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Philip Barton

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GREAT Britain Lives Up to Its Name

Posted: 08/13/2012 8:51 am

For years, critics claimed that London 2012 was doomed. They said that the transportation network would collapse. That people would stay away from London. That the economy would suffer. That the British public were not interested. That the Games would be a magnet for protests, disturbances, or worse.

They were all wrong.

Some of the criticisms, of course, were mutually inconsistent from the beginning. Depending on which doom-sayer you listened to, either the Tube would seize up from overcrowding -- or the streets would be deserted. Neither scenario has transpired. With some five million passengers between them, the London Underground and its sister network, the Docklands Light Railway, experienced their busiest day ever during the Olympics, but there was no significant travel disruption throughout the Games.

London has been swinging, both inside the Olympic Park and beyond. Footfall and sales went up over sixteen percent on Oxford, Bond and Regent Streets. Hotel occupancy was high. Speaking before the Games, the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber had predicted a "bloodbath" of low ticket sales for the West End theatre district. Now, with attendance significantly up, he cheerfully admits his mistake: in the first week of the Games, box office takings at his theatres rose by a quarter of a million pounds over the previous seven days.

Team GB enjoyed by far its best Games in more than a hundred years. With five days of competition to go, we had already broken the gold medal record we set in Beijing and smashed many of our 2012 medals targets. The wins have included some very meaningful ones for Britain. Sir Chris Hoy, who was knighted for his achievements four years ago in Beijing, has become the most decorated British Olympian of all time. Andy Murray, the UK tennis number one, clinched the men's singles gold in straight sets on the iconic Centre Court at Wimbledon.

As for security, we should never be complacent. But the nearest thing to a security hazard was an overheating barbeque at a New Zealand watch party. Security has, of necessity, been tight; but our police and military personnel have done a superb job.

Finally, the Great British Public -- hard to please, and sometimes even a little cynical -- has wholeheartedly embraced London 2012. Nine in ten Brits have tuned in. Enthusiastic crowds have lined the streets to cheer on athletes at public events such as cycling and triathlon.

The government is moving to capitalise on this enthusiasm by providing more than a billion pounds ($1.6bn) in funding for a renaissance in children's sports. That will be part of the lasting legacy of these Games, to add to the urban regeneration that will create 11,000 homes, 8,000 jobs and 1,800 school places. Previously neglected areas of east London around the Olympic Park will become an international hub for innovation and creativity, with Cisco, Google and Facebook among the businesses that have already relocated to the new Tech City development.

Excitement is now building for the London Paralympics, which with three weeks to go until the opening ceremony have already smashed all records for ticket sales and are on track to be the most successful ever. Make no mistake: with these Games, Britain is showing itself to be just as GREAT as its name.

 
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