The Summer of the Mobot

English: Mo Farah at the 2010 European Athleti...

Mo Farah at the 2010 European Athletics Championships in Barcelona (Photo: Wikipedia)

For me, the 2012 Olympics will always be a thousand people crammed into a tiny pub to watch Mo Farah in the 5,ooo metres final. People jammed in so tight no one can move, even if you wanted to. People spilling out onto the streets, people watching through the windows. They’ve been coming all afternoon, all evening, from all over London, and all anyone wants to know as they come through the door is “What’s the latest from the Olympics?”

People are greeting complete strangers like long-lost friends, buying them drinks, offering to share their food. For once in our lives, we’re all part of one community, all sharing in what’s going on at the Olympic stadium, at the boxing, at the BMX course.

And it’s not a private party for the British: Americans, South Africans, Swedes, Venezuelans, are all there, comparing notes, sharing their experiences.

And still Mo is to come. And still they are arriving, jamming the spaces between tables, blocking the doors. No one can get to the toilet, though it would be madness to move if you’ve got a view of the television.

There’s a table full of people who have draped themselves in Union flags, like runners who’ve just run a race.

A hush descends, and through it the sound of the TV. There’s no hope of buying a drink at the bar now, everyone’s engrossed by the screen. Women are standing on their chairs to see over the crowd.

There are a few shouts of encouragement, of “Come on, Mo,” then it falls quiet. No one knows if he can do it again. Then, as he moves to the front in the closing stages, there is a wall of sound that just grows and grows, until you think it can’t any louder.

And then he crosses the line and the place erupts. People are kissing each other, throwing their arms around one another. People are doing the Mobot, people have tears in their eyes.

And there he is on the screen, with that self-effacing smile that lit up a nation, skinny Mo Farah, and in that moment we are all champions with him.

There was a lot of talk in the lead-up to these Olympic Games that they would show how comfortable Britain is with its place in the modern world: no longer a superpower, its empire gone, not even an economic power any more.

In the end, though, we didn’t need Danny Boyle and his mad industrial chimmneys to answer that, glorious as they were. Because we had Mo.

What better symbol for a modern nation at ease with its place in the world? What better new definition for Britishness?

He came here when he was eight years old, a refugee from the war that has torn Somalia apart. He’d fled first to Djibouti, then to London, looking for sactuary, looking for a home. He found it here, and he embraced it. When the press asked him where he felt he was really racing for his answer was simple: for Britain, he was from here.

And Britain took Mo to its heart. It’s not that long ago that the only people who wore flags in pubs were the racists of the British National Party. Now they were wearing them for a man who was born in east Africa but who spoke with a voice that was pure London.

Here, at last, was modern Britain at ease with itself. Not mourning its past, not boring everyone with recitations of how we stood alone in the Second World War, invented half the sports on show, or once ruled half the globe.

We had enough to cheer in our present. Twenty-nine gold medals, many of them won by people like Mo Farah who seemed, at least to us watching them on television, humble, dedicated, decent people. A chamipon in Jessica Ennis who didn’t just win the most demandiing event of all, the heptathlon, but turned it into a victory parade.

A victor out of nowhere in Greg Rutherford, who no one seemed to expect would get near the medals in the long jump, but who not only won gold but had the chutzpah to say he was expecting to jump further.

Well, we had home advantage, it’s true — how could the roar of those crowds not lift any athlete?

But it wasn’t just medals we had to be proud of. We’d hosted the Olympics in the midst of a global recession, when we couldn’t lavish money on it as the Chinese had four years earlier, and yet it had been an unmitigated success.

We’d done it in the heart of London, one of the biggest and most crowded cities on earth — never mind the 7 million who live here officially, millions more commute to work every day.

You could feel it in the streets. Londoners were walking with their heads high, a spring in their step. People said the city would grind to a halt, but London, magnificent grand old dame that she is, took it all in her stride.

People were realising, as the Tubes and trains and buses handled the extra passengers without difficulty, that we actually have one of the best transport systems in the world, we just love to complain about it.

And this triumph was built by volunteers. Jacques Rogge could pontificate all he wanted at the closing ceremony: the success of London 2012 had nothing to do with the corporate sponsors he and his IOC are so in love with, nothing to do with the Olympics police who went round telling pubs to take down the five rings, and rub the word “Olympics” off their blackboards. It was down to the thousands of volunteers who did it for love and wanted nothing back but to be a part of it.

It won’t last. We’ll be back to our melancholy, cynical ways soon enough. But for two weeks, in the summer of 2012, we were champions.


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