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London 2012 legacy: Trust the British to get it right

By Richard Quest, CNN
updated 3:38 AM EDT, Sun August 12, 2012
Fans of the home side, Team GB, wave Union Jack flags during the Olympic Games
Fans of the home side, Team GB, wave Union Jack flags during the Olympic Games
  • Quest: Britain has brought the Olympics Games back a dose of sanity
  • Though criticized, the £9.3 billion cost was put to good use at a time of stimulus spending
  • IOC President Jacques Rogge: "London has created a legacy blueprint"
  • Challenge for UK civic and political leaders: Harness Britain's Olympic pride

Editor's note: Richard Quest is CNN's foremost international business correspondent and presenter of Quest Means Business. He also is a British citizen and no pretense is made that this article is even-handed or neutral. Follow him on Twitter.

London (CNN) -- Trust the British to get it right -- in the end. When it comes to taking stock on London 2012, I believe the London Games will be regarded as having brought the Olympics concept home.

Britain has brought the Olympics back to what they have been and should always be. And we did it with that unique common sense for which my country is known.

To be sure, the London Games were not as spectacular as, say Beijing. Nor did they have the exotic "new world" quality of Sydney so wonderfully laced with Australian freshness. They haven't been the biggest, the brightest, the tallest, the largest, the (you add your own superlative here).

Instead, they have been what they were always meant to be -- a celebration of athletic prowess infused with a tremendous sense of fun and good spirit emanating from the host nation's culture.

CNN\'s Richard Quest
CNN's Richard Quest

Everything that has been bad about games in recent years was slowly, carefully addressed and ultimately dealt with in London.

The opening ceremony set the tone. With its green fields and satanic mills, to the self-deprecating humor from the Monarch herself, London sent the not-so-subtle message: This wasn't going to be "Olympics as usual."

The Games' big budgets

Montreal finally finished off paying for the 1976 games 30 years later in November 2006. Athens was twice over budget. And of course, we will never know how much the Beijing games truly cost.

In London an original, fictional bid-budget of £2.7 billion ($4.2 billion) was quickly abandoned in 2007 in favor of a realistic, £9.3 billion ($14.6 billion) with a huge contingency for unforeseen costs such as security.

To those who criticize the three-times bid-budget, there is one crucial fact to bear in mind.

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In 2008, like other countries in recession, Britain embarked on stimulus spending. We were fortunate that we actually had real projects and purpose upon which to spend the cash, rather than the bridges and roads to nowhere of other countries. We didn't have to invent places to spend the money because the Olympics was waiting. If there was ever a time to have the Olympics, this was it -- when the expenditure was economically needed.

In fact, the contingency money allocated has proved to be more than enough. A political row is about to break out over what to do with the £300 million under-spend and whether it should just be handed back to the cash-strapped UK Treasury. My own view is some of it should be used for a tourism campaign next year to help bring those guests who stayed away fearing the crowds.

The Olympic legacy

Olympics today are all about legacy. It was the prospect of regenerating London's derelict East End which helped win the games. Since then billions of pounds have been spent, not just on the facilities per se, but on the infrastructure around them. And in the city, those of us who live here and have suffered years of weekend closure of tube lines for "scheduled maintenance" and "replacing signals" can be in no doubt we will reap the benefits once everyone has gone home. We have a regenerated subway that is once again world-class.

So when the IOC President Jacques Rogge said, "London has created a legacy blueprint" and "has raised the bar on how to deliver a lasting legacy," we can neatly tick that one off as a rousing success from which other cities can learn.

Organizational triumph

From day one, Britain was determined not to have another Wembley fiasco, or Millennium Dome disaster, where it seemed every major construction project ended up delayed, over budget and in acrimony (incidentally the Dome is now the most successful concert venue in Europe as the O2 arena -- so there!)

With the Olympics, we simply got on with it. The Aquatics Centre, designed by Zaha Hadid, was completed and tested a year before the games began. The Olympic Stadium had the lights switched on by the Prime Minister back in December and its final test was four months before the opening ceremony.

In fact the IOC never did doubt everything would be ready.

London has conclusively shown that by being more realistic in ambition, everything can be done without the heartache and angst of previous games.

For the British people themselves, there has been a renewed pride in the country -- helped of course by record gold medals. I accept this might be a mile wide but an inch deep, but I cannot recall the last time I have seen so many people proudly walking the streets with the Union Jack flag wrapped around their shoulders. The legacy of confidence means it is the challenge of politicians and civic leaders to foster that spirit so it doesn't disappear along with the fleeting summer sun.

Every time London has hosted the games it has done so in testing times. In 1908 London rescued the Olympics after Mount Vesuvius volcano erupted, causing the selected city of Rome to pull out. In 1948 London hosted the so-called "Austerity Games" three years after the end of WWII. They were the first Olympics in 12 years.

So re-establishing the Olympics is something of a tradition here. To this we now add 2012, where I gently suggest London has subtly re-established the Olympic tradition by bringing back a dose of sanity. We have proved, firstly, that the Olympics are manageable, and affordable, if done right. We have proved they can be fun for everyone (even the people who live in the city).

London will probably never host the games again. I was proud to be in the stadium on Saturday night singing our national anthem after Mo Farah won his second gold medal. Just as I have been proud to be here, in my capital city, to see us get it right and leave a legacy for the city, the country and the games themselves.

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