“A shot?” I said.
“Yes,” said the fastest man on three wheels, giving me a wink. “I had a boost.” I wasn’t sure that I wanted to hear about this, but curiosity prevailed.
I looked around the tent to see if we were being overheard. “What sort of boost?” I had visions of some galvanic serum for reviving half-dead horses or patients in the throes of cardiac arrest: adrenalin, ketamine, a pint of brandy, perhaps. “I had a shot of beetroot juice,” he said, “and that made all the difference.” As I say, I boggled at him. I wasn’t sure that I had heard correctly, but he assured me that he was serious. “Look it up,” said the Weir Wolf. “Beetroot. It’s much better than caffeine.”
Well, ladies and gentlemen, there you have it. There have been many wonderful things about this summer. Think about the messages we have been sending round the world. Think about it from an investor’s point of view. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee showed a nation that was profoundly politically stable, with a huge and unexpected reservoir of support for the constitutional settlement. The Olympics showed that we can carry out the most difficult logistical operation demanded of any country in peacetime, and do it with efficiency and style. The Paralympics have shown that Britain remains a beacon of enlightenment.
Oh, yes, I know that from tomorrow evening the cynicism will return. As soon as the victory parade is over the critics will be back, and they will be sniffing about the “legacy”, and wondering whether it was all value for money. There were Olympo-sceptics who were caught out by the euphoria that swept the country. They have been nursing their intellectual defeat, and they will want to mount what criticisms they can. So I say respectfully to any of them tempted to return to their gloomy themes: you were wrong about the Games, and the summer of 2012, and you will be proved wrong about the legacy as well.
Look at what has been done so far: the regeneration of a huge chunk of east London, complete with a vast new shopping centre, thousands of new homes, tens of thousands of new jobs, a superb transport hub at Stratford, and massive improvements to the transport infrastructure of the city. The Games have triggered the biggest explosion of volunteering and general public-spiritedness we have ever seen, with tens of thousands of people now committed to serving their communities. More people are now taking up sport, of all kinds, as a direct result of the Games. All summer long, London has been at the centre of global attention, and billions of households around the world have seen images of a place that looks fantastic and performs well in receiving foreign visitors.
More than anything I can remember, the Games have moved us and brought us together. Total strangers have been talking to each other on the Tube. It is as though the city has been crop-dusted with serotonin.
The Olympics and Paralympics have somehow engendered the very thing all politics is meant to aim for – general happiness and a sense of well-being. We have been united in our admiration for superhuman performances by athletes – British athletes, who have won against the best in the world, and who have been powered by no stimulant more sinister than beetroot juice. The Games have changed not only much of London; they have changed the world’s attitude to Britain, and our own view of this country and what it can do.
Of course, there is a huge job now to secure the legacy – but it is already just about the best £9.3 billion that a government has ever spent.