Omigosh I don’t know why I allowed myself to go in for this one. It is Tuesday afternoon, I am trying to complete a Spectator Olympic diary, and it will be a triumph of speed and nerve. I have three speeches to write, half an hour till deadline, and I can see the great Fraser Nelson’s number flashing up on my Nokia as I sit in the stalls of the Velodrome desperately scribbling on my programme. The crowd is going totally ape. The noise is so loud I feel like one of those heavy metal fans that used to crawl into the bass speaker and die of decibelic exposure.
They are going bonkers because the Team GB cyclist Laura Trott has put on her beautiful red dolichocephalic Alien-skull helmet and is flexing her limbs for the final shoot-out in a kind of cycling heptathlon called the Omnium. Laura is blonde, 20, and she is going to rocket round this wooden bowl of death at more than 64 kmh with her feet locked into the pedals of a featherweight carbon-fibre bike that has no gears and no brakes. The event is called a Time Trial, and it’s simple. If she can travel 500 metres faster than her rival — an American girl called Hammer — she wins eternal glory and Team GB will rack up another luscious gold doubloon. If not there will be soul-searching and I will be slinking out of here faster than you can say Jonah.
That is why I am bellowing Laura’s name, and urging her on with the rest of the crowd; not that I have anything against Sarah Hammer, or America. Far from it. I love America. It’s just that I feel America doesn’t really need another gold medal — not as much as we do. Look at them: level-pegging with the Chinese, but without China’s intensive sporting programme and with only a quarter of the Chinese population. I went to the Aquatics Centre the other night, and we were all bobbing up and down as American athletes mounted the podium, and the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ played as if on autoloop. Don’t give me all that stuff about how the 21st century will belong to China. America has the resources, the system, the confidence and the physical space to grow. The Chinese have about 354 people per square mile; America has 85. Believe me, America is going to be top nation for the rest of our lives.
She is still the land of the free and the home of the brave and, every now and then, just a tiny bit high-handed in her treatment of other nations. I mean, what is all this stuff about Standard Chartered? This British bank has generally enjoyed a high reputation for probity (as these places go) until yesterday, when some New York regulator apparently denounced Standard as a ‘rogue institution’. Well, if people have broken the law of this country, then by all means bang them away. But you can’t help wondering whether all this beating up of British banks and bankers is starting to shade into protectionism; and you can’t help thinking it might actually be at least partly motivated by jealousy of London’s financial sector — a simple desire to knock a rival centre. An executive at Standard Chartered is quoted as saying, in an email, ‘You fucking Americans. Who are you to tell us, the rest of the world, that we can’t deal with the Iranians?’ I disapprove of the language, of course. But I have to say — and I speak as the proud possessor of an American passport — that there seems to be something fine and sound about the underlying sentiment.
And they’re off — with only 250 words to go! Laura Trott is giving it so much welly that her bike is pitching and yawing with each explosive extension of her legs. It is unlike the other cycling ‘sprints’, where they kind of dawdle and wave their bottoms at each other like courting pigeons before breaking for the line. This involves full power from the start. The Velodrome sound system is pumping out the Rolling Stones, and the crowd are shouting ‘Lau-RA’ or even ‘GB! GB!’ Now isn’t that amazing? At the biggest sporting event of our lives, the one that has most passionately engaged the country, we are cheering for a political entity that is meant to be about to break up. One of the many happy features of these wonderful Olympics is surely that they have retarded Alex Salmond in his campaign to end the Union. In the months before the Olympics, some melancholy Scots had started to tell me that London shops would no longer take Scottish banknotes. Let’s hope that prejudice melts away fast. Come on, London retailers! How can you refuse a banknote from the land of Chris Hoy?
So we come now to the last 50 words and Laura is still ahead — by a fraction of a second — and the digits of the clock are spooling crazily, and yee-hah, she has done it. Team GB have won more golds than at any games since 1908. London has dazzled the world, and according to Sir Keith Mills (though how he knows I have no idea), the condom count in the Olympic village is up there with Sydney.