2012 Olympics and Paralympics: British humour, brilliant hosting and magical moments

Friday 27 July 2012 was a magical night at the Olympic Stadium in East London, where British humor created one of the most surprising moments in modern Olympic history. The opening ceremony consisted of a number of formal rituals; the athletes’ entry, speeches, swearing-in and lighting of the Olympic flame, but it was Queen Elizabeth II and James Bond – in the shape of actor Daniel Craig – in a surprising interaction that became the absolute highlight of the show ahead of the 65,000 spectators in the Olympic stadium and more than 1 billion TV viewers worldwide. James Bond’s collection of the 86-year-old Queen at Buckingham Palace, the helicopter ride over central London and the Queen’s “parachute jump” from the helicopter to the podium can be described in one word – brilliant. The British humor and hospitality also became some of the strongest memories that I experienced both in the following 15 days in London and two weeks later at the Paralympic Games, which for the first time in history were completely equated with the Olympics by the British hosts.

From skepticism to success: British gentleman as an ambassador

When the IOC in 2005 awarded London the hosting of the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics in strong competition with the two European capitals Paris and Madrid, the support from the inhabitants of London and Great Britain was extremely modest. However, several factors changed the negative attitude in the following years. First, the British athletics legend Sebastian Coe, who won Olympic gold and silver medals in both the 800 and 1,500 meters at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics, appointed ambassador for London’s Olympic campaign and subsequently chaired the 2012 Olympics and Paralypics committee. The charismatic British gentleman is today, as chairman of World Athletics and IOC member, one of the world’s most influential sports politicians. Among other things, Sir Lord Coe – in contrast to IOC President Thomas Bach – is strongly opposed to the participation of Russian and Belarussian athletes in the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics in Paris.

Transformation of a polluted industrial area into an attractive district

Secondly, London’s choice of facilities for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics was highly innovative. Throughout the city’s history, the east of London has been one of the poorest, with squalid housing and many industrial companies. Location of the “Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park” with new and mobile sports facilities in Stratford has changed one of London’s most bleak and polluted industrial areas into one of the city’s most attractive with lots of new housing, tech companies, schools and educational institutions, parks, playgrounds, shopping centers, cultural institutions and facilities for sports and music events for the enjoyment and benefit of all citizens of London.

World-class Danish archers at iconic cricket stadium

It was also extremely visionary to place several of the competitions at historic and iconic sports facilities spread across the City of London; Football at Wembley Stadium and badminton at Wembley Arena, tennis at Wimbledon, beach volleyball at Horse Guards Parade, triathlon at Hyde Park, shooting at the Royal Artillery Barracks and equestrian sports in Greenwood Park. One of my greatest experiences was archery at the legendary cricket facility; Lord’s Cricket Gound. The pompous facility, which is located in the north-west of London, was established in 1814 and is used today by the Marylebone Cricket Club. Of course, new grandstands have been built at the facility over the past 200 years, but several of the buildings at the facility are exactly as they were when they were inaugurated – both inside and out. The positive experience was enhanced by a very good performance – in pouring rain – by the three Danish archers: Maja Jager, Carina Rosenvinge Christiansen and Louise Laursen, who in the first round of the team competition defeated India by the smallest possible margin 211-210. A few hours later, it unfortunately resulted in an honorable defeat in the quarter-finals against the Olympic gold medalists from South Korea. The Danish team’s international class was confirmed the following year at the World Championship in Turkey, where it became WC bronze medals for the team and a sensational World Championship for Maja Jager from Noerre Broby – an achievement which deservedly secured the only 22-year-old the title as “Best Danish Sport Performance 2013”.

Jonas Høgh-Christensen – from “Talent of the Year in Danish Sport” to double World Champion

Another strong Olympic memory came a few days later in the port town of Weymouth, where the Olympic sailing competitions were held. The Dinghy sailor Jonas Høegh-Christensen, who participated in the Olympics for the third time, was one of Denmark’s absolute biggest Olympic medal candidates. Jonas showed an early talent for sailing in various types of boat classes and in 2003 the KDY sailor was named “Talent of the Year in Danish sports”. A few years later, Jonas won his first World Championship for the dinghies, which was repeated at home in 2009. The 2008 Olympics in Qingdao, with a 6th place, was a disappointment for the ambitious sailor, who, alongside the sport, graduated from Copenhagen Business School. However, an Olympic medal was “missing” on “Høghen’s” CV, so a comeback at the 2012 Olympics was imminent.

An Olympic drama in Weymouth Bay

Jonas started the initial 10 Olympic sailings in impressive fashion with three first places, two second places and a seventh place as the worst place among the 24 competitors. Prior to the final “medal race”, Jonas led by 2 points ahead of arch-rival Ben Ainslie from Great Britain and was thus certain of one Olympic medal – but of which carat? The medal race – on Sunday afternoon in front of 18,000 enthusiastic Britons on the slopes at Weymouth – became one of the most intense sports competitions that I have experienced “live”. Ainslie and Jonas fought fiercely – man against man – for every single meter on the course during the entire medal race. The two world-class athletes finished with exactly the same number of points, but Ainslie won the gold medal due to best placing in the medal race. The gold medal was Ben Ainslie’s 5 Olympic medals – 4 of which were gold – which meant that he captured the title of the most winning Olympic sailor from the Danish sailing legend Poul Elvstrøm, who won a total of 4 Olympic gold medals. Jonas was of course very disappointed in the hours after the Olympic gold was “missed”, but in the evening the Olympic silver medal was celebrated at a nice dinner at a good restaurant in Weymouth together with the other Danish Olympic sailors, the staff, family members and friends.

Third PL gold medal in a row for the sympathetic Dane

Athletics finals at the Olympic Stadium are something completely unique. One such night was also Sunday 2 September 2012, when Jackie Tony Christiansen was to try to win his third Paralympic gold medal in the shot put. Jackie had his left lower leg amputated as a 17-year-old, but soon at a sports camp for young disabled people he wanted to compete in the throwing disciplines – shot put and discus throw. The Paralympics debut came already in 2000 and four years later he won PL gold medal in the shot put and PL silver medal in the discus throw in Athens. Furthermore, it resulted in countless World Championship and European Championship medals in both disciplines from 2001 onwards. Where the margins in international competitions are often microscopic, the 35-year-old likeable from Aarhus was absolutely superb at the 2012 Paralympics with a winning throw of 18.16 meters – almost 4 meters longer than silver medalist Darko Kralj from Croatia and Aled Davids from Great Britain. It was very emotional – not only for Jackie – to experience the Danish flag going to the top and hearing the national anthem in front of 65,000 spectators in the Olympic stadium and millions of television viewers around the globe. Likewise, it was life-affirming and epoch-making to experience the 2012 Paralympics hosts and, not least, the joy and enthusiasm of the British for parasport over 12 days.

Many thanks to Maja, Carina, Louise, Jonas, Jackie and all other 2012 Olympic and Paralympic athletes for magical moments. And many thanks to London for British humor and eminent hosting.


James Bond and The Queen London 2012 Performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1AS-dCdYZbo&list=RD1AS-dCdYZbo&index=1

Olympic Games London 2012: https://olympics.com/en/olympic-games/london-2012

London 2012 Paralympic Games: https://www.paralympic.org/london-2012