I never thought Spike'd be the type to get stage fright (and neither did he, obviously) -- but when you're in front of tens of thousands of ponies, that's gonna change a few things.
Speaking of ponies, I loved the huge crowds and all the secondary and background characters in this one. I can't even count how many appearances there were; beyond the obvious ones such as Bulk Biceps, Derpy, Thunderlane, Shining Armor and the Wonderbolts, there were at least Fancy Pants, Roseluck, Apple Fritter (yay!), Lyra and Bon Bon (not next to each other, though, were they?), Mayor Mare (seated next to Mrs. Harshwhinny) and many more. I'd have to watch the episode several more times focussing just on the background ponies to catch 'em all. :) We were also treated to all the Mane Six, plus Spike, plus the CMC.
The Saddle Arabians were also there, which was great — and all the princesses, too, Cadance, Luna and Celestia! And Twilight not only had a throne next to theirs (as befits Equestria's newest princess), she was also visibly embarassed about occupying such an elevated position, just like she was uncomfortable with all the attention she got for being a princess in Trade Ya!. I like that; it really fits her character. Princess or not, she's remained the same pony deep down: older, wiser, more experienced, but nonetheless the same.
I also liked seeing Spike get recognition for all he previously did for the Crystal Empire. "The Great and Honorable Spike the Brave and Glorious" — Trixie, eat your heart out. ;) I'm surprised Spike never heard about how famous he is, but then again the Crystal Empire is far away, and news presumably travels slow in Equestria. And given how little recognition the Mane Six themselves have received in Ponyville for all their deeds, perhaps overt fawning is simply not the way of the ponies... the non-crystal ones, anyway.
I also felt really sorry for Spike, not just when he tried to light the torch but couldn't (what happened there, anyway? performance anxiety, or an unfortunately-timed sore throat?) but also when he had to sing the Cloudsdale anthem despite not knowing the words. That was painful, to say the least, and I'm very glad he got a chance to redeem himself later on during the Ice Archery contest. Speaking of which, BTW — wow, talk about a dangerous sport! And you'd think that even with the unicorns having their magic sealed (neat idea, BTW, though I think the Crystal Empire needs to train its guards to be a little less gruff; maybe Mrs. Harshwhinny was in charge there as well), there'd be enough trusted officials around who'd be free to use theirs — not to mention the princesses. Celestia and Luna raise the sun and the moon every day; you'd think they could've dealt with an oversized block of ice.
OTOH, that's not the point. They likely could have; it simply so happens that Spike acted first. And in doing so, he saved the arena, and the games, and as he learned, he really does deserve credit for that, not just from others but also from himself. Don't sell yourself short, and be rightfully proud of your achievements and successes: that's a good and important lesson.
Regarding the games themselves: I wish we could've seen more of them, but at least we got the aerial relay. I also couldn't help but notice how despite having Fluttershy and Bulk Biceps on her team, Dashie was head-to-head with Spitfire in the end — Spitfire, the captain of the Wonderbolts, no doubt one of the fastest fliers in Equestria, who'd had Fleetfoot and Soarin' go before her. If that doesn't that Dash's Wonderbolts material, I don't know what does. As Dave Eggers might say: they shall know her velocity.
Also, randomly: it was amusingly obvious that this is a series intended primarily for US-American audiences. Does anyone else anywhere in the world actually care about the total medal count in the
Other random observations: Rainbow's still got her sunglasses, and can apparently pull them out of hammerspace. (Or, in the words of Sam & Max: "Hey, just where do keep that gun, Max?" — "None of your damn business, Sam.") Her line "this just got real" made me crack up, too; just barely snuck that by the censors, didn't they? :) And one of the ponies on the Ponyville team looked suspiciously like Lightning Dust at first — turns out it wasn't her, though. Wouldn't that have been something? I still hope we've not seen the last of that mare; her story has not been told yet.
Elsewhere: discussion in broniesaremagic. Episode follow-up on EqD.