Before we celebrate our excellence in these games and focus on our own rousing Olympic accomplishments, let’s offer a tip of the cap to Great Britain and its excellence in orchestrating these past three weeks.
On Sunday, in a grand send-off to a grand Olympic Games, the Brits offered a finale full of British personality similar in tone to the opening ceremony from three weeks ago: with style and grace, with humor and homage, with music and memories.
George Michael belted his songs. Muse dropped its magic on the masses. An actor from the Harry Potter movies channeled a bellowing Winston Churchill. Beautiful chimney sweeps ran raucous through the ceremony. Prince Harry made an appearance, and the Brits poked fun at themselves and served up a decidedly lighthearted British mood.
Such lightheartedness was just right. These were games that brought us greatness and inspiration, assuredly, but they often followed up by reminding us how tenuous such things can be.
We needed some joy and some dance and that universal language — humor — to close out the games that showed us the whole spectrum of human interaction.
We strive, at our best, to cross our national borders, cultural differences and theological and political divides and to find every four years at least a sense, if not agreement, of togetherness. In the greatness of our athletes’ accomplishments, there is we hope not just competition but a sense of universality, as well.
So we had Usain Bolt and his greatness demanding the world stop to watch. In that moment, at least, we were united. Then we talked steroids and wondered about the baseness behind the beauty. That, too, too many of us have in common.
We had Gabby Douglas achieving what no American woman had ever before, both team and individual all-around gold. And then some of us criticized her hair. We had Serena taking the gold at Wimbledon, followed by recriminations about her dancing, and Michael Phelps becoming the most anointed medalist in Olympics history — 22 medals and 18 gold — followed immediately by talk about whether he is overrated.
For every epic moment, or epic struggle, there seemed someone out there ready to counterbalance it with criticism, doubt and negativity. Some of it was warranted. Some wasn’t. The Olympics are about bringing us together, after all, and such gatherings together will always involve the yin as much as the yang.
Let’s take a note from the Brits. Let’s enjoy life. Let’s laugh at and with ourselves — bringing back the Spice Girls back, who unexpectedly stole the show; George Michael, jamming 20 years too late; Russell Brand being, well, Russell Brand. And so on.
It was a particularly British reminder, subtle but humorous, polite but firm: Relax, everyone.
Indeed, we should. Let’s remember Lolo Jones for what she did as an athlete, not what she didn’t do or what she represented beyond that. Let’s remember Gabby Douglas for her innocence and achievement. Let’s hold fast as long as we can to Bolt’s brilliance, and let’s simply celebrate Michael Phelps.
And yes, America, let’s cheer this: We owned the medal race. This is a contest after all, one in which we made our country proud. We came home with 104 medals and 46 gold. China was the next closest at 88 and 38, followed by Russia with 83 and 24 and a historically excellent performance by Great Britain with 65 and 29.
We were great. China and Russia were great. The host country was great.
And, really, in the spirit of how Great Britain ended such a wonderful festival of competition and togetherness, we were all great, at times — all clustered together to find our better selves.
Let’s remember that.
Let’s take home Phelps and Douglas. Let’s look back years later at Bolt and Kayla Harrison. Let’s remember the Brits rocking out, embracing their inner pop and throwing a party for an entire world that for almost a month had been united in one thing: the 2012 Olympics, in all its glory, controversy and the sense, for at least a moment, that everyone of us can be united.