Thursday, 30 August 2012

My Olympic Experience

Abominably late - very sorry. I'm trying to type this as I'm watching the opening ceremony for the Paralympic Games. Paralympics GB have just arrived in the stadium and I really can't put this post off for any longer.

Well, yes, I can delay it even more as it is clear that I wasn't able to finish this post last night. Well, here you go. 

The sixteen days of the Olympic Games have shown that London really did step up to the plate and produce a spectacular show. Much like many other people across the country, I'm left wondering what the hell I'm supposed to for the next month before I go back to uni. I've just had a massive overdose of the best sporting events in the world, and now I want more.

I was a supporter of London hosting the Olympics all along. Some people have moaned that we don't have the money to host the Games and we'll only damage ourselves further, but I was always an optimist about it. Yes, the Copyright Cops may have been out in full force and there was much speculation before the Games started about whether the London transport system would be able to cope, but I always viewed such criticism as silly, typically British attempts to put down the Olympics before it even started. Well, it didn't work. We delivered and our Games will be remembered for years to come.

Besides watching avidly in front of my television (and laptop) screen, I haven't had much direct interaction with the Olympics. I've been watching my friends post on Facebook pictures of themselves dressed in their volunteer outfits, looking like they're having the time of their lives, but it had never really occurred to me to apply to do the same. I really wish now that I had.

My first real direct contact with the Olympics was during the torch relay the day before the opening ceremony. The torch had made it's way to the London Borough where I live, but we hadn't gone out to see it. On Thursday 26 July, the torch was going through Fulham amongst other places and the office where I was undertaking my placement had decided to make an office-trip of it and have lunch too.

My crappy photo of the flame
I admit to being very surprised by how many people lined the streets of North End Road. Everyone in the office makes a joke of how awful the area is (we had headed down the nicer end for lunch) and it seemed like everyone and their mother had emerged into the sunshine to get their glimpse. People crammed the streets six-to-eight deep, shifting ever-further into the road as the police and open-topped lorries made their way down the road. I spotted three stepladders from my vantage point and there was hardly anyone who didn't have their arms held aloft, phone or camera in the air trying to get a clear shot. It helped that it was a beautiful day and not only was the enthusiasm palpable, but also infectious. It took ages for the whole parade to make its way past and the actual flame to arrive. It was very cool to see. I had been in London four years ago when the Olympic flame for Beijing 2008 had made its way through the country and that was something to see with the huge mascots running alongside the flame. This was completely different and definitely something special. My glimpse of the flame may have only been fleeting and my pictures terrible, but it was worth seeing and experiencing. London may have hosted the Olympics more times than any other city, but I don't think that we'll be seeing it again in my lifetime (or at least while I'm young enough to enjoy it as I can) and so it was good to get in the crowds as the country rejoiced.

Lunch was at the Cock Tavern which was fabulous. I had the Piggledy Pie which consisted of filo pastry, jersey royals and spinach, mash and honey-roast vegetables. It's a huge place and we sat out in the beer garden which seems so secluded you'd be fooled into thinking that you were nowhere near London.

On the second Monday of the Games, we went out to Hyde Park to watch some of the action on the big screens. We had tried to get some last minute tickets for the day after the original fiasco about empty seats, but there were just too many people trying.

It took hours to get into Hyde Park itself and in front the screens. We had got off the bus at Hyde Park Corner to walk and hadn't anticipated how long the walk would actually take. It must have taken something like twenty minutes from getting off the bus before we finally got through security and into the park itself. From there, we still had to walk at least five minutes as the main screen was located furthest away from the entrance. More than enough exercise for the day, as if we hadn't walked enough as it was.

Once we got there, it was definitely worth it. We'd just missed Beth Tweddle's bronze-medal winning performance on the uneven bars but the men's vault was still showing. The crowds were immense and it was really jaw-dropping to see how many people had turned out to be a part of the Games.

Just as it started to rain, Gary Vincent from Magic 105.4 appeared on stage with three of four of the men's gold-winning pursuit team. From left to right: Gary Vincent, Steven Burke, Ed Clancy and Geraint Thomas. The roar of applause when they came out was unbelievable. The people standing in front of the screen as shown in the photo are those with 'special tickets' or passes or something with BT. The rest of us had to stand behind the barriers that can be seen at the bottom of the picture. Everyone crowded as close as they could to the front and seeing their medals and hearing them talk about their performance and Olympic experience was a real, unexpected bonus.

Just as the special guests were leaving, the heavens closed and the sun showed its face again. The screens began to show the jump-off between Team GB and the Netherlands for the gold medal in team show jumping. I'm not particularly into equestrian events, but boy did I and everyone else in Hyde Park really go for it. There were collective gasps every time a Team GB athlete cleared each jump and an even bigger one when they finished each round. I'm not proud of it, but I admit to cheering when a Netherlands rider would knock down a fence; I wasn’t the only one. The cheer wasn't as loud as for the GB athletes, but you could definitely hear it and people would look around guiltily afterwards as if they hadn’t been in control of what was coming out of their mouth’s at the time. I’d never thought that show jumping could be so riveting.

I am sad that the Olympics are over because I don’t imagine that I will have the time to watch as much of the Paralympics that I would like. Sad as it is, there is a lot less attention and focus on the Paralympics; although its standing has increased in past years and London Paralympics 2012 promises to be bigger and better than ever, it still doesn’t have quite the same clout as the Olympics. I would like to have got more involved than I did: applying for tickets or volunteering my time. It’s the country and people that have really made these Games and here's to hoping that it will be one of the best Games in history for the rest of the Games to come!

Bring it on, Rio!

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