Olympics bring joy, optimism to host cities
Something certainly could go wrong at the London Olympics. It's a given, in fact, that the real world, at some point and to some extent, will trespass on this quadrennial 17-day recess from mankind's daily troubles.
But, just as caterwauling of apocalyptic dimensions -- fears about security, traffic, weather, political protest -- have become a pre-Olympic tradition, so, too, has a post-Olympic euphoria in a host city's feeling of singular triumph. And not in a surface go-for-the-gold sense. Personal experience: Los Angeles wasn't turned into a smog-bound parking lot in 1984, as had been predicted. Seoul wasn't set aflame after a few choreographed, tear-gassed student demonstrations before the 1988 Games had been overemphasized in TV coverage. (I went to one, then went to dinner.)
Barcelona thrived in 1992, its casual early morning street dining and socializing unfazed by too-early subway closings. Sydney's "no worries" culture conquered all in 2000. Athens -- when the Games supposedly had become too big, too much a target, too drug-infested, too nationalistic and too subjectively scored to survive -- fooled 'em again in 2004 with its spirited rejection of gloom.
The day after London was awarded the 2012 Games -- July 7, 2005 -- Times of London columnist Simon Barnes tried to enlighten his readers to the overarching Olympic positives.
"Trust me," Barnes wrote. "Seven years of unbroken whingeing, rows, misery, scandals, spin, claptrap, disasters, backbiting and sulking will be followed by the greatest celebration of life that London has seen, that Britain has seen, that the world has seen. Now allow me to tell you something else: It really will be worth it.
"This is the nature of the Olympic Games," Barnes insisted. "They are an unfailing source of fabulousness: Good enough when you watch on television, better when you visit a host city, and acquiring an incandescent vividness when the Olympic city is something to do with home."
When none of the forecast ruin descended upon Salt Lake City at the 2002 Winter Olympics, just five months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks -- none of the assumed security breaches, embarrassing jingoism, Mormon proselytizing or European outrage over not being able to find a glass of wine -- Games organizing chief Mitt Romney had a good laugh.
"In your face!" he said.
Something always could go terribly wrong on such a high-profile stage as the Olympics, especially if lessons of the 1972 massacre of 11 Israelis by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Games are forgotten. In Atlanta in 1996, when organizers somehow failed to include a public Olympic Park in their security system, an anti-abortion extremist detonated a bomb there, killing one and injuring 111.
But the knee-jerk, end-is-near pre-Olympic narrative, which a Daily News column last weekend applied not only to London but to the possibility that New York City might have hosted the 2012 Games and thereby sunk into a "mess," not only misses the reality but also the point.
Trust me. What makes the Olympics so valuable -- and interesting -- is that "incandescent vividness" Simon Barnes wrote about: worldly, a bit overdramatic, giddy, ephemeral.
At the Olympics, a sort of United Nations in sneakers, people of all backgrounds and nationalities celebrate and cry and do brave things and sometimes cheat or make dumb decisions, too. And, through it all, people carry on, just as in real life. They go for the optimism.