I spent most of the last week in London and didn’t see one London 2012 Olympic concession. Not one. Not even a concession parked in the back of some other kind of concession. This afternoon I wandered into London Heathrow’s duty-free sporting goods shop, but they just shook their heads when I asked. I then wandered over to the duty-free British knick-knack shop, and the shop clerk looked at me like I was nuts. “A little early for that, don’t you think?”
“Yes,” I answered. “Perhaps it is.” What I didn’t tell her was that by this point four years ago, China was positively flooded with Beijing 2008 merchandise. In fact, if I recall correctly, in the immediate aftermath of Athens 2004, the Olympics merchandising machine was shifted into full production. And it wasn’t just merchandise, either. The Dancing Beijing logo was already ubiquitous in supermarkets, on bill boards, even on my phone bill.
By contrast, while in London I saw exactly two Olympics logos in the course of a week. The first, on a poster advertising a Beijing closing ceremonies party in the Gloucester Road subway station. The second nearly escaped me – it was located in the corner of a Visa credit card poster high over terminal 4 at Heathrow.
Quite honestly, I expected to be asked about the Olympics while in London. After all, I’d just lived through them in China (in Shanghai, Qingdao, and Hong Kong). But, if anything, there was a studied lack of interest among those with whom I tried to broach the subject. A couple of academics – given, not representative at all – suggested to me that they were looking forward to them, and that they hoped that they might highlight the full sweep of British history, “especially colonialism.” Right. I wouldn’t even mention the conversation but for the fact that it was in such stark contrast to the politically careful statement that Chinese academics made to me – a foreign reporter – four years ago.
What does it all mean? It means that London is much less impressed by the Olympics than Beijing. This isn’t any great surprise – unless, of course, you spent the last seven years of your life anticipating Beijing 2008, and are dealing with the hangover by sending your athletes to Hong Kong (the only place in the world that might still care). In any event, I came away from this week with the distinct impression that London 2012 will be a more relaxed, dare I say “normal” experience. And that’s not a bad thing.
[An apology to to ZY, who so wanted London 2012 swag. Really, I tried.]