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The Olympics and the 9.05pm Train from Waterloo

Posted: 12/08/2012 19:56

We were on the 9.05pm train from Waterloo to Basingstoke last night and complete strangers were actually talking to each other! There was a granddad and his granddaughter sharing our table - they had just seen Mo Farah win his second gold medal - she was tired but sounded like she would never forget the experience. He had already taken his grandson to an event earlier in the week - each child getting a special day out: What a good granddad.

There were a couple of guys in their 20's across the aisle watching Tom Daley online and giving passengers a running commentary - one of them said he had been watching the Olympics every day and wouldn't know what to do next week when the Games were over. When their device lost its signal a couple of ladies behind us were chipping in with progress in the diving.

We all talked about what we had seen and done during the day - people who would not normally exchange a word on a train. We talked about the cruel messages that had been sent to Tom Daley - all agreed that it was the down-side to the new social media. Our 20-year-old friends agreed that it was bad but seemed to accept it as inevitable (I think something could and should be done).
Even the drunk walking on the line ahead seemed to have left the line quite quickly (in the Olympic spirit?) since we were only delayed for five minutes.
If we had been on this train a few months ago it would have been very different - we might have seen a couple of drunks on the train and left it just glad to get home - but last night it was so very different.
We had just been to see the women's basketball Bronze match between Australia and Russia - any stereo-typing about women's sport not being gripping and fiercely competitive were once again defied. It may not have been the 100m sprint final but it was fascinating seeing two proud sporting nations fighting for a medal. The audience was kept on a high by two comperes and plenty of entertainment in the many breaks in the game. Singing along and stamping feet to 'we will rock you' works for me. People really were friendly - especially the volunteers with their over-sized sponge hands and pink pointing fingers.
We had a choice of queuing for a boat, tube or a cable car to leave the North Greenwich arena - that's modern London for you. We choose the cable car and there were even two tall ships passing underneath as we crossed the Thames.
Underlying all this happiness and optimism is recognition that the Olympics have been a sporting and organisational success for this Country. There have been downsides - the security issues, the branding 'police' oh and some keys were lost. The overriding picture though is so many citizens of the UK who are firmly part of the Team GB community and a capital which entertained the citizens of many, many, other countries have joined in the true spirit of the games.
We learned that crying is not a sign of weakness - that people who came fourth, fifth or last have probably worked harder at their sport than most of will ever do in any walk of life. We saw that people whose sporting dreams had been shattered could still act with strength and dignity.
People are still right to question whether ordinary people will get something out of London Games in the future and whether the usual rules of the better off getting all the opportunities will still apply. Any athlete who got to the Olympics deserved to be there because of the work and dedication they put in - whether they went to private school or a state school. But how many hidden talents remain undiscovered because their schools just don't have the resources to get them involved in sport? How successful could Team GB next time if we tapped the hidden talents of those as yet undiscovered?
The Olympics will not turn the Country's fortunes around by itself but if we can build on the sense of community and optimism that was there on the train last night then it will surely help.
Perhaps after a great GB performance in 2016 the 9.05pm from Waterloo will once again be a happy place to be.

 
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