Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Park life: Games leave London with a happy golden glow

By Bryony Jones, CNN
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 1605 GMT (0005 HKT)
London's Olympic Park has transformed Stratford in east London. The area was once a post-industrial wasteland, blighted by pollution. Today it is a bright, colorful park. London's Olympic Park has transformed Stratford in east London. The area was once a post-industrial wasteland, blighted by pollution. Today it is a bright, colorful park.
Games leave London with a golden glow
Games leave London with a golden glow
Games leave London with a golden glow
Games leave London with a golden glow
Games leave London with a golden glow
Games leave London with a golden glow
Games leave London with a golden glow
Games leave London with a golden glow
  • Olympic fever has transformed London into a sea of cheery smiles and bright outfits
  • Security shambles and pre-Games predictions of transport chaos left Londoners worried
  • Performance of home side Team GB has done host nation proud
  • Hopes renewed optimism will be among the lasting legacies of London 2012

Share your experiences, photos and videos from the London 2012 Games with CNN iReport's Olympics Open Story.

London (CNN) -- On the streets of London, something strange is afoot. Gone are the blank stares, business suits and gray skies -- in their place: Warm smiles, bright outfits and even the odd glimpse of sunshine.

Olympic fever has transformed the city.

Nowhere is this feeling more pronounced than at the Olympic Park, scene of some of home side Team GB's biggest triumphs and source of the nation's new-look cheery mood.

A few short years ago, this corner of east London was a post-industrial wasteland, blighted by pollution and contaminated ground and scarred by decades of neglect.

Now it's a park, packed with wildflowers, public art and world-class sports facilities. And people. Lots of people.

Great Britain feeling good about Olympics
Team Britain the stars of London Games
14 hours, 10 London Games events
Kenya's bid for 2024 Olympics

Walking to the site, thousands of face-painted, flag-waving, colorfully-dressed sports fans are met by an army of purple and red-clad volunteers dancing, joking and welcoming them.

Inside, riverside walkways teeming with flowers, all the colors of the rainbow, lead visitors to the venues: the spiky Olympic Stadium, the sweeping Velodrome and the wave-like form of the Aquatics Center.

Gritty East End is London's gold standard

Along the way, officially-sanctioned buskers and street entertainers are on hand to amuse the crowds, and music pumps from speakers -- though it can't drown out the cheers of fans inside the arenas.

"It's just great -- what they've done is fantastic: the venues are stunning and the landscaping looks great," said Olympics visitor Bethan Slater.

Londoner Slater said she had been lucky enough to see the park during its construction phase: "The transformation from all the mud and machinery back then is amazing," she told CNN.

"The atmosphere is lovely, really friendly and positive, and it feels so well run, everything is so convenient and easy, right down to the fact there weren't even any queues for the toilets."

It's all a far cry from the gloomy pre-Games predictions: Transport chaos, ticketing debacles, security shambles -- and fears of impending sporting disaster.

U.S. Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney earned the ire of UK Prime Minister David Cameron and London's Mayor Boris Johnson when just days before the torch was lit, he sounded a note of caution, claiming problems in the run-up to the event had been "disconcerting."

Lesson from history for Olympic missile row?

But former IOC Director Michael Payne said such pre-Olympic jitters were only to be expected, and were common in host countries prior to the opening ceremony.

"In many nations, in the two weeks before the Games, there's a sense of paranoia, that it's not going to work, we're going to embarrass ourselves on the world stage, it'll be a disaster," he said.

It's a view echoed by Slater: "I had so many problems getting tickets -- it was farcical -- so I was a bit down on the whole thing beforehand, but once I was there, I absolutely loved it."

Payne said such concerns were quickly forgotten once the Games began: "It's all paid off, and frankly has gone a lot smoother than they even dared hope."

One Scottish visitor to London said the Olympics were a welcome distraction from less positive national and international news.

The Olympic park legacy
Games spirit caught on camera
Celebrating 30 years of Games art
Behind the scenes of CNN's Olympic bureau

"There's a lot of negativity going on just now in the UK and worldwide, with the recession, but this has been phenomenal -- it's brought everybody together," he said.

And while Brits are always happy to cheer on the plucky underdogs -- wherever they are from -- it is clear that Team GB has benefited from a huge home advantage.

Orbit Tower: Olympic Park's red 'roller coaster'

Gold medal-winning rower Pete Reed credited the support of the positive crowds with helping him and his fellow competitors make it to the podium in larger than expected numbers.

"Winning in London, doing it in front of a home crowd, was extraordinary," he told CNN. "I always thought it could be big, but I didn't imagine it would be this big -- we were lifted right up from the beginning."

Team GB's medal gold rush has certainly helped the host nation's mood, but so has the sense that the games have done Britain proud.

For a few short weeks, the eyes of the world were on London and -- to everyone's surprise -- it went well. The hard graft paid off, and the country can, albeit temporarily, cast off its carapace of cynicism, sit back and simply enjoy the moment.

So, will this unexpected good mood last once the torch has been extinguished and the last Olympian has packed their bags and moved out of the village? Will a renewed optimism be one of the legacies of London 2012, alongside the green spaces, the arenas and the thirst for sporting success?

Slater is among those who hope the Games will have a lasting impact on the city and its people.

"The levels of happiness and optimism around at the moment may not last," she admits.

"But I hope it will neutralize some of the cynicism around, and help people see what is possible when everyone pulls together."

Part of complete coverage on
August 13, 2012 -- Updated 1353 GMT (2153 HKT)
The moment that Team GB's Mo Farah won the 10,000 meters was a wonderful collision of electricity.
August 13, 2012 -- Updated 1534 GMT (2334 HKT)
His blistering pace and larger-than-life antics made him the king of the track in London, and bolstered his claims to be a "living legend."
August 14, 2012 -- Updated 0944 GMT (1744 HKT)
Disappointment for Nigeria's Muizat Ajoke Odumosu, who came last in the 400m hurdles final, London 2012 Olympics.
The Olympics are generally won and lost long before the opening ceremony cauldron is touched by fire.
August 12, 2012 -- Updated 0738 GMT (1538 HKT)
Fans of the home side, Team GB, wave Union Jack flags during the Olympic Games
CNN's Richard Quest believes the London Games will be regarded as having brought the Olympics concept home.
August 11, 2012 -- Updated 1633 GMT (0033 HKT)
Strategist Alastair Campbell says he never imagined London 2012 would be quite the triumph it turned out to be.
August 14, 2012 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
Award-winning director Danny Boyle celebrates the best of British music in London 2012's Olympic Closing Ceremony.
January 31, 2013 -- Updated 1452 GMT (2252 HKT)
From Usain Bolt's record-setting achievements to an unexpected Ugandan gold, London 2012 has provided a wide array of highlights.
August 13, 2012 -- Updated 0305 GMT (1105 HKT)
CNN's Amanda Davies recaps the London 2012 Olympics from the opening ceremony on July 27 to the finale on day 16.
August 12, 2012 -- Updated 1702 GMT (0102 HKT)
Mo Farah and Usain Bolt celebrate their success at the London 2012 Olympic Games by copying each other's
It's been just over two weeks since the Queen parachuted into London's Olympic Stadium, her apricot dress flapping in the breeze.
August 15, 2012 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
When the world's top marathon runners bid to win Olympic gold, they would do well to draw inspiration from one of the greatest athletes in the history of track and field.
August 11, 2012 -- Updated 1633 GMT (0033 HKT)
Team GB supporters with their faces painted in Union Jack designs at the Olympic Stadium in London.
Alastair Campbell always thought London 2012 would be a success, but never imagined it would be quite the triumph it has turned out to be.
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 1021 GMT (1821 HKT)
Adrien Niyonshuti is unlikely to win an Olympic medal, and he will do well to even finish his event, but his story is surely one of the most inspirational.
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 1605 GMT (0005 HKT)
The colors of the Olympic Rings at the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London, August 2012.
Olympic fever has cheered up London and made it a more welcoming place, but will optimism be one of the legacies of the Games?
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Wojdan Shaherkani's Olympic debut was short, but sweet -- the Saudi judoka said competing at the Games was
London 2012 is the first Olympics to feature women in every national team, with Jacques Rogge hailing a "major boost for gender equality."
August 10, 2012 -- Updated 0040 GMT (0840 HKT)
An impoverished South Korean gymnast has not only struck Olympic gold, but also reaped a $444,000 donation in a veritable rags to riches tale.
August 9, 2012 -- Updated 0046 GMT (0846 HKT)
Britain's hero Jessica Ennis is set to cash in after winning heptathlon gold, but the poster girl of the 2012 Olympics says fame is not her motivation.
August 8, 2012 -- Updated 0746 GMT (1546 HKT)
China is rallying around fallen hurdler Liu Xiang after he failed to make it past the first-round heat for a second consecutive Olympics.
August 3, 2012 -- Updated 1930 GMT (0330 HKT)
The first woman to win Olympic gold almost died in a plane crash, but remarkably returned to run again for the U.S. in 1936.
August 7, 2012 -- Updated 1504 GMT (2304 HKT)
Don Paige could not bear to watch the race he knew he could win. The 1980 Moscow Olympics were the death of a dream for many athletes.
August 4, 2012 -- Updated 1421 GMT (2221 HKT)
Ricardo Blas Jr
While Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt grab the headlines, little-known athletes from around the world keep alive the original spirit of the Olympics.
Athletes spend years eating the right foods ... and then must resist the free fast food in the Olympic village. How do they do it?