I think we can all agree; the London Olympics were a big deal. Not only did they give us a glimpse into how much British talent there is, but they also exposed us to new events and sports we had never seen before. One event in particular stuck in my head. It was the kayak display in the Olympic Park. There, in front of us, were two competitors, both wearing red kayaks. It was like the emblematic image of Britishness itself; red, white, and blue, paddling away against the skyline, trying to beat the current and reach the far shore.

But, as is often the case when watching an Olympian’s performance, the moment was a bit more dramatic than the usual sporting event. It ended in a bit of a showdown, with one of the kayakers’ paddles getting stuck in the mud. The strain was too much, and the heart-breaking sound of splashing water as the two kayaks collided was something I will never forget. But it was also a turning point for the other competitor. He pulled out his cell phone, called his coach, and despite the fact that it was the night of the equestrian events, he said he would be canceling his ride because he was too upset to continue.

Perhaps it was the combination of the dramatic finish and the news story that followed, or the fact that it was such a quintessentially British moment, but it really did seem to strike a chord with people. In the space of a few weeks, we had gone from being inspired by the athletes to wanting to emulate them. Within a matter of days, we were doing our bit to support the British Olympic team, buying gear and clothes they were using in the games. And, perhaps most impressively, on the Monday after the games, search interest for “Olympic games” reached its highest since the event had started. Clearly, the novelty of having an Olympian in the village had worn off, and people were looking for ways to carry on the spirit of the games in their everyday lives.

Why Now?

If you’re reading this, I assume you’re also a fan of Steve Parker. If not, let me reintroduce you to the wonderful world of kayaking. He is a three-time Olympian who represented Great Britain in the 1980s, and who is currently the only British competitor to have won a medal in an Olympic kayak event. The list of his accomplishments is breathtaking, and include two gold medals and one silver in the sport. In 2012, he completed a marathon kayak trip that took him across an entire country, from his hometown of Newcastle to his house in London. During that epic journey, he had to battle against the elements and the currents in order to ensure that he reached his destination. I would say that this is definitely one of the most amazing things an athlete has ever done, but it’s also one of the reasons why it’s been so difficult to follow his lead. Like Steve, you too may have noticed that things like search interest and web traffic for “Olympic games” has been steadily increasing, hitting its highest since the sporting event began.

Why is this? It’s not just because of the amazing feats that the British athletes performed during the games. The fact is that this year’s games were very different from those we had seen in the past. The venues were more spread out, meaning that there was more opportunity for individuals to get involved. One of the most exciting things about the London Olympics was the fact that they were held in more rural areas, allowing for those who couldn’t make it to the main venues –such as athletes, spectators, and journalists– to participate in the action via live streaming.

This, in turn, enabled us to feel a connection to the events that we would never have felt before. It was a real celebration of British culture, with people connecting with the spirit of the games in ways they never had before. So while it is wonderful to see the great achievements of the British athletes, we need to acknowledge that something very special happened in 2013; something that connected us to the event, and to each other, in a way that we didn’t experience before.

Where Do I Sign Up?

So you want to be an Olympian too. Congratulations! I hope this has been a helpful guide to getting you started. Bear in mind that, like any other hobby or pastime, there are lots of things you need to consider. For example, how much money do you have to set aside for training? Are you going to be able to balance your athletic and academic careers? Are you prepared to commit to a demanding schedule? All these questions, and more, will affect what you can actually achieve. But don’t worry – with a little planning, and dedication, anything’s possible!