London 2012: One year to go
With a year to go to London 2012 it seems a timely moment to ask: what should a British Olympics look like and stand for in the second decade of the 21st century?
The last Games staged here in 1948 were all about austerity as the nation tried to move on from the ravages of the Second World War. Economic - if not geopolitical - comparisons will inevitably be drawn.
Too much can be made of sport's significance in the modern age. But it is undoubtedly true that these Olympics offer a rare opportunity to shine a light on what truly unites and excites this country.
With public confidence in our institutions again shaken by the phone hacking affair, the prospect of a 17-day celebration at the end of a summer which also includes the Queen's diamond jubilee will certainly lift the spirits.
That sport is capable of raising the national pulse is beyond question. Just look at the queues at Lord's on Monday to see how important a role it plays.
The recent ticket sales process may have led to howls of protest - mainly from those who missed out (myself included). But still 3.5m tickets have been sold raising almost £500m. By way of comparison Sydney sold around £150m worth of tickets a year out from the 2000 Games.
The Olympic Stadium is nearing completion with one year to go until the opening ceremony of London 2012. Photo: Getty
London 2012 has achieved the unthinkable by making tickets for little known sports like handball a sought after and rare commodity. The process was a long way from perfect but for that they deserve credit.
Tracking data shows that 34% of us are excited by the prospect of the London Games. That has been steadily increasing since London won the right to host the event in 2005. We are traditionally late arrivals to the party. Similar data gathered ahead of the Royal Wedding suggested complete apathy. In the end 35m people watched it live.
But, as Paul Hawyard wrote in the Observer on Sunday, London's Games must offer something more substantial to London and Britain than two weeks of distraction.
Asked yesterday by a foreign journalist how he wanted London's Olympics to be remembered, London 2012 chairman Lord Coe replied that he wanted, ultimately, to deliver a Games in London's and Britain's image.
What does this really mean? How will the country and its people want the world to see them this time next year?
London can't and won't emulate the vaulting ambition and geopolitical gestures of Beijing. China's Olympics impressed and dazzled. But enjoyment? That was far harder to detect.
My lasting memory of Beijing was of the closing ceremony and a crowd whipped into a choreographed frenzy inside the Bird's Nest only to walk home in silence, marshalled by hundreds of uniformed police.
Sydney is often cited as London's benchmark. Now, that was a truly joyful celebration as Australia threw off its insecurities and fears to celebrate its place on the international stage.
So what will Britain's statement be?
A can-do nation capable, at last, of delivering grand projects on time and on budget?
A country full of sporting fanatics who would buy tickets for the opening of an envelope if there was a medal in it for us?
Or a Britain proud of its history and heritage but forging a new identity as a modern, multicultural hub?
So far the build up to London's games has been the slowest of slow burns. The one year to go celebrations mark a chance to not only reflect on the achievements in getting this far so smoothly but also to build the excitement around the Olympics.
As Lord Coe told me: "It is now for people to decide what they want out of this."
That process starts now.