London Mayor Boris Johnson is inviting the world to come to his city next year for an "amazing summer in the world's best big city" as the city of Big Ben and Notting Hill and the British Museum stages the 2012 Summer Olympics.
The press release I got today from the London 2012 folks certainly waxed poetic:
"Whether visitors are attending a 2012 Games event or just here to soak up the atmosphere of the host city, everyone will have the chance to join Londoners in enjoying this unique moment in the capital's history, in particular by watching the world's greatest athletes in action on large screens at ‘Live Sites’ planned for Hyde Park, Victoria Park, Trafalgar Square and Potters Fields Park. The sites will play host to a fantastic programme of free entertainment including concerts, cultural and artistic performances and exhibitions to showcase London and the UK to the world.
"London is also putting on a vast array of other entertainment for visitors, from street festivals to special programmes in its unrivalled cultural institutions, as well as spectacular makeovers of its town centres and iconic landmarks. This is in addition to the multitude of attractions which are part of London's everyday appeal, from its museums and historic sites to its restaurants and premier shopping venues that millions of tourists visit London for every year.
The Mayor will deploy an army of 8,000 London Ambassadors, who will be on standby to help visitors find their way around and make the most of their time in the capital. He has also announced plans to recruit 10,000 adult volunteers to take part in the official opening and closing ceremonies to ensure that they are a resounding success.
With the 2012 Games already providing a massive £2 billion boost to the capital’s economy, around 25,000 workless people securing jobs, £30 million being channelled into grassroots sport and the transformation of east London continuing apace, the Mayor will also tell the world that the legacy of 2012 is already unfolding.
Johnson said: "A year from today the curtain will be lifted on the London Games and I call on the world to come and enjoy what will be the greatest party that London, indeed the planet, has ever seen. Our stunning venues are almost all complete on time and under budget, and the impact of the Games on this great city of ours is being felt on many fronts. Visitors to London next year will find the atmosphere electrifying, whether they are soaking up the sporting spectacle in the Olympic Park or enjoying the many fantastic events and attractions across the capital. We are set to welcome the world for the best Games in history.”
That, of course, remains to be seen. I suspect the Brits will have a tough time beating the sheer, lunatic vibrancy and energy of the Sydney Games, which were the first I covered for the Star. But they'll certainly surpass the quiet Salt Lake and Turin Winter Games of 2002 and 2006, and they can't help but be more organized than the Athens 2004 folks. They'll also certainly have more soul than the Beijing Summer Olympics, which went off without a hitch but suffered from a lack of community participation. Technically superb but soul-less, they were. I suspect the Brits will be just as gung-ho as Canadians were at the Vancouver Games (if not the NHL playoffs). Watching fans parade about on Robson and Granville after the gold medal hockey game (see photo) was the highlight of the Vancouver Olympics for me.
I must admit that, from a personal standpoint, I'm in something of a melancholy mood. I have organized the Toronto Star's coverage of the Olympics for the last six go-arounds, starting with Sydney and finishing with Vancouver in 2010. But I don't work in sports any longer and I thought it was time to let someone else do the quarterbacking at the Games, as well as filing all those damned web stories for hour upon hour and filling in on news stories and attending press conferences.
Most of my time at the Olympics is spent watching events on a silent TV (if there's too much noise nobody could work), then recording the results and looking over official Olympic press releases for "flash quotes" from winning athletes and then filing quick, "game-over" stories for the Star's web site so we could beat the competition with short, colourful stories on our medals - or near-misses or, yes, complete flops.
We did a nice job, thanks in part to a lot of hard work from tireless web folks at 1 Yonge St.; especially guys such as Spencer Walsh. And I had huge support from Star management and from the Star's team of Olympic reporters; seasoned professionals such as the peerless Randy Starkman and incredibly talented Dave Perkins (since departed from full-time employment at the mother ship) and tireless columnist Rosie DiManno.
The Star will have a great team in London but, barring something unforseen, I won't be part of it. I hope to do some run-up stories to the Games, however, and I'll certainly keep an eye on the results from across the pond. I'm looking forward to watching an event, then popping open a beer to celebrate a Canadian medal instead of madly dashing off three or four versions of a story and moving quickly on to the next one.
But I'll miss the energy and the excitement and the people and the sense that, for three weeks or so, I'm living at the news centre of the universe. I also will miss the occasional event I got to see (Beijing was best as I saw Usain Bolt in the 100 meter race and I saw Michael Phelps win his record swimming medal) and the opening and closing ceremonies, which were almost always beautiful and fun and, occasionally, baffling.
IS LONDON THE BEST BIG CITY IN THE WORLD?
On a side note, I kinda wonder about that first sentence in the press release I got from the London 2012 folks. Nothing wrong with wanting to Own the Podium, as it were, but to jump out and state boldly that London is "the world's best big city" is a bit of hyperbole.
I love London. I love the markets and the sensibility and the tube and the gardens and Big Ben and Russell Square and red telephone booths and much more. But, honestly, I don't think it has the flair of Paris or the power of New York or the late-night excitement and design sense of Barcelona or the physical setting of Sydney or Vancouver or the "living on the edge" feel you get in San Francisco.
Still, it's right up there. So maybe later this week I'll have a bit of fun and do my own personal ranking....