London is a city of monuments. This is especially evident as images of this remarkable city and its Olympic venues are beamed to billions of people around the globe during this unparalleled sporting event. Equestrian statues, buildings, arches, parks, bronzes, boulevards -- all these speak to the glorious history of the British Empire. And they were built for a purpose.
The predominant figure in Trafalgar Square (the epicenter of the celebration when London was announced as the 2012 host city) is a soaring 185 foot tall column with a lone figure atop: Admiral Lord Nelson, the British naval hero. Just to the side, however, is a smaller statue of Sir Henry Havelock with this statement made to his men while serving in India:
"Soldiers, your labours, your privations, your sufferings and your valour will not be forgotten by a grateful country."
No other nation has a longer memory than that of Great Britain, and no other nation, with as few natural resources or smaller population, ruled the world in such a way as the British. As the saying goes, the sun never set on their empire. And now it can be said of London that it is the first city in the modern Olympic era to host the summer games three times: 1908, 1948, and 2012.
I was struck by the enormity of the British influence during a recent visit that included walking through the West End of this great city and marveling at the sheer size and number of so many monuments. I have been to London countless times and had the opportunity to be there in 2006 on the very day England played Portugal in the quarterfinals of the World Cup. When the former lost on penalty kicks we saw the collective pain of a nation on the faces of small children crying as their parents held them in their red soccer outfits. Even more dramatic were the adults streaming out of pubs yelling and screaming their disbelief that a nation boosting a roster of instantly-recognizable names like Beckham and Rooney had to endure such an early exit. The papers the next day roundly criticized the coach, not a British national, by conjuring up images of an erstwhile empire and questioning how and why England had lost her way.
But the "precious stone set in the silver sea," as Shakespeare called England in Richard II, has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts in the past few months, first with the commemoration of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and now playing host to the world's greatest sporting spectacle. The past few days have seen particular British triumphs with successes on the track, Andy Murray's victory over Roger Federer, and the UK's current solid standing of 51 medals won -- third behind the United States and China.
Even right here in Cedar City, Utah -- half a world away from London -- we've all gone Olympic crazy cheering for one of our own, Cam Levins, who is representing his native Canada. Our university's first-ever Olympian, Cam finished 11th on Saturday in the 10,000 meters. He competes in the 5,000 later this week and our entire community is donning shirts emblazoned with "Oh CAMada!" in support of this recent SUU graduate.
To be sure, each nation has its own set of challenges. But at least for a "fortnight" plus two days, people around the globe can swell with national pride as their best and brightest strive on a global stage for all to see and to celebrate. That this international competition is being staged in the city of monuments makes the competition even that much more dramatic.