Venues were as venerable as Wimbledon for tennis and the Royal Artillery Barracks for shooting. They were as stunningly original as the beach-volleyball court built on the Horse Guard Parade. Big Ben and the London Eye and a skyscraper known as the Shard could all peek over the stands and watch.
Try to imagine bikini-wearing athletes diving into the sand in Tiananmen Square.
London was burdened for years, in a down economy, by expensive and disruptive building projects. London was warned incessantly about security concerns and traffic nightmares. The last of those warnings came from Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who cast a dour eye on the setup just before the Games began.
In a bit of political gamesmanship, perhaps, President Obama called British Prime Minister David Cameron Sunday and congratulated him on a superbly run Olympics.
One of the great joys of these Games was watching this city rediscover itself. The celebrations that bracketed the competition, the opening and closing ceremonies, were unbridled celebrations of Britishness. London saw its own reflection and liked what it saw. That stiff upper lip was replaced by a proud smile.
A day or two after Danny Boyle's opening ceremony, a couple of Brit reporters were talking in the big media workroom at the Olympic Park. They were discussing the dim prospects, as they saw them, for Team GB (sportswriters are the same cheery bunch the world over).
"Has any host country ever peaked at the opening ceremony?" one of them asked.
Within days, London had become one big party for British athletes, as well. It is hard to describe in words the gut-rumbling roar in the stadium when Jessica Ennis crossed the finish line to clinch her gold medal in the heptathlon.
"It was, literally, the loudest sound I ever heard," American decathlon gold medalist Ashton Eaton said.
And it was repeated when Mo Farah, a Londoner who trains in Portland, Ore., won both the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races.
On a smaller scale, the very proper Centre Court at Wimbledon became the scene of another celebration when Andy Murray, frustrated in every major tournament in which he has appeared, routed Roger Federer in straight sets for the gold medal.
Bradley Wiggins, fresh off his Tour de France victory, was one of a handful of Brits to win gold medals in cycling.
But the British fans happily shared their love with other athletes, especially those from their former colonies across the Atlantic.
"I was a little nervous going into the opening ceremony," said Larry Probst, chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee. "There was a tremendous round of applause when our team walked into the stadium."
"I fought a British girl in the final," said Kayla Harrison, who won the first-ever U.S. gold medal in judo. "That was a little nerve-racking. But in my other bouts, they were cheering me just as much."
The appreciation for Phelps and Allyson Felix and Gabby Douglas and Jordan Burroughs was palpable. The joy in watching Bolt sprint and then lead the crowd of 80,000 in the wave was infectious. The roar for Oscar Pistorius as he ran 400 meters without legs brought tears rushing to your eyes.
For Team USA, there was plenty of success. The Americans finished atop the medal counts, No. 1 in gold medals (46) and overall (104). The United States dominated in swimming and enjoyed a resurgence in track and field.
Maybe the big change for Team USA was that it really looked and felt like one big team. Social media had something to do with that. Athletes followed each other on Twitter and sent tweets wishing good luck and congratulations. They also tweeted about their attendance at other events, creating more of a sense of team spirit than in the past.
"It was awesome, going to other venues and cheering on Team USA," swimmer Missy Franklin said.
On Sunday night, London threw a farewell concert, trotting out a remarkable array of British artists. The flag was passed to Rio de Janeiro, host of the 2016 Games. The cauldron, with its flaming petals, opened again and was extinguished.
The London Olympics were history.
Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster, and his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan