Boris Johnson July 24, 2012
"I believe that the Games, and the ethic of the Olympics, are of huge importance to this country's future and prosperity." Photo: Getty Images
And so Britain acquires a new sporting superstar in the form of Kilburn's Bradley Wiggins. ''Allez Bradley!'' they cried on Sunday night in the Champs-Elysees. Orgiastic celebrations had begun even before our yellow-tunicked hero had breasted the tape. It is turning out to be a bit of a year for British sport.
First, Andy Murray becomes the only Brit in my lifetime to play in the men's final at Wimbledon. Now a chap from London has become the first Briton ever to win the Tour de France - and all before the Olympics have even begun. So this is the moment, perhaps, for us to tackle directly the last remaining Olympo-sceptics, and all those who say that this sporting festival is an expensive indulgence with no bearing on the economic health of the country.
I believe that the Games, and the ethic of the Olympics, are of huge importance to this country's future and prosperity - and that it is all the more important because that ethic has been so unfashionable for so long.
I don't just mean the ''legacy'' benefits of the Games, though these are already enormous: the investments in east London, the new housing, the neo-Victorian surge of transport improvements. I mean the Olympics as a pageant of achievement, a mesmerising drama of human ambition, success and failure. The BBC has been running a comedy series called Twenty Twelve, and I have finally been able to watch a couple of episodes.
It is all too hilariously accurate. We Olympic committee types really do sit around and talk about ''legacy'', ''sustainability'', ''diversity'', ''inclusivity'' and ''multiculturality'', and contained within those woolly abstracts are of course many good things. But when the Games begin this week they won't be remotely inclusive - not on the track, not where it counts. They will be elitist - an endless parade of a fraction of the top 1 per cent of the most physically gifted human beings on Earth.
But the important point about the Olympians is not just that they have exceptional bio-mechanical equipment. It's not just the paddle-shaped hands of the swimmers or the muscle twitch of the sprinters. What makes the sport so compelling is that it is not enough to have a well-made skeleton or musculature. It is all in the heart, or all in the mind. It's about overcoming pain, and bouncing back from defeat. It's about endlessly denying yourself some elementary pleasure, like a Mars Bar or a lie-in or a beer, because you hope for some greater long-term reward.
In interviews, you can hear gold medallists such as the extraordinary 400-metre hurdler Ed Moses explain his system of measuring 13 paces between each hurdle, and running 20 centimetres from the inside track. Sir Steve Redgrave discusses the exact division of a 2000-metre race into segments, and the techniques of psychological self-management that are necessary to deal with the lung-bursting agony of the final push. Seb Coe reveals his trick for beating Steve Cram in Los Angeles (the secret was to stay in front of him all the way round).
As you listen, you realise that these performances were the result not just of physical genius, but also of colossal intellectual and emotional effort - years of self-discipline. The Olympics, in other words, is about character. It's about the will. Of course, as Baron de Coubertin was at pains to point out, it is not all about winning. But if you want to win, then you need to work. That is the basic message of the Olympics.
Young people are going to see it demonstrated, before their eyes, on the grandest possible stage and in the most vivid and exciting way. Of course you need all sorts of things to have a chance of success. You need opportunity. You need people to take an interest in you and coach you.
But you also need to understand that success - in any field - means drive, the will to win, resolve to do things that are dull, repetitive, uncool and very often painful and exhausting.
Yes, of course the Olympics is about legacy, sustainability, diversity, inclusivity, posterity and multiculturality. But it is really about competition between human beings; the glory of winning, the pathos of losing, and the toil that can make the difference. That is the grand moral of the Games, and a very good one, too. It is also the key to economic growth.
Boris Johnson is mayor of London. This is an edited version of an article published in the London Telegraph.