Wales

BBC Wales' Oliver Hides on the magic of London 2012

Artists waving the Union flag at London 2012''s closing ceremony
Image caption Artists waving the Union flag at London 2012''s closing ceremony

Jesse Owens, arguably the greatest Olympian of all, famously described the games as a place to "break bread with the world" and until I arrived at my first Games in London I had no idea how that atmosphere extends beyond the athletes and permeates the whole event.

During my two weeks in London I spoke to Colombian footballers on the tube, had breakfast sitting next to a Hungarian fencer and had a memorable encounter with the family of an American boxer.

By definition of course the Olympics are a truly international event, but the 204 nations competing aren't only represented by athletes - there are journalists, broadcasters, families, supporters, tourists and the plain curious.

People from across the globe mixing, meeting, talking and smiling.

The Welsh contribution to the experience was, of course, enormous.

A total of seven medals in the Team GB total was our greatest ever and there were some unforgettable moments - the gold medal winning weekend when both Geraint Thomas and then Tom James added to their medals from Beijing and joined a very exclusive club of Welsh double Olympic winners.

Image caption Team GB's Fred Evans (right) fought his way to silver for Wales

Freddie Evans becoming only the second Welsh medallist in the boxing ring on the last day of the games and the raw emotion as Sarah Thomas and the GB hockey team first lost in the semi-final and then went on to win a bronze medal.

And then there's Jade Jones - the image of her throwing her head guard in the air and exploding in delight at her moment of triumph in the taekwondo will stay with me forever, as will the reactions of the people on her home town of Flint. We felt the reverberations of those celebrations hundreds of miles away.

Jade's triumph illustrates another of the lasting impressions of the games.

Her grandfather ferried her up and down to Manchester four days a week to train for her tilt at gold and he was by no means unusual in that. Day after day I spoke to parents who had endured years of 5am alarms to take their child to swimming training, weekends given up at training camps, months on end without seeing their son or daughter at all once they reached the elite level.

One family told me they hadn't seen their daughter, a swimmer, since last Christmas, such were the demands of training, and had then spent £250 for a night in a London hotel and £600 on two tickets just to see her compete in the heats.

And finally to the Welsh athlete who best sums up the Olympic ideal, weightlifter Gareth Evans.

On the most basic level of funding (£400 a month) he left his family, including his young daughter, and his job as a painter and decorator in Holyhead to train full-time in Leeds.

Image caption Wales' Jade Jones celebrates with her coach Paul Green after winning gold

He was so short of money that while his parents sent him what they could but at times he was left with £80 a month to live on. His Olympic moment came and went in a flash.

He finished eighth in his qualifying group, setting a Welsh record in the process, but failed to qualify for the final.

His response: "How much fun would the Olympic Games be if only the three best people in the world turned up to compete in each event?"

There it is, in a nutshell: the magic of the Olympics comes down to so much more than the likes of Sir Chris Hoy, Jessica Ennis, Geraint Thomas and Tom James.

The spirit lies equally in the volunteers, the spectators, the families and the likes of Gareth Evans.

Spare a thought and give thanks for the hundreds like him who've come to London from across the world, who have given everything - their whole lives - to be part of the Olympics and have gone home without a medal but happy, still smiling like so many in Stratford.

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