London 2012: a tiny moment of democracy

I went to watch the men’s Olympic time trial today – partly because it ran down the road where I grew up and partly to see how great the whole Games could have been.

This was one of the very few genuinely democratic events of the Olympics, where anybody could just turn up without needing to play the website ticket lottery. There were no empty sponsors’ spaces here – almost every inch of the route was lined with sponsors (ie us) who actually wanted to be there.

There were no fences or soldiers. There was nobody hectoring us through loudhailers, no signs ordering us around. There were no restrictions on bringing food, no banned corporate logos. Unlike Central London, or poor old Greenwich, the local area was busy and the local shops were doing good business – because Locog and the IOC  weren’t there to lock everyone inside their ghastly enclosures. It showed clearly what the Games could have done for London if they’d been spread out over the city.

The time trial is, bluntly, not the world’s most interesting spectacle – one cyclist flashes past every minute and a half or so. They are racing the clock, not each other, so you can’t tell who’s winning unless you have a smartphone or radio. It’s all over in about half an hour.

But we did get to see Bradley Wiggins about five minutes before he became the greatest Olympian in British history. The famous sideburns were, alas, covered by one of those red space-helmets, but I can only imagine what it must have been like for him being roared and cheered for 27 miles through the roads of his own country. On parts of the course, you could stand within a few inches of the riders with no barrier between you. There was no need for security – people were trusted to behave themselves, which of course they did. I hate to imagine the fate which would have befallen any Trenton Oldfield-style idiot who tried to disrupt the race.

And the streets were I was, in Twickenham, were rammed four or five deep – which tells me how keen people are to experience the Games, if only they are allowed to. I’ve been to the Olympic Park this week, too – and I know which I prefer.

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