The Last Day and the Legacy

Sunday morning in London started as every morning for the past two weeks. Olympic athletes competed in their events. Spectators looked on in awe at the Olympic Park, Earl’s Court and other venues. And those not fortunate enough to watch the competitions in person cheered from the comfort of their homes. But this morning was the beginning of the end of the 2012 London Olympic Games.

The men’s marathon was one of the first events of the day, and the last free event open to the public. Fans lined up alongside the road from St. Paul’s Cathedral all the way to the finish line at Buckingham Palace. It might have been 10 a.m., a whole hour before the race even started, but the bystanders did not lack energy or enthusiasm to catch perhaps their last firsthand glimpse of Olympic athletes.

“Most people will probably never have an experience like this in their lifetime,” James Mason said, a London 2012 volunteer who worked on the marathon course, mere inches away from where the runners raced.

All of the Olympic events, not just the free ones, have changed the face of London. The British have lived with the impending Olympic Games for the past six years, starting with construction of the Olympic Park in May of 2008, despite the fact that the Olympic Games only last 14 days. But it’s not only the new buildings that have converted the city.

“There’s a running joke around here that everyone in London is so overly-friendly,” Jack Mercer, who works just outside Olympic Park, said. “It’ll be interesting to see if it lasts for good.”

The social and economic impacts of “mega-events” like the Olympic Games are heavily contested. The London 2012 initiative expected the Olympic Games to broaden opportunities in an already “diverse and vibrant city and country.” Before the start of competition, London 2012 also reported £7 billion in contracts generated by the Games and an expected £1 billion in sales on the UK high street.

“It makes me feel incredibly proud,” Mercer said. “London has definitely surpassed everyone’s expectations I think.”

Producing a strong Olympic atmosphere wasn’t the only proud moment for Britain in these Games either. In a matter of days, Team Great Britain rose through the medal count tank to finish third with 65 medals.

“Anyone feels proud when their team wins,” Angela McCandless said, a spectator at the men’s triathlon. “And really isn’t that the point? If there was no competition to win, then what’s the point of having the Olympics?”

It is winning moments that seem to stick best in the minds of fans. Mercer said his favorite memory was of Chris Hoy winning the gold medal for track cycling at the Velodrome. McCandless felt the greatest moment for Team GB happened when Alistair Brownlee walked across the men’s triathlon finish line to win the gold with the Union Jack wrapped around his shoulders, and then hugged his brother, Jonny, as he ran in to receive bronze.

Is the success of the London Olympic Games measured by the amount of medals Great Britain has received, or is it something more?

“I think there’s too much pressure for the athlete’s to win,” Richard Lockney said. The 48-year-old school teacher said, “Even though being the best is desirable, it is the heart and determination that means more.”

But to perhaps prove the point of winning and heart, Samantha Murray of Great Britain won silver in the women’s modern pentathlon, the very last event of the 2012 Olympic games.