Greece might be the birthplace of the games, but no city embodies the Olympic spirit more than London.
Winning the Olympics must have been a doddle for London (er, didn’t the whole bid cost USD $25.5 Million and take several years…?) because this great city is overflowing with Olympic qualities: fairness abounds (we are passionate about queueing and regulations), we’re thoroughly commercial and we’re a pretty diverse bunch (as of 2005 there were 232 languages spoken by kids in London schools). But one characteristic stands out above these: we are the most competitive.
The city is our sports ground. Twice a day we hold tunnel and pavement races where “commuters” (as the competitors are called) charge full tilt along narrow courses. No medals are rewarded, we’re far too modest for that. Instead the victor receives a gracious nod from the defeated.
Cyclists are the real champions of the city, for they race every day at any hour.Contests are staggered at random distances along an obstacle course, separated by a series of lights. First a contestant must survive the jostling, where riders push past each other, creating a new start line several metres ahead. Next, they have guess when the race has started. Traffic lights are really only there to confuse you; the race starts whenever the first person goes. From then it’s about getting through the stage as quickly as possible, avoiding potholes, taxi drivers and the formidable “Addison Lee” vehicles that try their best to knock you off. The race never really stops, and participants join and leave the pack of riders at will. Here, cycling is considered less of a mode of transport and more of an extreme (death) sport.
Enclosed tube train gymnastics is also surprisingly popular and involves cramming 20-50 people into a small carriage and propelling them at 30 mph while they try to keep their balance.
Competition is everywhere in London, whether it’s between rival coffee shops fighting for trade, investment brokers pushing to get a bigger bonus or fashionistas trying to out-dress each other. It takes a certain kind of person to live and work here, and although we’re polite about it, you won’t enjoy it unless you thrive on competition.
There are limits though. Like an olympic athlete, this city has a curfew around 11pm when most pubs and restaurant close. This means London IS a city that sleeps, but only so it can get up for a meeting at 8am the next day. We’re not quite as cut throat as New York; it just wouldn’t be decent to hire and fire in the same way.
I’m really excited about the next few months and the effect it’ll have on the city. Best of all, we’re going to see a brand new competition around “best-worst travel moments” and the revival of that London favourite “dodge the tourist”. Bring it on!