Vancouver. The culture, the history and of course the Royals struck a chord not just here in Canada but around the world. 

And of course, London became the first city to host three Olympics (1908, 1948 and 2012) and that alone made it appealing and truly special. 

The success of London 2012 makes it easy to forget that just two weeks before the Games began there was no noticeable buzz or Olympic fever in the British capital. That quickly changed for two key reasons.

The first was the spectacular success of the Opening Ceremony.

I spoke with the director Danny Boyle on the eve of the ceremony. He told me his goal to produce a "live" movie that would tell to the world a "uniquely British story." He certainly succeeded.

From the colourful pageantry celebrating British history to the unlikely team of Queen Elizabeth and James Bond "parachuting" into the Olympic stadium, it all worked brilliantly. Even her Majesty's corgis performed to perfection.

The second reason the London Games captivated the world was the great success of the British athletes.  Remember that in Vancouver it was the record number of Canadian gold medals and Sidney Crosby's "golden goal" that put an exclamation mark on the Games, not only for Canada but for viewers around the world. 
The exact same thing happened in London. Thanks to the Britain's athletes, the lack of buzz just prior to the Games was quickly replaced by Olympic fever not just in Britain but around the world.

Spectators rocked the many venues as the host country's athletes began to pile up medals.  Fans and viewers around the world were caught up in the excitement.  And it is important to remember the faces of the British medalists reflected the multi-cultural makeup of the British Isles.

Now let's get back to Team Canada.

The cover story of the Aug. 20 edition of Maclean's magazine featured the headline "Heroes and Heartbreak."  

Canada's heroes were many, particularly Rosie MacLennan's golden smile after winning on the trampoline. And there were Canada's divers, swimmers, canoeists, kayakers, weightlifters, judokas, cyclists, rowers and wrestlers. But the story that truly captured the country was the courageous and dramatic saga written by the women's soccer team. 

Who can forget the three-goal performance for the ages by Christine Sinclair in the controversial loss to the heavily favoured U.S.?

Sinclair, a well-deserved recipient of the Lou Marsh Award as Canada's top athlete for 2012, rallied with her teammates to put that loss behind them and defeat France for the bronze medal. It was the first team medal for Canada at the Summer Olympics since the men's basketball team won silver in Berlin in 1936.

Then there was Derek Drouin, surprising everyone but himself with a bronze medal in the high jump - Canada's first since Greg Joy's silver in 1976. And the heroes were not just medalists. Damian Warner turned in a remarkable performance to finish fifth in the decathlon. I say remarkable because the decathlon is the most grueling of all Olympic events.

In fact, the only Canadian decathlon medal in Olympic history was Dave Steen's bronze in Seoul in 1988, an achievement unfortunately overshadowed by the Ben Johnson scandal.

As for the Canadian heartbreak in London, there was Simon Whitfield's bicycle crash that took him out of the men's triathlon. And of course in Athletics, the stunning disqualification of the Canadian men's 4x100 metre relay team. Their apparent third place finish was put up on the stadium scoreboard, only to be taken down some 10 minutes later.

Prince Edward Island's Jared Connaughton bravely went before the cameras, accepted responsibility for stepping on the line, and apologized to his teammates and the country.

I can think of no better example of the ability to accept both victory and defeat with grace, class and dignity than that shown by coach Glenroy Gilbert and his inspirational young runners.

Even Prince Harry when he visited our studio with his brother Prince William spoke of the spirit and heart of the Canadian athletes. He recalled sitting next to Canadian rower and medalist Malcolm Howard at Canada House as they cheered Canada's women's eight to silver. And during that same interview Prince William spoke of the Vancouver Olympics and how the success of the Canadian athletes inspired the country, adding that he hoped he would see the same happen in his own country. 

Thanks to British athletes like heptathlete Jessica Ennis, distance runner Mo Farah and cyclist Sir Chris Hoy, William got his wish.

Perhaps the biggest stars of London 2012 were a Jamaican sprinter and an American swimmer. Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps can truly be said to transcend the Olympic Games.

In London, Phelps became the winningest Olympian of all time, bringing his career medal total to an incredible 22.

Bolt won gold in the 100 metres, 200 metres and the 4 by 100 relay, duplicating the feat he'd accomplished four years earlier in Beijing. The mere mention of those two Olympic icons ignites the argument as to who is the greatest Olympian.

Because Phelps' sport is swimming he competes in more events than Bolt.  But swimming is a more specialized sport than sprinting, so the field of competition is smaller.

As Donovan Bailey said to me in our London studio, "not every able-bodied person swims, but they all run."

Good point. But it's countered by the fact that although the races Bolt runs may differ in terms of distance, his running technique remains basically the same. Phelps, however must compete in several events requiring very different styles.

To me, the bottom line is that while it's fun to debate the question, it is impossible to say who is the greatest overall.

In closing it is important to remember that the Summer Olympics are the largest regularly scheduled peaceful gathering of nations, sporting or otherwise. As such they reflect the world as it exists at that moment in history. Athletes march behind their countries' flags and listen to their national anthems when they stand on top of the medal podium.  

Thus the Olympics are political by their very nature, and that was true in London in the Opening Ceremony when the IOC refused to honour the memory of the Israeli athletes massacred at the Munich Games in 1972. And 2012 was the 40th anniversary of that event.

I have been fortunate to cover 14 Olympic Games, and London 2012 once again reminded me that while far from perfect, the Olympics in their purest form speak to sportsmanship, integrity and fair play.

Usain Bolt (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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