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Monday, August 13, 2012 - Page updated at 08:30 p.m.

Brits in golden mood from Olympics' smashing success

The New York Times

LONDON — With a gaudy three-hour farewell that mashed up theater, acrobatics, fashion and a few generations of musical idols, London extinguished the Olympic torch Sunday night, capping two weeks of athletic achievements with a jukebox collection of songs and a marathon display of endearingly wacky stagecraft.

It felt as if the Games were handed over to England's version of the Chamber of Commerce, which decided to take advantage of this final moment in the international spotlight to produce one long and kinetic ad for the country's pop culture. Taking turns on stage were The Who, Fatboy Slim, Jessie J, Ray Davies, Russell Brand and Eric Idle, who led the crowd in a version of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" while surrounded by skating nuns.

But one of the great stories of these Olympics was the effect they had on England itself.

England, like so many host Olympic countries before it, fared better at these Games than it has in any other, and the public and the media quickly got the knack of reveling in victory.

"We lit the flame and we lit up the world," London organizing committee chief Sebastian Coe told the jampacked Olympic Stadium during the closing ceremony.

The man who has spent the last seven years organizing London's games summed it up with these words: "When our time came, Britain, we did it right."

The BBC ran wall-to-wall coverage of British athletes, to the point where it seemed that other countries were present only when they were challenging a native. With more than 60 medals, 29 of them gold, for once, wrote Simon Schama in the Financial Times, "the British don't have to do the sporting loser act."

Britain's prime minister said the officials charged with doling out the country's knighthoods and other honors will have their work cut out for them in the wake of the Olympics.

David Cameron told journalists Sunday that Britain's haul of gold medals in the 2012 Games means there will be plenty of options when deciding whom Queen Elizabeth II will reward in her semiannual honors list. Sportsmen and sportswomen are staples of the honors list, which is intended to recognize people from all walks of life for merit, gallantry or service.

The question being asked here now is whether this national euphoria can last or, better yet, lead the country out of its recent economically driven malaise. Perhaps, one writer for The Guardian wrote, the Games will "mark the end of Britain's age of decline."

That may be a lot to ask of any event, even one as heady and unifying as the Olympics. But Sunday night, the mood was positively giddy, and if these Games could bring the Spice Girls together — they arrived on stage in separate taxis and performed "Spice Up Your Life" — then just about anything seems possible.

The Olympics also will be remembered for what did not happen here. There were no security scares, despite hand-wringing about how vulnerable London might be to acts of terrorism.

The serenity came at a steep price, one that could be measured in dollars — roughly $1.5 billion was spent on jets, choppers, snipers and surface-to-air missiles — as well as time.

The widely predicted traffic snarls never materialized, either. A small fortune was spent on ads urging Londoners to "Get ahead of the games," which most of the locals translated to "Get lost, OK?"

There was plenty of room on the city's subway, ample seats in restaurants and plenty of empty taxis. Lousy news for local entrepreneurs, good news for everyone else.

What passed for a scandal was the appearance of empty seats at some events early in the Games, and excruciatingly long lines to pick up tickets.

Other than that, the alarmists and detractors had little fodder. Even the weather played nice. This was an astoundingly seamless production, given the city's size and the scale of the endeavor.

Television viewership was high.

According to a Pew survey, 76 percent of Americans who watched NBC's coverage rated it as excellent or good.

Nearly 8 in 10 Americans followed some of the Olympics on TV or in another fashion, said the survey, taken Aug. 2-5.

The network's prime-time audience averaged 31.1 million people a night through Saturday, up 12 percent from Beijing.

The International Olympic Committee estimates some 900 million people worldwide saw the opening ceremony. Viewership in Britain was more than the BBC expected.

Twitter estimates there were more than 50 million tweets about the Olympics, at a pace of 80,000 per minute after Jamaica's Usain Bolt won the gold medal in the 200-meter sprint.

Meanwhile, London's Heathrow Airport on Monday will grapple with its biggest-ever surge in outbound passengers as 15,000 Olympic athletes, officials, sponsors and dignitaries join the summer crowds after the closing ceremony.

Europe's busiest hub is braced to handle about 116,000 departures, 21,000 more than the usual peak-season average, according to owner BAA. London's subway and the Heathrow Express rail service are also forecasting increased traffic.

Competitors will use a special Games terminal at Heathrow with 31 desks and seven security lanes. About 8,000 people will pass through the site before it closes Wednesday, BAA reckons.

Additional material from

The Associated Press and Bloomberg News

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