The latest challenge for the BT Olympic Storytellers was to pin down what puts the Great in Great Britain and to describe our greatest team for 2012.
My piece was commended….so just off the podium this time!
London 2012…the Greatest British team ever seen
In 1948 post war Europe was reeling. Cities were devastated, people were homeless, food was short and the future dark. Against this backdrop London hosted the Austerity Games of the XIV Olympiad in a spirit of hope, harmony and regeneration. Four thousand athletes from fifty nine nations took part, each bringing their own food, providing their own kit. No accommodation was built – barracks and colleges housed the participants. Medals were won, reputations made, records broken. Also in this year, the idea of war veterans competing in sports as part of their rehabilitation was born in Stoke Mandeville. Britain was leading the way forward out of war.
In 2012 Europe and much of the world is in the grip of dire financial turmoil. Every pound, every euro has to stretch further than before. Against this backdrop, London again plays host to the Olympic Games, only this time, austerity will not cut it with a world of spectators used to spectacle beyond anything they can dream of themselves. Britain has risen to the challenge. An Olympic village, park, venues, medical centre, all have risen from a toxic wasteland…in a very British way.
The Great in Britain is epitomised at this, the XXX Olympiad, by standards of sustainability, regeneration, re-usability, inclusion and legacy as never seen before in Olympic provision. Fourteen thousand athletes from two hundred and fifty seven countries will be welcomed to London. And what is more, the largest ever field of Paralympians will compete in the greatest Paralympic Games ever staged – a fitting nod to the Stoke Mandeville initiative of 1948.
As a poet, my job is to say a lot in very few words, I could not put the two ideas that for me to sum up the greatest GB team into one poem. The greatest team is not just 900 athletes, their diversity, power, strength in depth or claim to world records and Olympic recognition, but also those who dreamed of and made real the Olympic Park, holding true to incredible standards of sustainability, how to measure and achieve it, with no compromise on the final product.
As is so often the case, out of necessity and difficulty, the British have led the way to innovation, discovery and achievement of the highest standard and set the stage upon which our 900 can show their greatness. And so I give you two poems (and give credit to Tennyson for inspiration for The 900):
All is shadowed in the night-hushed landscape.
Rejuvenated rivers slip, serene, old ways rediscovered;
barges rest, empty now, last load transported;
beauty, duty, usefulness reinstated.
Soil breathes deep, refreshed,
every earthen clump cleaned, energised.
Meadow flowers, slumber, heads nodding;
strong from Lea’s watery nurture.
Fox and owl watch over newly found abundance.
Succulent roofs fade back into planned obscurity;
pumps and filters hum their renewing song.
Insects, frogs, toads burrow deep
into galvanised gabion crevices;
safe in damp and darkness.
Curious night-time footsteps prowl,
drawn along unaccustomed pathways, over
recycled plank bridges to the island.
In the dark of a summer night
on a reclaimed East End island
light bursts into the sky –
volley, thunder, storm delights
spectators, nation, world.
Then all is hushed as
into the glow of the torch
parade the 900.
Nurtured from grass roots,
as is the park around them,
sustained by self belief
each athlete is ready,
the team is forged.
Balanced, bold they advance
and in this moment –
in this perfect moment –
all is well, hope is high.
Britain shows its very best.
Nothing won, nothing lost,
all to gain, team and nation united,
we honour the 900,
the charge they made
from dreamer to Olympian.