If pessimism were an Olympic sport, British people might have won all the medals before the London games started, except the one claimed by Mitt Romney, who fretted about security preparedness. In the end, the weather largely cooperated, traffic did not come to a standstill, and terrorists stayed away.
With the worrywarts confounded, a jolly good time was had by all. As Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, remarked at Sunday night's closing ceremony: "These were happy and glorious games" — borrowing some of the language of Britain's national anthem in a nod to the hosts.
As a theatrical production in the service of national self-promotion, the opening and closing ceremonies were bold, creative, and eccentric even by traditional British standards of oddity. Who would have expected a tribute to the National Health Service at the official opening — or newsprint-covered people and roller-skating nuns in the closing ceremony?
The games offered a hearty sandwich of drama and incident, some of it the stuff of sporting legend, others choice morsels of social progress. The latter included the participation of women from nations such as Saudi Arabia that had formerly excluded them, and the entry of a double-amputee man running for South Africa.
London saw sporting immortals such as Michael Phelps, the greatest swimmer of his age (22 medals during his career, 18 of them gold), make his final Olympic appearance. Others embellished their legends, such as Usain Bolt, the mercurial Jamaican sprinter, and the U.S. women's soccer team.
The Olympics can be criticized as too nationalistic and expensive, but it is something to marvel at in a depressed and violent world to see more than two weeks of joy unfold nearly flawlessly. Beyond the tally of medals, the real winner in London was the human spirit.