Well, that was that then. The 30th Olympiad of the modern era is over. All of the finals of London 2012 have been played and the last medal has been awarded, as tradition dictates, to the winner of the Mens Marathon. The musical extravaganza of the closing ceremony is complete, the cauldron has been extinguished, and the Olympic flame is on its way to Rio de Janerio.
Personally I’ve never really been a big fan of any kind of sport. I played a bit of basketball, football and rugby for my school teams and even dabbled in a bit of cricket and badminton – all mostly due to pressure from teachers – but seemingly like so many others here in the UK I have become obsessed with sports of all kinds over the last two weeks. When London was first awarded the games seven years ago, I was definitely in the ‘why bother, what a waste of money’ camp. The very next day the city was rocked by one of the worst terrorist attacks this country had ever seen, and that only served to prove how pointless it all seemed.
I wasn’t even a dad back then – although the bun was in the oven – I was working full time and we were in the middle of rebuilding our house. Seven months later our daughter arrived and our attentions obviously focused on her. We promptly forgot all about the Olympics, apart from the odd news report saying how much it would cost and how it would never be finished on time. Bejing came and went with barely a mention in our house – having a two year old around meant it was the least of our concerns. As the London games drew nearer, we started to get a bit more interested in the whole thing – I think the turning point for me was hearing that film director Danny Boyle was going to be in charge of the opening ceremony and that he’d brought Underworld on board to handle the music. We entered into the ticket ‘lottery’ to see if we could experience the once in a lifetime event firsthand and applied for three sessions. We were extremely lucky to get one of them, for the athletics on the penultimate night. The excitement was building.
Ever since that wonderfully flamboyant opening ceremony, I have become a different man. I have been obsessively watching the excellent BBC coverage. I’ve no idea how the coverage of the Bejing Olympics was handled, but the BBC had every single event available to watch live. Their satellite offering had a simple interface with which you could choose each stream as it became available. Terrestrial viewers had three channels running all day to choose from (and only sometimes did they have the same event on), and there were highlights in 3D played out overnight. But it was the website that really excelled. The three main channels where streamed live allowing you to watch the action on your phone on the way to the office. Every session was also available to stream at any time, night or day, with helpful chapter markers enabling you to skip to any major point in the video. I ended up running a lot of the video on my iPad, watching the Velodrome action whilst working away on my computer, switching my attention from one screen to the other when sprinters made their lightning moves, and then back to the London 2012 website to try and snag some extra tickets as they became available – unfortunately with no luck.
The two weeks waiting for our turn to join the thousands of spectators were almost unbearable. Even though the cycling road race and time trials came within a few miles of my house, other commitments prevented me for seeing them, which only added to the frustrations of the wait. I managed to make it along to Hyde Park to watch some of the men’s triathlon event, joining the 200,000 people cheering on Team GB’s Brownlee brothers to Gold and Bronze.
Turns out it was well worth the wait! The Friday finally came around and we excitedly journeyed into London using the free transport travelcard that came with our tickets. It wasn’t just the Olympic venues that have been buzzing with activity over the summer, so we headed to London’s Southbank first where we helped build a giant map of the world from Lego and I spotted a guy in a GeekDad t-shirt also helping out (hello to Peter and his son Declan!). After all the scare mongering of the organisers saying to arrive early, we allowed plenty of time for our journey along the Underground’s Jubilee line to the Olympic Park at Stratford, but it was less busy than many of my journeys to work had been back in the day. The queues to get into the actual park weren’t as bad as we were led to believe either.
I really wasn’t prepared for the shear size of the park – from the main entrance it was a 30 minute walk up to the Velodrome and Hockey arena at the other end. So we decided to sit down by the Aquatics Centre and refuel with an overpriced ice-cream, before exploring the site. The Orbit sculpture looks just as odd in real life as it does on TV. There’s a stunning wild flower meadow surrounding the stadium, full of thousands of daisies, poppies, cornflowers and the like. I wish my garden could look as nice as this bit. The queue to get into the official merchandise shop was longer than the queue for the largest McDonalds in the world – I can’t quite decide whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing! About halfway up the park were the giant video screens where we managed to catch a bit of the BMX finals and an interview with some medalists. Before we knew it, it was almost time for the athletics to begin, so we gave up on the Velodrome and headed back to the stadium, grabbing some good old fish and chips for dinner on the way.
Finding our seats was easy – after getting our exercise for the week climbing up to them – and we had the end of the row too. They were directly behind the 100 metre track and below the TV camera on wires – a great view of the whole stadium and perfect for the pole vault. The atmosphere in the stadium was unlike anything I have ever experienced. I’ve been to many festivals, including Glastonbury several times, and many concerts in stadiums, including a Rolling Stones gig in Twickenham and Oasis at Wembley, but none of them had the same level of excitement that was everywhere around us here. Some guy was interviewing previous medalists down on the track and getting the crowd involved in a bit of ‘which stand is the loudest’ and kicking off the Mexican waves.
By the time we’d finished our fish and chips it was time for the action to begin. The pole vault was first, followed by heats for the men’s 4×100 relay – unfortunately without Usain Bolt on the Jamaican team. The noise of the crowd reached fever pitch as the athletes rounded the last bend and the Jamaicans cruised to victory, closely followed by the British team – who unfortunately were later disqualified for a bad changeover. We saw the ‘Blade Runner’ Oscar Pistorius make history by being the first athlete to compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics. I brought a nice zoom lens for my camera especially for the evening and at times I had trouble deciding what to focus on – the pole vault, the hammer, or the runners on the track. Turns out some of the best stuff is the things that you don’t usually see on the TV coverage. The hammers (and the shot, discus and javelins) are all returned to the athletes in radio controlled mini Mini Coopers, operated by some of the 70,000 games maker volunteers – had I known this could be part of their job, I would have definitely applied!
We spotted another great geeky gadget as the victorious world record breaking US women’s 4×100 relay team did their lap of honour – they were followed by a cameraperson with a steadicam attached directly to a Seqway! Instead of handlebars, the operator simply moved the camera rig around to activate the wheels. Later in the women’s 4×400 relay race, Team GB’s home advantage came to the forefront as the race drew a close. The noise reached such an incredible level as they all ran down the home straight and if volume was all it took to win a race then they would have placed much higher than fifth. I can only imagine what it must have been like when Mo Farah or Jess Ennis won their golds!
I was a bit disappointed that Team GB didn’t win any medals on the night we were at the stadium, but it couldn’t dampen the excitement of the evening. All of the negative press in the build up was forgotten, replaced by the upmost respect for all of the athletes involved in the games – especially for Team GB‘s outstanding performance – not to mention all of the organisers, volunteers and staff that have made the London 2012 games the best I’ve ever experienced. As the streets of London return to normal and every nation has a renewed patriotic pride in the accomplishments of their athletes, I hope we can carry this feeling forward and build upon it over the next four years, so that by the time the 2016 Olympics start in Rio the whole world is ready to run faster, jump higher and be stronger than ever before!
I’m starting to save for my tickets now, unless I blow it all on the memorabilia auction first.