It’s Wednesday morning in London and I’m blinking furiously on a half empty Tube carriage contemplating the long haul flight home to Sydney.
The glowing, grinning Olympic crowds are gone and the ten thousand or so aubergine and poppy* clad volunteers have neatly blended back into the community.
The free newsprint lying around the overcooked carriages trumpets the greatest Olympic Games ever, but London is moving on and so am I.
It is time to go home.
The three weeks covering London 2012 for the ABC has gone by like the Jamaican relay team and it had all the power of Ireland’s all conquering boxer Katie Taylor.
Racing from events to press conferences to medal ceremonies to trains to bed to events has allowed me little time to reflect on what actually happened, but here I am.
Was London truly the best Games ever? Did Australia really do that badly? And in the meltdown over Australia’s performance at the Games did we just have a watershed moment in sports journalism?
A couple of exchanges have stayed with me strongly over the past week.
One was Mitchell Watt’s dismay at the media over his perceived disappointment at getting long jump silver. I won’t quickly forget the hurt look on the face of the Olympic debutant as he urged the assembled media to “wake up.”
The other little moment was a few days ago when race walker Claire Tallent broke down in the daily Australian press conference while recounting the heartbreak of her disqualification.
Supported by husband Jared Tallent, she offered the moment which cut her up as she came off the field of play; seeing her young nephew in tears. By the by, Claire Tallent sadly said to the assembled media, ‘you wouldn’t know what it is like”.
She’s right of course. Journalists, in the main, don’t know what it us like to win or lose an Olympic gold medal, be elected Prime Minister or make a groundbreaking, lifesaving scientific discovery.
Our job is to be right there witnessing the event, asking the questions, getting the quotes and breaking the news.
It is not our jobs to be fanclubs and look with uncritical eyes.
So how did it all go wrong for the Australians at the Olympics?
Simple. It IS the Olympics. It’s the big world stage and everything is heightened. Winning is glory, losing is a tragedy and being busted for doping is death sentence.
Like everyone else, no athlete wants to be told what they are thinking. So when journalists confront an Olympian fresh from the field of play and put out leading statements like “You must be disappointed,” it is likely to miss the mark.
The athletes were copping it from the public on social media as well and it only turned after Mitchell Watt spoke out.
Sometimes though, it seems that journalists are afraid to ask the classic dumb question; “how do you feel?”
I did hear it in London and let it continue to ring out.
Granted athletes should be able to say; “actually, I am really stoked with my silver Olympic medal, thanks for asking”, but it just shows how sensitive the 2012 Australian Olympic Team has been.
This tenth placing on the London medal tally is a once in a generation result. Australian sportsmen and women proudly punch above their weight, but this Olympiad has been a hard campaign and a wake up call.
Other nations, particularly Great Britain and the previous host nation China, have copied Australian medal plans and snaffled prized coaches.
After successes in Sydney, Athens and Beijing, it was only a matter of time before the rest of the world cottoned on to our good thing.
We are being told that the Olympics come in cycles and that this London shock will lead to some phoenix from the flames resurgence in Rio in four years time.
A brief, personal and uneducated note to the Australian sailing camp here; don’t change a thing.
As for whether London 2012 has been the best Olympic Games ever. It is only for the IOC President, Jacques Rogge, to say and he hasn’t.
According to Dr Rogge it was a ‘happy and glorious’ Games and I won’t and can’t deny that verdict.
Neither will a shopkeeper from the London Markets near the Olympic village.
I spoke to Aisha at length today and while she was worried before the London Games about whether she would lose business to the Olympics, her take away concern was that George Michael and Fat Boy Slim did ‘dad dancing’ on international television at the Closing Ceremony.’
While business has suffered near the equestrian events at Greenwich, Aisha’s business was unhindered and she was able to travel with ease to work each day.
She was most concerned that I, as an outsider, had enjoyed the London Games.
Well I loved the 2012 Games because of people like her. Sure the sport was incredible, and in particular I will never, ever forget Anna Meares beating Victoria Pendleton to sprint gold in the London velodrome, but it is all about the little things for hard working 24/7 journalists.
There were strangers who wanted to chat on the Tube (not normal I know), a woman who drove me to the train station at Weymouth when I missed a bus from the sailing, the journo veteran of ten Olympics who shared with me his moment of filing his last ever Olympic story and and the tireless Olympic volunteers in the media centre who cheerfully changed all the TV channels for us.. and there were a lot of channels.
As I take a last look around London, I notice that in world record time, that the official Olympic signage has come down off walls, windows and doors and the city is taking a collective deep breath.
The 2012 Paralympics are just around the corner. Bring it on.
*The BBC dubbed the purple and pink, aubergine and poppy. I can’t leave it out.