With Danny Boyle's opening ceremony setting the perfect tone, Britons can express patriotism with irony and genuine feeling
Maybe, ultimately, it was the pyjamas.
Nobody, surely, has worn pyjamas on an Olympic stadium track before if not by mistake.
But there was the deaf choir of children, in pyjamas, signing God Save the Queen.
"It was as if someone had said: "If you get into your jimjams and brush your teeth, you can stay up late to sing for the Queen," said my colleague Tim, who was reduced to tears by that moment in Danny Boyle's opening ceremony.
That was part of Boyle's crying-time genius: the human touch, the cultivation of empathy, the cunning manipulation of sentiment that any director worth his salt can deploy without – ideally – making us feel that it's phoney.
And so began an unexpected festival of emotion that, by rights, London 2012 had no right to unleash on an unsuspecting world.
Boyle's ceremony set a singular tone.
Could the Olympics really have a place for vulnerable humanity amid that parade of putative perfection? It's only, after all, four years since the crypto-fascist perfection of Zhang Yimou's opening ceremony, where a seven-year-old Chinese girl was deemed not good-looking to appear singing Ode to the Motherland and was replaced by a more suitably beautiful lip-syncher.
But sporting spectacle, if it's about anything worth cultivating, isn't about stomping the weak into the dust.
It's also about emotion, about a human connection between spectators and those taking part.
And already in this Olympics there have been so many moments that have allowed that connection.
I found it easier to connect wtih Tom Daley in diving failure than in success, and the cruel tweet he received after losing the synchro event only made spectators see him as a vulnerable human being rather than a fab-abbed medal-winning machine.
Similarly, while I have never been a Muslim or eight-months pregnant (though the way in which the world is going, neither is impossible before I die), I felt oddly moved by the story of 29-year-old Malaysian navy logistics officer Nur Saurian Mohamad Taibi, who came 34th in the 10-metre air rifle competition earlier this week.
Not just because the racist bile from Telegraph readers vexed me ("Reciting verses of the Koran while holding a rifle – yep, just what we need here," wrote one (govt45), but because she was eight-months pregnant – the nearest to giving birth of any Olympics competitor.
Who cares about perfect scores – the fact that Taibi was competing at all was stirring.
Did the kicking baby put her off? Would she give birth before she the contest was over? What drama.
When the Sir Chris Hoys win, it's emotional.
But for many of us it's even more emotional when non-celebrities from nowhere win, people whose struggles mean something to viewers and make them cry, albeit briefly.
It's not the eternal Olympic flame that engages, but the soon-to-be-extinguished flicker of human connection.
Most of my friends and colleagues who admit to being moved by the Olympics cite British taekwondo athlete Sarah Stevenson's comments about swapping a medal in a second if she could bring her parents back.
Even though they admit to never having heard of her before.
Or they mention Gemma Gibbons mouthing "I love you mum" when she won her silver medal in the 78kg judo competition.
Gibbons, from Charlton in south-east London, was taken to her first her first judo lesson at a club when she was six by her mother, Jeanette.
Gemma and Jeanette lived together in a two-bed council flat until the judoka's mother died of leukaemia.
"It was a way of saying thank you to her," said Gibbons, explaining why she kissed her medal.
At best, the appeal of such non-celebrities reminds me of what used to excite me about music.
Some herbert from some nowhere just like you could do something that made the chills run up and down your spine – precisely because they're ordinary people and their previous obscurity makes their current achievement astounding.
Obviously I feel more connected with, say, the Specials rather than Rebecca Adlington, Gemma Gibbons, Katherine Grainger or Anna Watkins, but still.
These emotional moments feel like a subversive raid on the vastly commodified nightmare that is the Olympic Games or competitive sport in general.
Somewhere in the fast-food sponsorship, the sports stars tweeting their product endorsements, the doping scandals, the corporate quashing of the virtues of human endeavour, the Zil lanes, the sense that a city has been taken over by an occupying force of people in high-vis vests, has emerged something more raw and emotional than I expected.
Perhaps it started before the Olympics with Bradley Wiggins cycling down the Champs Elysées to win the Tour de France, flanked by that coup de theatre, his seven-year-old son.
True, that was pure orchestrated schmaltz and, yes, if you haven't got a kid with whom you're engaged in a grim Oedipal struggle, you may not been touched by Le Wiggo et fils – but all emotion in sport is generated by personal connection with somebody, even a side-burned mod on a bike and his grinning lad.
I loved the way Chad Le Clos's dad Bert lost himself in an ocean of emotion during an interview with Clare Balding after his son beat Michael Phelps in the 200m butterfly.
And so did lots of other people - it's why Bert went viral on YouTube.
He was the exception that proved the rule that the friends and family of gold medal winners are never worth interviewing ever.
I love too the fact that comedian Chris Addison recently tweeted this: "Listening to Isles of Wonder soundtrack on my way to the Olympic Park.
blubs openly on train."
Where has all this blubbing come from? My colleague Sarah says: "I think we get choked up because we could never contemplate ourselves achieving what these athletes have done but have a real sense of how their whole lives are geared towards this 5-second dive, 30-minute swim, or whatever.
And although we can't be bothered to follow their progress the rest of the time we can spare a few minutes to tune into these highly charged moments."
There's something in this, but let's not forget the emotional patriotism that was, rather terrifyingly, unleashed a week ago last Friday.
This isn't a country that can do tub-thumping USA-style nationalism ("U-S-A! U-S-A!" sounds right, but a crowd chanting "Team GB! Team GB!"? Please, God, no).
But the very self-deprecating tenor of Boyle's vision of Britain, so different from those paraded in recent memory at global sporting competitions by South Africa and China or the US, made patriotic emotions flow more readily than they would have otherwise.
Britons feel patriotic emotion when irony is part of the mix – the thing is too ludicrous otherwise.
To be fair, Boyle had me at Elgar's Nimrod.
He got me later when Emeli Sandé sang Abide with Me for the murdered of 7/7.
For all those Americans who watched baffled while Britons blubbed, surely what Jim White wrote in the Telegraph is right: the opening ceremony may have been too British for some tastes, but who cares? We paid for it.
But there's something more worth saying about the patriotic emotions in that opening ceremony.
In the Daily Mail earlier this week, Stephen Glover argued that Boyle had smuggled in a Marxist historical analysis of British history unnoticed by all those Tories – Cameron and Johnson pre-eminently – who professed to love what the director had done.
Speaking for myself, the key reason I felt choked up during Boyle's ceremony was precisely because of the leftwing vibe that ran through its most ardent moments.
My friend Caroline found the ceremony's most unpalatable moment was Boyle's eulogy to the NHS, but that was what got me – not least because it was so unexpected.
I've long accustomed myself to loathing so many things about this rain-soaked dime of a country – its meanness, racism, its imperial shame, its Eton mess of a government and its mediocre royals who hold part of the nation in thrall.
Boyle reminded me of another Britain with a prouder history (public health services, killer music, birthplace of the industrial revolution etc) and a more hopeful future – and that vision moved me to tears.
Olympic Games 2012Danny BoyleNHSHealthOlympics 2012: cyclingSir Chris HoyOlympics 2012: judoRebecca AdlingtonBradley WigginsOlympics 2012: swimmingStuart Jeffriesguardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies.
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