So how was it for you?

I eschewed my usual couch potato status for this Olympic Games. It wasn’t a boycott, as such, rather a holiday getting in the way of maximum viewing time.

But I still got a regular fix of action from the Beijing 2008 Games.

It all seemed quite exciting from a British point of view. A rush of medals, including 19 golds, surpassing all targets and eliciting such headlines as “The Great Haul of China” from a media eager to sign up our latest sporting heroes and heroines.

On a general point, the 2008 Games were also impeccably stage managed by the Chinese. An inevitability, perhaps, but one that will leave many feeling a little short-changed by this ultimate corporate sporting event.

Thankfully, for those of us who got our Olympic coverage courtesy of the BBC and no-one else, we were spared the full onslaught of the commercialisation of the Games – although certain brands were very evident at London’s various parties over the weekend.

As a result, the sporting achievements took centre stage.

Needless to say, the big debate of who was the star of Beijing 2008 settled on Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps – three sprint golds and three world records on the athletics track; or eight gold medals and lots of world records (it felt like too many to actually count) in the pool.

I’d say they were both deserving of the accolade of “Face of the Games”.

But I’d like to throw another name into the debate. Chris Hoy, the UK’s triple gold medalist in the cycling velodrome. A man with such enormous thighs they would make a giant redwood blush.

Four years ago, in Athens, Hoy won gold on the track and was told the event he dominated would be scrapped for Beijing.

His reaction was not to sulk, but it rather typifies the Olympic ideal of faster, higher, stronger. He got back on his bike, trained harder than ever over the course of four years and returned to win three golds and set a couple of world records too.

He dominated the events he took part in, even the team races, but did so with the grace, poise and class of a true sportsman. Hoy possesses unlimited respect for his sport, his team-mates, his competitors and ultimately the Olympics themselves.

Elsewhere at Beijing 2008, I’m not sure that was always the case.

It is time tennis was scrapped. For all the world’s tennis players the four Grand Slams – and, according to one interviewee, the Davis Cup – rank higher than the Olympics.

The Games need to be the pinnacle of any sport. If they are not, then that sport has no place in the Olympics.

Which brings me to the “redeem team”. America’s basketball superstars have won back Olympic gold, but how many rank the Games higher than securing an NBA title?

Basketball has a place at the Olympics because every other nation views it as the ultimate prize in their sport. So should the US send a development side, an under-21 style team rather than the NBA’s most prized sons?

The same is true of football. The World Cup remains the ultimate prize, not the Olympics, so either scap soccer from the Games or make it the top under-21 championship.

China put on a good show in 2008. But, ultimately, it all felt a bit too safe and sanitised.

I’d stop well short of saying these were the greatest ever games, even if some of the performances were amazing. Sydney set a benchmark that every other Olympic city needs to aspire to – the sporting performances were world class, as were the facilities, as was the visitor experience.

So, London in 2012 has a lot to live up to.

But the last thing it needs to do is try and copy Beijing 2008.

It is going to be a long four years until the next Olympics, unless your preparing to take part in the Games or the people charged with delivering the greatest sporting show on earth – in which case it is going to zip by in the blink of an eye.

And the world will be watching to see if London can make the 2012 Games faster, higher, stronger, better.


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