Reminiscing over the highlights of the Beijing Games, what stand out most are the smiles of young Chinese people and the fantastic buildings – especially lit up at night

I've seen these Olympics from some very different perspectives. It began for me with the exciting preamble of the Team GB holding camp in Macau, then into the heart of the Athletes' Village just in time to be a part of that stunning opening ceremony. My little team of three fencers competed on days three to five of the competition, performing honourably but without bringing any metal home - though, to be fair, they weren't expected to this time around.

Then I came out of the Village to spend a few days in a British Olympic Association apartment, with a wonderful view of the Olympic flame on the Bird's Nest Stadium from my bedroom window. Finally, it was back to the UK to a holiday cottage in north Norfolk to watch the marathon last week on TV.

Oddly, the wonderful all-seeing eye of television - even without access to the wonders of the interactive digital red button - opened up so much more of the Games than it was possible to know from the inside.

In the midst of it all, the obsessive compulsion to get everything right in our specific discipline meant that other important events passed by unnoticed. I saw the boxer Frankie Gavin (not eating much) at breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for a week, but I had no idea that he'd been withdrawn from competing until he was already back in the UK.

The momentum of British success accelerated over the 17 days - with the exception of swimming, all the week-one sports -archery, shooting, badminton, judo, weightlifting, diving and fencing, to name several - did less well than those in the second week. So one plea for 2012 would be to get fencing later in the schedule!

Rules are very important to the Chinese, and there were people everywhere whose job was to make sure that things were done just so, no matter whether logic suggested otherwise.

The Olympics throws up quirky celebrity moments that could never occur at any other time. One becomes blasé about sitting at the same dining table as Andy Murray or Rafael Nadal. At the Athens Olympics in 2004, I was woken early one morning by a phone call from the Team GB HQ, asking me to meet and greet the Princess Royal, who was arriving in five minutes' time.

I met royalty of a different type in Beijing. On the opening night of fencing, just prior to the medal ceremony - the American girls took a clean sweep of the sabre medals, the first three of the US's eventual 112 medal haul - I saw an elderly gentleman being helped down the stairs of the VIP section by an acquaintance of mine. There was an immediate bustle of people and all the cameramen came running from their positions by the podium. Before I knew it, and certainly before I knew who it was, I found myself speaking to George Bush Snr. He sat down in the front row, and I've never seen so many photographers taking pictures of a man sitting perfectly still.

Together with Sir Clive Woodward, I managed to get lost in an official car of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games late one night, taken on a slip road onto the wrong side of one of Beijing's many ring roads and dropped an hour late in the wrong place. Getting lost or stuck in interminable traffic was certainly one of the least pleasant memories: one supposed 30-minute round trip took just over three hours. Avoiding that kind of transport problem in London in 2012 will be important.

Queues are another thing I'll remember. Much has already been made of the fact that ordinary Chinese could not get onto the Olympic Green, which was certainly less than full in the period before the track and field events started. The security checks for those with tickets were run only by inexpert volunteers in the first week, and frequently only one channel was open - on at least one day the wait was so long that we missed the start of the event.

Rules are very important to the Chinese, and there were people everywhere whose job was to make sure that things were done just so, no matter whether logic suggested otherwise. But we soon learned that it was easy to walk past the people telling you not to enter a certain area, since they had received no instructions to bring you back - once beyond them, you became someone else's problem!

Rules are very important to the Chinese, and there were people everywhere whose job was to make sure that things were done just so, no matter whether logic suggested otherwise.

But the unfailing good nature and permanent smiles of so many thousands of young Chinese people will also be an abiding memory, as will the fantastic buildings on the Olympic Green, particularly lit up in all their glory at night.

It was a shame that there was no notable British political presence during the early part of the Games and good to see that the prime minister made it out there for the end, able to gain some reflected glory from Team GB's memorable achievements.

It leaves a slightly bitter taste to hear this government take much credit for it, though, since the increased exchequer investment came only some while after London won the bid for 2012 and is still £100m short of what is needed, with little hope of private sponsorship being secured for the shortfall in competition against the more pressing competitive needs of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games and the British Olympic Association to raise their own private funds.

The most political credit goes to those who set up the National Lottery and fed some of its proceeds into sport - my hazy recollection is that we have John Major to thank for that. Apart from joining in the adulation, Gordon Brown could do much to maintain the momentum to 2012 by making sure that the funding gap is plugged.

London will have to play to a very different set of strengths if it is to make its mark in less than four years' time. I sense that this means a heavy focus on the multicultural diversity of the city and its world-famous landmarks and symbols. But getting it right is what matters, and the eight-minute segment in Beijing's closing ceremony was a woeful start. We have had three years to prepare for that, and it certainly was well short of even bronze-medal standard. We will have to do much better than that.

For all its undoubted falseness and heavy Chinese jingoism (but who are we to talk?) this will certainly be remembered as a great Olympic Games by all those involved and by the millions who have enjoyed the rollercoaster on TV. I feel particularly privileged to have been at both ends of this spectrum.