I arrived in London some 4 weeks before the games of the 30th Olympiad kicked off and the excitement during that time was palpable. While many people had reservations about this, that and the next thing, London outdid itself and delivered a spectacular Olympics. Many people called it the best games ever and regardless of how you ‘title’ it, it was an amazing 17 days in an unbelievable city. The transport network held up, there were no breaches of security, team GB did brilliantly and the volunteers were incredibly friendly and helpful. I’d venture so far to say that it was the volunteers who really made these games.
It certainly was a fantastic time to be unemployed and I doubt I’ll ever watch so much Olympic action again. Whether it be on TV (BBC’s coverage was all-encompassing showing every minute of every event live), at the parks (both Hyde and Victoria put up big screens), at the national houses or live at various events, it was pretty much Olympic action from when I woke up to when I went to bed.
(I did “take off” 1 evening to watch Pearl Jam front-man Eddie Vedder, one of my favourite artists, perform his solo work. If you haven’t yet seen the movie “Into the Wild”, definitely do! It’s one of those movies that stays with you long after the credits have rolled and the soundtrack is just incredible.)
Thanks to Storrar and Spiro, I saw 5 events live. While it would have been amazing to watch athletics or swimming, for me the Olympics is about watching sorts you otherwise wouldn’t and I so I was keen to see the ‘random’ sports. The 3 I really wanted to watch were fencing, weightlifting and table tennis and I managed to see 2 of these, only missing out on table tennis unfortunately
The organisers did a fantastic job of explaining the sports, knowing full well that many people would be watching sports they knew nothing about. Inside each venue were poster boards with information about the sport as well as pictures and souvenirs from previous games. Inside the arena, 30 minutes before the action started, videos were played explaining the sport – the rules, the equipment, how the scoring worked and so on so that you knew what was going on by the time action got underway.
My first event was fencing, one of five sports which have been featured at every one of the modern Olympic Games, which I really got into and thoroughly enjoyed. Only the piste (the dueling surface) is lit up and there is dead silence so you can hear the clang of metal on metal as the fencers go at it. I was fortunate to have a ticket for Epee, which is known as the purest form of fencing as both players can score at the same time (hence you need not only to strike your opponent but twist and turn out the way so that you are not simultaneously struck). I was also really fortunate in that it was a medal evening and I so got to watch a gold medal duel and a medal ceremony.
Next up on my agenda was (women’s) indoor volleyball, which was just incredible to watch. The speed of reflex, the agility of players as they dive around … it was brilliant to watch live and the atmosphere was electric. Each session was 2 matches and I saw the Americans defeat the Turks 3-0 with the 1st set being especially tight and exciting, and then the defending champions (and as it turned out the champions here too) Brazil defeat the Croatians quite comfortably 3-0 too.
My volleyball evening was also 100m finals night but thankfully there was a big screen at the venue and so come 9.50, you had the whole crowd exiting the arena and crowding round the TV to watch Lightning Bolt defend his title.
Third on the agenda was weightlifting, the men’s 105kg division, and this too was fantastic to watch live. It’s a lot more tactical than one thinks with regards deciding what weight to come in at. You only have 3 attempts (in total, not per weight) and thus you need to balance lifting at least something with starting out to low. If you cannot lift the weight over 3 attempts, you are disqualified. I was especially keen on seeing weightlifting and I was just so so chuffed I was able to get a ticket!
Next up was perhaps my most random event, women’s freestyle wrestling! In freestyle wrestling, one is able to attack both the upper and lower body (unlike gecko roman where you can only attack from the waist up). Dyl and I were watching the lighter women so they were very agile and quick and it was entertaining to watch. This was one sport I knew absolutely nothing about going in but by the end of it, I was well into it!
Finally, I made it to the Olympic park to watch men’s hockey. Some 3 weeks before, Spiro had asked if I fancied watching hockey with him for 20 pounds – of course! Later he mentioned he would be watching on medal day, seeing 11 vs. 12 and 5 vs. 6 and so I knew I had a god chance of seeing South Africa play as we hadn’t had a good tournament. Spiro confirmed my suspicions, texting 2 days before that we would get to watch South Africa at an Olympics!!
So we were up just after 5am in time for the 8am start and South Africa came to the party, winning an exciting match 3-2 over India. This was our 1st win in 2 Olympics and everyone was justifiably elated. Spiro and I were seen on TV a good few times dancing in our overalls and when we met the players after-wards, they were mingling about just outside the venue chatting to friends and family, they wanted pictures as much with us in our overalls as we did with them. They really appreciated the support and it was very special to be there. Spiro, you legend!
Aside from watching a few events live and spending many days picnicking and watching on the big screens at the parks, we also visited a few national houses. Signe, C (2 Danish friends from my travels) and I were at the Danish house to watch the Denmark – Sweden men’s handball quarterfinal clash, which unfortunately the Danes lost, while myself and a few friends were at the Jamaica House for the 200m clash and the Jamaican 1,2,3.
As you can imagine, the party that night was off the hook with the Red Stripe and rum cocktails flowing. The Jamaicans certainly know how to dance and with the music, the dancing and the drinks, I felt as if I was back in the Caribbean!
I think it’s fair to say the flag has never seen so much continuous daylight! One of the best aspects of the games for me was that everyone had their flags on them. One would not only see many different flags at the events, regardless of whether that country was participating, but also at the parks and just generally round London.
And all too soon, it was all over. Waking up on Monday morning, Aug 13th, with no Olympic action to head too felt very odd and also empty. But it had been the most UNBELIEVABLE 17 days and just a very special time to be in London.