Spirit of the Games ... Pendleton embraces Meares. Photo: Getty Images
Where is Juan Antonio Samaranch when we need him?
For it was the former boss of the International Olympic Committee, you'll recall, who could be counted on - way back to when Noah won gold in the inaugural Olympic gumboot throwing competition - to say at the conclusion of each Olympiad, "These have been the best ever Games". (The exception being Atlanta in 1996, but that's another story).
Such a statement always drew a roar from the home crowd and a knowing nod from the rest of us. But after these London Olympic Games there really is a case to be made for the statement, and it is only we of the Sydney Games who could argue the toss.
Jessica Ennis gave the London Games its "Cathy Freeman moment". Photo: AFP
Let me count the ways:
● Ah, sing it Roger Miller! "Eng-er-land swings like a pendulum do, Bobbies on bicycles, two by two, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of Big Ben, the rosy red cheeks of the little children." These Games, staged in one of the acknowledged four greatest cities in the world - New York, Paris and Sydney making up the quad four - had all that and more. The marathon course goes past Buckingham Palace and Tower Bridge. The beach volleyball was held in the Horse Guards, where knights used to joust in the 15th century. The joint was soaked in revered history like Atlanta and Seoul, for starters, could not get close to, and overall the Londoners could not have been more welcoming.
● The organisation was superb. Yes, one or two glitches here and there but it all came together where it counted. When your humble correspondent met the London mayor, Boris Johnson, late last week and congratulated him personally on the Games his city had put on, he modestly replied, "I would love to take credit, but there were thousands of us working on this for many years". Their work has paid off and they can take a bow.
Sydney highlight ... Cathy Freeman celebrates after winning gold in 2000. Photo: Allsport
● These Games were blessed with unforgettable events. Back in the summer of 1989, when last drop batsman Mike Whitney managed to hit Joel Garner over the fence in a Test match, the great West Indian fast bowler put his arm around him at the end of the day's play and said, "When you are old, Whitnee-mon, you can tell your children and your grandchildren that you once hit the great Joel Garner for six." Whitney replied, "Stuff that, Joel, I am going to start telling them tonight!" I know how he feels. All of us blessed to be in the stadium when Usain Bolt broke the Olympic 100m record, leaving a world-class field in his wake, have not stopped talking about it since. This was athletic achievement of the very first order, and this Olympics was awash with such moments. Sally Pearson! Anna Meares! Sally PEARSON!
● The cleanest games of the modern era? I don't know. But it must surely run it close. One sign was the women's athletics where the winners did not get within a bull's roar of the record set by the likes of Florence Griffith-Joyner and the athletes of the Eastern bloc back in the '80s. Undoubtedly there have been cheats here, but my strong suspicion is they have been in the tiny minority and this has been a games untroubled by scandal, or terrorist disaster.
● There were many surprises. And I don't just mean because Australia finished so far behind Great Britain in the medal count. I mean because the pattern in so many of the disciplines were for athletes from unexpected countries to win. Kazakhstan in anything, France in the swimming! Great Britain in everything!
10 of the best Olympics photos - Day 14
Competitors in the men's BMX Semi-final. Photo: Pat Scala
● There were many examples of wonderful good sportsmanship. Baron de Coubertin, the founder of the Games, would have exulted to see how those two bitter rivals, Victoria Pendleton and Anna Meares, so warmly congratulated each other at the conclusion of the sprint race. Ditto, the two women beaten into silver and bronze by Sally Pearson. It was sport, and sportsmanship, at its very best, and some of it would bring a tear to a glass eye.
● It was more truly international than ever - see Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan both sending their first female athletes to these Games. The most amazing thing? Despite the hype, the unbearable commercialism, the naked exploitation of our patriotic pride placed at the service of keeping more snouts in the trough than you could poke a stick at - and you would if you could, sharp sticks - the whole thing still works. Otto von Bismarck once famously said "To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making," and one surely can say the same of the Olympics. Those of us who followed the Sydney Olympics up close, and lived through it, who saw something of what was happening on the inside, know in our hearts that there is every reason to be jaundiced and cynical. And yet, somehow, when you're here, and watching it on television, there is still magic in the whole concept of the Games. There is still something fantastic and worth supporting in the whole notion of the peoples of the world meeting on the flatlands, where the meanest weapon available is the javelin and the closest thing to a cannon-ball is a shot-put from which the chief danger is dropping it on your own foot.
Despite it all, the concept works, and the Brits have taken that concept and put on one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest, Games of the modern era. A photo-finish with Sydney - let the judges decide in a few generations time. In the meantime, good on the Brits.