For British athletes and spectators alike, the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games was an experience like no other.
It’s now ten years since Jess Ennis and Jonnie Peacock lit up the Olympic Stadium, Dame Katherine Grainger and Ellie Simmonds shone both on and in the water, and the likes of Laura Kenny, Hannah Cockroft, Nicola Adams and Lee Pearson made themselves household names.
For some, it changed careers and lives. All this summer, we’ll be asking British athletes – whether they competed in London or not – for their memories of the Games, and the impact that it’s had on them. Here, Nekoda Smythe-Davis, who was a volunteer at London 2012 before making her own Olympic debut in Rio four years later, shares her memories.
“2005 is a long time ago now, but I think you cannot forget how that moment when London was awarded the Games made you feel. From then, the excitement built – at my school and judo club in London, and just about everywhere.
“I was going through my cadet and early junior career at the time It was something me and my coach would always talk about, as it got closer it all started to really come to life!
“To have your country host an Olympics could maybe happen only once in your lifetime and definitely only once in your sporting career as an athlete, so the excitement was unfathomable.
“My club and I were very involved in 2012; my coach worked at the games and I and many other club members were volunteers. I also had the pleasure of training with the British judo team during the final six months of their preparation. The training was tough, and I was pushed to my limits as were they.
“My coach at the time was also very keen on us stepping out of our comfort zone and broadening our experiences, so encouraged us all to volunteer at the Games, as she knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity that we couldn’t miss.
“I was fortunate enough to be able to volunteer within my own sport at the ExCel Arena. I was in the judo admin team, but I could not honestly tell you if I did any important work because all I can remember is the venue, the buzz, the trains to and from, the kit, the people, the electric atmosphere and that moment Gemma Gibbons shocked the whole country and got to the final on day six in the -78kg category.
“The role did far more for me and my future than I probably did in the role itself.
“During that time, I was able to observe the focus, the intensity, the will and want to win, the sacrifice, the heartbreak of that athletes. From that point on, I knew how hard I needed to work if I ever wanted this to be me. I knew the resilience and tenacity I would need to hone and what it would take to reach the pinnacle of Olympic sport.
“Whenever doubt would creep in, I would remind myself how much of an underdog Gemma was and what she was able to achieve.
“For this reason, the London 2012 Games was the birth of my own Olympic dream. I had witnessed and seen it all first hand and now. I had a fire inside of me that I needed to chase. I wanted the chance to compete for an Olympic medal, to get to the final and make history of being the first British athlete to win judo gold.
“It gave me a real tangible goal, and one that I was able to feel and begin to pursue. I knew from that moment onwards all my energy would go into being the best judo athlete I could be. The following year I made the decision to move from my hometown in London to Walsall to join the national centre and start my full-time training programme. It had to be all or nothing to achieve this dream.
“In 2014 I became Commonwealth champion and in 2016 I qualified and represented GB in the Rio Olympics: a dream come true!
“Thinking back to London, I was 19 when the Games took place, about to break onto the senior circuit. It couldn’t have been better timed for me. I think being able to be a part of, watch, celebrate and be amongst the atmosphere of London 2012 was pivotal in igniting so many Olympic dreams.
“I do think you have to see it to believe it and I think that was the case for me. It took a potential dream to me thinking ‘actually, I have seen what I have to do and I really want to achieve this!’
“It made it really real for us all. Even 10 years on we will continue to see the inspiration of London 2012 ripple down for generations to come.”