Ok I admit it; I’ll hold up my hands and say I wasn’t looking forward to the Olympics. I had swallowed all the pessimistic (typical) British media about the Olympics causing chaos and much expense to my home city, so much so I had gone so far as to book a flight out of here the day they started. I couldn’t care less about the fact that London was going to be at the center of the world’s attention and I am ashamed to say I had no interest in Team GB and their potential (and I thought unlikely) success.
And then the games started. As I watched the Opening Ceremony at an airport hotel, something in me was moved. I began to register what a massive spectacle was about to take place in MY London and was suitably impressed when it looked like we were going to pull it off.
From Greece, the land that created the Games, I began to take interest in the sporting achievements taking place in their current home, particularly when the gold medals started rolling in for the host country.
Luckily my Australian (poor thing!) boyfriend had been less apathetic than me when Olympic tickets went on sale and had managed to get us into the women’s basketball. The day we arrived back from Greece was Team GB’s magic Saturday. As I marveled at Mo Farah and welled up at Jess Ennis from my sofa a trickle of excitement about visiting the Olympic Park began to tickle me. The next day we headed to Stratford, and as we entered the Olympic Park not only was I in awe at the organization and construction of the site, but also I was completely charmed by everyone who was working there. I’ve been impressed, educated, even awed by London before, but never has it charmed me.
“That’s a lovely smile you have there, keep it up for the Games”, was the first words spoken to me by a volunteer at the gates. A person who was not being paid to say that, not even being paid to be there, but appeared to be thoroughly enjoying his experience and taking to his new job with gusto. Travel and entrance to the park was smooth, smoother than a standard rush hour commute, and far cheaper too – a travelcard was included with Olympic ticket purchases. We passed security swiftly with the assistance of friendly Air Force officers. The crowds were assisted to their specific venues by uniformed volunteers, all of who were singing songs, leading chants and reveling in their 5 minutes of megaphone fame. This one made national news with her dry sense of humour – so very London!
At the basketball venue Union Jacks were flying optimistically. Before the games begun a young presenter began warming up the already tepid crowd, encouraging sing alongs and Mexican Waves. The match was intense and fast paced and the entertainment never stopped. A combination of competitive sport, music, commentary, sound effects and a thoroughly engaged audience, electrified the atmosphere. (Check out what the half time act could do with a skipping rope here.)
I now need to dedicate a paragraph to the toilets because they were frankly remarkable. Remarkable for being clean and plenty and regularly available. This is not a difficult status to achieve but it is something we seem to have miserably failed on at every other public event I have attended in the UK.
There was one major issue with the park though, and it was crucial one, as it involved seeing the sports. It seems the Olympic Park organizers forgot to order TV screens. In the centre of the park there was ‘Park Live’, a British Airways sponsored section with giant screens displaying the latest match and medals. And that was all. Nowhere else in the park could you see what was happening elsewhere in the Games. As transfer time between the different event venues and the central park was at least 10 minutes this left us in the unfortunate position of peering between the railings of the basketball venue in the hope of catching a glimpse of Bolt running the 100 metres on the big screen. Fortunately I happened to spot someone waving an iPad in the air and live streaming the race. Except the live streaming had a slight delay so we heard the roar of the athletic spectators in the stadium long before Bolt won the race on the iPad screen, this being a situation where every second really does count!
But didn’t the athletes do well. There is no need to mention Team GB’s best performance in over 100 years, but I can’t help it, so I just did. The home advantage certainly seemed to be true for us. So many nations can be proud of their athletes achievements – Grenada were so proud of Kirani James bringing home their first gold they announced a national holiday (Yay Grenada!). Aside from the medals many of the athletes won me over by their attitude and demeanor. As the BBC presenters stuck microphones in the faces of young athletes seconds after defeat or disqualification as well as record breaking, there was every opportunity for something to go horribly wrong. And yet time and time again I was bowled over by their eloquent explanations and inspirational determination.
The London 2012 slogan was ‘Inspire a Generation’ and this it did on every level. The winners, the losers, the volunteers and the organisers have not only inspired a generation but for a brief moment they restored London’s pride and reminded even the most pessimistic of us that Britain can be great. This cynic hopes that feeling lasts for longer than the Games..
What was the international perspective of London 2012? Are there any more reformed Londoners in the same boat as me?
(For more pictures of my Olympic experience visit facebook.com/40before30)