Monday, August 06, 2012
Like many people, I have been preparing myself for the London Olympics for seven years; and like what I suspect is a minority of those people, I have been looking forward to it the whole time.
It's just not in me to be cynical about the Olympics. I've devoured every moment since Barcelona '92, which I watched aged 6, and the idea of this festival of endeavour and human emotion coming to my home country was just incredibly exciting. I didn't know, back in 2005, that London would be my home town too, come 2012.
All of this means, of course, that I have watched cynics and non-sports fans alike take to these Games with such enthusiasm with a massive and admittedly smug-tinged smile on my face. I knew it'd be great. I just knew it. We have Danny Boyle to thank for getting things off to such a fun, quirky, clever and dramatic start of course, but since then, the athletes, the organisers and the Beeb have taken up the metaphorically-appropriate baton to create something really rather special. And we're only halfway through.
When tickets first went on sale, I was one of those who missed out entirely, despite applying for what I thought was a judicious mix of the blockbuster and the offbeat. When it came to Round 2, I was up at 6am, texting my complaints to Rachel Burden on 5Live as the site crumbled - but I came out of it with Handball and Basketball tickets. Both games I knew little to nothing about. It didn't matter.
And since then I've been incredibly lucky - my housemates were quick on the draw when another round of tickets were released, and we bagged Archery (at Lord's, for goodness sake) and the table tennis. Then, my good friend Rob offered me a ticket for the athletics stadium itself. As I said; lucky.
My excitement for the Games only wobbled about two weeks ago, when the constant drip feed of travel warnings (threats, almost) started to grate. "Have you thought about walking to work? Why not try cycling? Don't go in the Games Lanes! You should probably watch the road races at home! (That one really annoyed me) Have you planned your travel? Have you? Well, have you?"
But if the purpose of all these messages and warnings was to keep London moving during the Games, well, job done. It's busy, sure, but it's fine. More than fine - it's impressive.
And so to the sport. It was archery first for me, a very civilised start made even more so by the fact that we took a cab to Lord's in the morning sunshine, and hopped out 10 yards from the entrance. The Games Makers were cheerful, the security checks quick and unintrusive - we went from taxi to Lord's bar in 15 minutes flat. It's a beautiful venue - I'll certainly be back for some cricket before long - and archery is a surprisingly entertaining spectator sport; fast-paced and generally closely fought. Fun, basically.
St John's Wood to Docklands is not an inconsiderable journey, but we made it over to ExCel centre in plenty of time for table tennis in the afternoon; a very squished trip on the DLR made more bearable by some lovely views of the new cable car, the Greenwich Arena (aka the O2) and glimpses of the Olympic Park itself.
Again, getting in was straightforward, and the organisation inside - to say there was also judo and boxing going on in the same venue - really good. The event we saw was a new 'Davis Cup' style tournament, with countries competing in singles and doubles rubbers. GB, it has to be said, were utterly out-gunned, and the atmosphere went a little flat as a result. A minor quibble in a day that really meant a lot to me - I'd been to the Olympics. Ruddy hell.
As tens of millions of us have experienced over the weekend, watching the Games on TV has almost been as brilliant as being there live this year. I've barely been able to tear myself away for basic things like shopping and eating - what if I miss another Gold for Team GB? Another heart-breaking failure? Just one more event. Just one more game, then I'll go. What, Murray's on court again in a few minutes? *Orders takeaway*.
Yesterday, my parents travelled down for Handball and we got the Javelin train from St Pancras to get to the Stadium. If anything, it's too quick (I didn't get to point out that cable car!) and we saw more Games Makers than passengers on the way to the platform. "Crowds?" Mum said, "What crowds?"
Well, we found them at the Olympic Park, which now the Athletics has started is basically rammed from about 8am. But again, it was a breeze getting in, and we got 5Live on the radio so that we could listen in to Murray's frankly staggering win against Federer. If you read my love letter to tennis and Andy, you'll appreciate that I was rather delighted about this - he's such a fighter, got such flair, has a beautifully dry sense of humour and... well, Federer has clothes made based on the fact that he's going to win. Murray has tweets of support written on his bag. You get my point.
Handball - aka run-and-score - is a pretty agricultural sport, but heaps of fun to watch (and, I suspect, even more so to play), and you can't help but clap along with We Will Rock You, can you? We chatted to the French guy next to us, checked the athletics results on his girlfriend's phone, and watched Bolt's semi-final on the little monitor down by the judges. Have I used the word 'fun' yet?
To round off the weekend, we headed to the centre of the park to watch the 100m final on the big screen, and there were huge cheers as Bolt finally decided to use his top gear and break the Olympic record. Bolt travelled 100 metres in 9.63 seconds; TFL and the Games organisers got me from the Park to my sofa in 60 minutes. Good going all round, I'd say.