Monday, August 13, 2012

London 2012

I have never been to an Olympic Games, so when it was going to be held in one of my “home” towns, it was a great opportunity to make the most of it. We planned our Summer Holidays accordingly, and the hunt for tickets began.

I was late off the mark, and didn’t get any from the first ballot. As time passed, and availability remained tight, I at least managed to get some “golden seats” via my travel agent in Dubai. He had 4 tickets for Athletics on the night the Men’s 100m final was to be run. One of the highlights of any Olympics, I grabbed those tickets feeling satisfied that we would at least see something.

As time passed and I tried all the contacts I could, via a friend of a friend, I suddenly had access to a wider variety of tickets. We got Gymnastics and Fencing (top of our list as these are sports my kids play), Diving, Cycling and Archery.

On arrival to London, we breezed through the airport like we never have before. There was so much talk about how busy London would get and how the airports would need to have extra staff to manage. I think that Heathrow Airport did their part, but the huge crowds that were supposed to descend upon London didn’t seem to materialise.

The main roads in London were marked with special lanes for official vehicles. Also set up in the anticipation of overwhelming traffic, they served well to upset the taxi drivers in town. The few taxi rides I took in the early days of the games all gave the drivers a chance to share their annoyance at the games and the confusing rules about special lanes. The official Olympic BMW’s were stealing their trade and the official lanes causing them undue fines.

Olympic Lanes were kept free from regular traffic

It wasn’t only the taxi drivers though. Hotels, restaurants, theaters and shops … all complaining that business was down. It seemed that the English press and organisers had done too good a job of convincing people to stay away, but for those of us there, it was a blessing. Central London was not heaving like a usual summer, and the space around was a welcome break, and so was the convenience of public transport.

Our venues were spread around London and we managed to use just about every mode of London’s public transport. The tube to North Greenwich. A taxi from there to the Excel Center. The DLR back home. Bicycles to Lord’s Cricket Ground (for the Archery) and of course the excellent “Javelin” from Kings Cross to the Olympic Park in just 7 minutes (and a bus from Kings Cross to get back home). I don’t know if its normal for all Olympic Games, but all inclusive travel passes were provided and included with games tickets … a great convenience and incentive to ensure people used them. They were so much quieter than usual days in London, and it was almost a pleasure. I liked this London.

The Javelin

A lot had to do with this lack of crowds, A lot had to do with general superb organization around the city by the planning committee, but also so much credit had to go the Volunteers. There were so many champions at London 2012, and the Volunteers have to be included in that. Everywhere we went, on every mode of transport. In the streets and in and around the venues, the volunteers were around. They were well trained and well informed and all sharing their fantastic mood … and it was contagious. Each and every one of them had put their heart into this, and that was what made the London spirit during the games so appealing.

In general, my preferred sport as a spectator is football, but during these games that was relegated to a lowly position. The Olympics is a celebration of all sports and for spectators it is a chance to see and learn about those sports you might otherwise not follow. From the combative sports of Fencing, Taekwondo, Judo, Wrestling and Boxing, to Beach Volleyball, Dressage, Water Polo and Synchronised Swimming .. this is a chance to broaden horizons and see the wide talents that hard working sports men and women have. And all of these sports were held at amazing venues and stadia. The North Greenwich Arena was home to Gymnastics, Wembley to Football. Wimbledon for Tennis. Lords to Archery. The heart of London around Buckingham Palace saw Triathlons and the Olympic Park hosted the new Olympic Stadium for Athletics, the Velodrome for track cycling, the Aquatics Center, the Basketball court, the showjumping arena, the rowing and so much more. Al of these full to capacity and buzzing with a superb atmosphere. The mostly local crowd was of course partisan to the hugely successful Team GB, but also cheered on everyone who participated. All victories were celebrated along with valiant efforts that didn’t receive medal honours. Maybe it is all clichéd, but everyone showed true sportsman like behaviour.

The Olympic Stadium - the centre piece of the Olympic Park

The amazing Olympic stadium. Packed to capacity and anticipating the Men's 100m final

As a spectator in these crowds, I learned a lot myself. I learned that, despite the atmosphere, some sports are better to see on TV and some, most definitely, need to be witnessed live. Archery is a clear example of this. We saw the team finals in a day that saw sunshine, wind and rain, and only in those conditions can you appreciate how hard accuracy is to achieve. Similarly, its only in person that you can appreciate the sheer distance the arrow has to fly. The men's 100m final, over in the blink of an eye, but generates a roar in the Olympic Stadium that simply cannot be replicated or appreciated on TV at home. Fencing jousts in person bring a new dimension to the sport and lead you to realise the focus needed by each player. For more technical sports like Artistic Gymnastics and Diving, I can see the benefit of expert commentators on TV talking you through each performance as real benefit, but either way, experiencing the games like this was an experience of a lifetime.

Tremendous action at the Fencing

So after discussing the sports, it brings us to the athletes themselves. It was a time of heroes. The greats came and continued to conquer. Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps being the obvious ones. Others came as great hopes and also delivered, including Andy Murray in Tennis and David Rudisha with a new World Record in the 800m race. And then there were the dream stories. Those amazing tales of athletes who came from nowhere to win gold, when even participating would have been unthinkable not long ago. Those tremendous stories of bravery, courage and perseverance of people who went against all odds and succeeded at the very highest levels. As much as we all respect those tremendous athletes who win consistent medals and break records, as much as they achieve and gain their own (well deserved fame), the Olympic spirit is about these wondrous tales. It is those stories that give people hope and drive and inspiration.

That man again ... celebrating after retaining his 100m title.

And a commiserating word has to be given to those who worked so hard and came so close. As much as we can say "its the taking part that counts", there was heartache and perhaps even injustice in some cases, and there were many a tear of sorrow shed during these games as there were tears of joy.

Fortunately, for Team GB, many of the more positive and astonishing stories emerged this incredible team and their performances. Ending their home games with a record 29 gold medals … far exceeding their best ever performance in Beijing 4 years ago and also exceeding their own wildest expectations.

Bradley Wiggins started it all off following his Tour de France victory, he came in as one of Britain's hopefuls and didn’t fail to deliver. Andy Murray won the tennis at Wimbledon for the first time. The lovely and diminutive Jessica Ennis ran home in style on the 400m to complete an outstanding Heptathlon win. Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton hung up their cycles with numerous more victories and handed the baton to a very promising Laura Trott (who it emerges had a collapsed lung as a child and was in a struggle for her life, let alone brandishing hopes and thoughts of Olympc glory). Mo Farah won over hearts with incredible displays of perseverance and drive in both the 5K and 10K athletics. The Brownlee brothers took 1st and 3rd in a grueling Triathlon. Debutant Charlotte Dujardin shocked all with a gold medal in the Individual Dressage, and in the fnal days, you Nicola Adams and Jade Jones won their Boxing and Taekwondo gold medals. Both were surprises, but both came as a result of unbelievable dedication and hard work. Two of the loveliest people. Modest and down to earth, their smiles of joy were contagious every time you saw them speak on their post victory interviews.

Sir Chris Hoy leading the field

This has been an Olympic Games and a summer I will remember for many years to come. All those magical moments and winning smiles will stay with me and I hope they motivate further generations to come.

We all caught "Bolt Fever" and became honorary Jamaicans
... at least for one evening

Well done London !

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