Londoners celebrate unexpected victory

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“Do you think we're going to win?” screamed pop-singer Rachel Stevens to a packed Trafalgar Square.

The deafening silence in response revealed not just the nerves of the central London throng on an early lunchbreak but the sense of unreality that London's bid might actually be awarded the Olympic Games of 2012.

The reality was that bid organisers had prepared a hard luck party rather than a patriotic victory bash. “Thank You London,” proclaimed London 2012's banners and posters, a recognition that the capital had done well to come this far, but that surely, surely, they'd give it to Paris.

News of the elimination of Moscow, New York and Madrid was greeted with some whoops of delight, but the faces of the crowd betrayed more a grim foreboding than confident anticipation.

Victory was prized for different reasons. “Beating the French is just as important as winning the Games,” said Oliver Deusautoy, a 25 year-old property analyst from North London, whose French background, he stressed, was too long in the past to undermine his strong British identity.

Some, though, were getting into a state of high anxiety. David Belson, aged 28, alternated between a strangulated whisper and a hoarse shout. “Please, please, please, come on London!” he begged.

Katie Murray, a 15 year-old student, clenched her teeth and gripped her friends' hands with apprehension. She hoped to see the Olympics in London because the Games would “give the younger generation something to look forward to”. She even hoped to compete in 7 years' time.

Families were there, including Scott Herertson, his wife and their two under-fives. The Olympics would “change things here” and that his children would remember this moment. Nikki, his wife, hoped staging the Games would encourage them to get involved in sport and teach them “how to win and how to lose”. But winning was all that mattered on Wednesday. When Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee announced the decision, Trafalgar Square duly erupted, though the organisers appeared a bit slow off the mark to release the ticker-tape and smoke.

At least Kelly Holmes, Britain's double gold medallist at the Athens Olympics, was on stage to stir emotions.

“There is no better feeling, to have the Olympics in our own country is truly amazing,” she said.

Plenty of tears also from Sharron Davies, another British Olympian, who expressed sympathy for the thrice-rejected Paris but paid tribute to Lord Coe, the bid leader who had made “a massive difference” to London's chances.

But the overwhelming reaction to victory was strangely muted. “This is great news. I just didn't expect it,” said Steve MacDonald, a 22 year-old civil servant who hails from east London where the Olympic stadium will be sited.

The crowds began to drift away. By the time the Red Arrows soared overhead, Trafalgar Square was returning to a semblance of normality, as the British returned to their desks in a rather matter-of-fact mood.

“It's what the English do best,” said year-old Phil Jones, Mr MacDonald's colleague, “stand about, take it all in and reflect.”

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