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An Olympian challenge


Well done, Athens.

Contrary to predictions - including those by NCE it must be said - the city delivered a successful and highly memorable Olympic Games.

I am really going to miss my nightly visits to the Greek capital via the BBC. Maybe it is a part of getting older, but for the first time in my life I really enjoyed watching the Games.

For the last two weeks I have been droning on at home, at work and in pubs, about the commitment, determination and skills exhibited by the competitors. I have been trying to understand what it must be like to truly devote yourself to the pursuit of a gold medal and what it must feel like to win - or lose.

I still have not really worked it out. It is hard to understand the single-mindedness and devotion which has underpinned all the events. (Well, nearly all of them. My personal pleasure at Argentina's and Chile's gold medals does not alter the fact that football, basketball and tennis are, to me, dubious as Olympic sports. ) Perhaps the inclusion of these newer events only serves to underline how much I will struggle to take our highly paid 'normal' sportsmen seriously in future.

After all, compared to synchronised diving from a 10m platform or tumbling on a narrow gym beam, Premier League or international football seems a bit easy. And when you consider the training that must go in to getting fit enough to win gold in pursuit cycling or rowing, it becomes hard to believe that Tim Henman should ever get tired playing tennis in a Wimbledon semi-final.

So well done to Athens for pulling out all the stops, and enabling this massive global event to go-ahead without a (serious) hitch. As those planning the London 2012 bid will be acutely aware, preparing a city for such an event is a massive undertaking with numerous potential pitfalls. A few disputed medals and a clutch of drug offenders was nothing compared to the prospect of not having necessary infrastructure ready in time.

Yet the London 2012 bid team will also be aware of the reality that, now the athletes and camera crews have gone home, Athens has been left to pick up the pieces. Beneath the golden hue of success lies a huge debt and the need for some tough decisions over what to do to make the city's fantastic new sports infrastructure pay.

Athens will not be the first Olympic host to wake up with such a hangover. Equating the capital cost of roads with tangible or intangible benefits is not always easy or even possible.

Certainly in London memory of the Millennium Dome still hangs heavy. There is a huge fear that hosting the Games would see vast amounts of cash spent creating new venues and infrastructure with limited longterm use.

Atlanta, Sydney and Athens all testify that it is good to get this right. But equally - and every recent host would agree - the prize of winning the right to host an Olympic Games is much bigger than concrete and steel trophies.

So, of course, we have to be sure that tax-payers' money spent staging an Olympics in London is properly controlled.

But it is far more important to first make sure that we win this right and then to invest to ensure we deliver. Do not worry about the cost - the potential boost to UK society in terms of inspiration and pride will more than cover it.

Antony Oliver is editor of NCE

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