International Olympic Committee

Ding-dong merrily, high on sport

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 July, 2012, 12:00am

Big Ben, the most famous bell in the world, will today toll 40 times to usher in the Olympics. For the first time since the funeral of King George VI in 1952, the bass notes from the iconic clock tower on the north bank of the Thames will divert from its regular strikes and instead manically peel across the capital to celebrate the start of the Games.

Big Ben is the centre piece of the tintinnabulum dreamt up by Turner Prize-winner Martin Creed. His instructions to campanologists and amateur ringers are simple: 'To ring all the bells in Britain as loudly and as quickly, as often as possible, for three minutes.' During live TV and radio broadcasts, countless other church, hand-held, door and bicycle bells will also ring out in unison over a land that has in the past few surreal weeks of a seven-year spell of anticipation and preparation, gone ding-dong Olympic crazy.

Once Danny Boyle has done his artistic best, the maelstrom of anxiety and neurosis will finally evaporate, and the raison d'etre for the arrival of this bizarre five-ringed circus will finally reveal its illustrious star attraction - sport. Thank goodness. Here in one of the world's great capitals, Londoners are finally coming out of their dazed and confused state to embrace show time, which will take place in a landscaped Olympic Park a few miles downstream from Big Ben.

Seven years ago - just as Beijing was clearing the last of her citizens to make way for the venues - the London 2012 space was a toxic wasteland. Its only inhabitants were feral cats befriended by an eccentric woman. It took several lengthy court sessions and declarations to uphold animal rights for the feline pride to be evicted and make way for the earth movers and pile drivers.

Such unique British Olympic nuttiness has been widespread. Anyone seen to be trading on the heavily copyrighted Five Olympic Rings ensign has exposed themselves to prosecution. The Olympic Lanes' saga is being afforded the kind of derision they arguably deserve, and their official opening was followed by headlines about traffic chaos and the threat of mass civil disobedience by militant motorists.

The British are obsessed by class as they are about sport, forming orderly queues and the weather. They slice down to size anything they believe has gone beyond its proper station, the 'Olympic Family' being a case in point. These British traits are contagious. IOC president Jacques Rogge engaged in a spot of class war this week, denying the Olympic lanes were symbolic of the grandiosity that the modern, corporate-sponsored Games have clearly become. He insisted he and the army of IOC officials were all card-carrying members of the working class - a proletarian front worthy of endless plates of East End jellied eels and deferential tugs on the collective's cloth cap.

Many Britons might not be aware but the Olympics are bringing the best out of them and their country. This British passport carrier can attest to such. He can assert with some confidence that despite the road chaos, the embarrassing security debacle, the threat of strikes and the GBP7 (HK$84) price of an Olympic pint, everything will be all right - not just tonight but over the next 16 days of competition among the world's finest athletes.

Having witnessed the ruthless efficiency of an autocratically-run 2008 Beijing Olympics, which is remembered as one of the best ever, I can predict the free-wheeling, bumbling London Games will leave similar indelible memories for every Briton and athlete present.

At the last Olympics, the infamously critical and fickle British media soon dropped all interest in human rights and demonstration once Team GB started to win more gold medals than ever imagined. The media became more interested in the likes of Michel Phelps, Usain Bolt and Team China.

And so it will prove likewise over the next fortnight. Britain has never had it so good despite a deep economic recession. The country's unique creativity and soul will be exposed to the world with this peoples' Olympics.

The Games will underscore that despite its many flaws, austerity, eccentricity and whingeing, Britain remains a great country and the collective character of its inhabitants is sculptured out of their celebration and playing of sport by the rules.

Better still, it seems that the opening heats will be played out in magnificent sunshine. The Olympian Gods are smiling on a regenerated corner of East London stuffed with athletes in their prime and gunning for gold. That is surely something to pick up a bell and ring out loud about.