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Winners And Losers From London's Summer Olympics, 'The Crying Games'

Sir Chris Hoy of Great Britain cries as he celebrates winning the men's keirin track cycling final. In shedding Olympic tears, Hoy was far from alone in Britain.
Pascal Le Segretain
Getty Images
Sir Chris Hoy of Great Britain cries as he celebrates winning the men's keirin track cycling final. In shedding Olympic tears, Hoy was far from alone in Britain.

The London 2012 Olympics were billed as the Social Games, with Twitter, Facebook and other services making it an immersive experience. But it might be remembered as "The Crying Games," for the swelling of emotions many Britons experienced. We run down some of the Olympics' winners and losers:

The Losers

The Stiff Upper Lip

It helped the British tough out their more painful moments during centuries of empire and world wars, but the Stiff Upper Lip is now officially obsolete. The Brits shed anguished tears during the mass mourning that followed the death of Princess Diana. But TV talent shows soon figured out how to get viewers to turn on the waterworks, and the Brits have been getting weepier and weepier in recent years. The London Olympics Games have now established them as world-class blubberers, who'll happily mark the success of every fellow Briton — no matter how obscure — by crying. The Brits are now, without embarrassment, calling these Olympics "The Crying Games."

London's Grumbling Cabbies

The drivers of London's iconic black cabs staged several protests before the Games — against the road lanes assigned to vehicles conveying the "Olympic family" of athletes, officials, sponsors and journalists back and forth from the Olympic stadium. The cabbies, who are prone to pessimism, were convinced the "Olympic Lanes" would bring London to a standstill - and cost them mightily in lost revenues. One driver showed his anger over the issue by swan-diving into the Thames from London's Tower Bridge. Cabbies say they did indeed lose money during the games, as London was much quieter than expected. But their predictions of chaos did nothing but secure their long-standing reputation as Olympian Moaners.

English School Kids Who Hate Sport

Anyone who cannot catch a ball; anyone who remembers the humiliation of being the last kid chosen for a team; anyone who remembers their knees knocking together as the winter winds ripped across the playing fields of England while everyone else was galloping around having fun — should spare a thought for the next generation of young sports-haters. For they are in trouble. The British government wants to follow the Olympics by introducing more compulsory competitive sports in schools. They are convinced it is character-building — forgetting the corrosive effects a sports-hating juvenile's character might endure when he or she must feign injury to get out of games.

Scottish Nationalists

The airwaves are jammed with people declaring that they are now proud to be British. The Union Jack flag, which once seemed to be dying out, is back, and it's everywhere. Scottish Olympian heroes like tennis star Andy Murray and cyclist Chris Hoy marked their success by wrapping themselves in it. This is not a good atmosphere for the Scottish Nationalists to try to win a referendum on independence in just over two years.

The Winners

The Olympic Volunteers

For the past two weeks, a vast army of men and women, young and old, got out of bed and trudged off, unpaid, to airports, railway stations, sports venues, tourist spots — anywhere an Olympic visitor might need their help. Clad in purple and orange, they soon became the toast of London's great Olympics party because, despite the British reputation for being aloof, they were actually warm and friendly and helpful. They wanted to be part of the games, and they were. Yet many of them never got to a single event. It is a measure of their popularity that, when a tribute was paid to them during Sunday's closing ceremony, the crowd gave an enormous cheer.

The Nasty British Press

The British tend to forget they still have some great papers - notably, The Financial Times, and The Guardian. Decades of sharp practice by their highly competitive mainstream press earned newspaper journalists a reputation for being seedy, unprincipled, and cynical - a view reinforced by the scandal over phone-hacking at Rupert Murdoch's News of the World. But editors were quick to realize that the euphoria and surge of patriotism generated by the Olympic Games could be good for them. They devoted vast amounts of space to the Olympics, giving British performers rave reviews, and disproving the old adage that "the only news is bad news."

Monty Python

Eric Idle's rendition of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from the Python movie Life of Brian was one of the gems of the closing ceremony, a celebration of the British appetite for the absurd.

Danny Boyle, film director

No one knew exactly what to expect from the man who made Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire. His Olympics opening ceremony certainly baffled many overseas viewers, but its exuberance, informality and humor delighted the British. He held up a mirror to the British of the 21st century, and for once, they liked what they saw.

Queen Elizabeth II

No one will ever see the queen in quite the same light, after her cameo film performance with 007 during the opening ceremony, followed by a parachutist dressed up as Her Maj in a peach dress. This was the moment the British realized these games were actually going to be fun. It is now official: at 86, Elizabeth really does have a sense of humor. Many people like that — even, one suspects, republicans who would rather Britain got rid of its monarchy.

Prime Minister David Cameron

Cameron has the asset all politicians crave: Luck. Nothing has gone wrong for which he can blamed. The success of Team GB, who won the third-most gold medals this summer, has generated a wave of pride. Being British is, for now, fashionable again. This will help Cameron in his battle to persuade the Scots not to leave the United Kingdom. The games have also distracted public attention from the profound problems facing Cameron's government: recession, the Eurozone crisis, and worsening tensions within his ruling coalition. During the after-glow left by the Olympics, Cameron will seek to take credit for their success, but this is unlikely to last long.

Sebastian Coe, chair of the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games

Former Olympic champion runner, ex-parliamentarian, lord of the realm, Seb Coe is widely credited for the success of these games. He now takes up a top job as Prime Minister Cameron's Olympics legacy ambassador.

London Mayor Boris Johnson

Many stunning images have emerged from these games, but few more entertaining than that of Johnson dangling haplessly from a jammed zip-line, wearing a suit, and flourishing a British flag in either fist. For most politicians, this incident during a publicity stunt at a London park would be a blot on their careers. But Londoners tend to relish Johnson's eccentricities. He has won praise for his passionate support of the games and his central role in organizing them. This will likely outweigh the complaints from some London businesses, who accuse Johnson of driving away business by issuing dire warnings of transport congestion before the games began. The games have reinforced his stature as one of Britain's most significant political figures, and one of the most interesting on these islands. This may explain his decision, finally, to comb his wild bright blonde hair.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Philip Reeves
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.