It’s been a wild ride! Reflecting on my London Olympics experience
Today, Londoners woke up with an Olympic hangover. And yes, while plenty may have been nursing an alcohol-related hangover, for most of us it’s a different kind – a sudden end of an emotional rollercoaster of pride, admiration, joy and bittersweet moments that have dominated the past two weeks.
After years of planning, months of warnings about the transport chaos and lots of rumours about the opening and closing ceremonies, it’s hard to believe the Olympics are actually over. It’s only been a day and yet, I already miss them. Unlike a memorable holiday which you could repeat (although its never the same second time round….), this time there will be no second chances. The London Olympics was the once in a lifetime opportunity for most of us.
Today I, like so many other Londoners, are in mourning, but are also relieved. I don’t think I could take much more, I was emotionally and physically tired. As the Olympics coincided with the visits from two close friends from Australia and Jamaica, I felt compelled to take advantage of both the games being in my city and spending as much time as possible with my friends because who knows how long it would be before I saw them again.
Reflecting on the past 18 days, I laugh at how I’ve transformed into a non-sport watcher to an Olympic obsessive (at least that’s what some of my friends have called me… and I concede, they’re right!). Exactly a year to the day I went to the Olympic Park, I found out I had won tickets to the games through my bank Lloyds TSB. I was excited for sure, but at that point it was more the fact I had actually won something. I said to friends, ‘Oh, I’m not really into sports, but it’ll be good to soak up the atmosphere.’ Now having experienced the games, I am humoured by my former attitude.
It was only a few months before the games, I found out I had won tickets to the men’s hockey. I was pleased, but as I had no knowledge of hockey, I wasn’t quite full of excitement. In the months running up to the Olympics, myself and my friends and colleagues frequently discussed our fears of getting to work after hearing warnings of the special Olympic lanes and congested tubes. Two weeks before the games, I had an email from TFL warning me it could take up to 30 minutes to get on a tube at Victoria – a station I use everyday.
However, when it came to it, the warnings appeared to have scared everyone off. My first morning commuting to work, I actually found it quieter than normal. I knew a lot of people had escaped London over their fears over the Olympic chaos. Of course, stations like Stratford and Wembley were incredibly busy, but thanks to the TFL and games volunteers, the transport system ran smoothly. In fact, TFL, if you’re listening, the whole running the tube until 2am… I’d quite like that to continue!
A few days before the opening ceremony, my first flicker of Olympic fever happened when I went to Crystal Palace Park in south London to watch the torch relay. I watched four different men, including Olympian Marlon Devonish and London Youth Games chairman Anthony Kendall, carrying the torch. Being in the summer holidays, there were a lot of families around, but the giddy excitement of the kids rubbed off on you.
The show kicked off with a stunning spectacle of an opening ceremony by Danny Boyle. As I was not there and only watched it on TV, I won’t linger on it too long, but it made me swell with pride of being British, but most importantly a Londoner. During the day I had been out and about in the capital – by the River Thames and in Covent Garden and buzz and excitement was everywhere. After the show ended, I was suddenly hooked, drawn into the compelling lure of those five rings and knew I had to see as much as possible. Although I worked full-time, doing at least 45 hours a week, I used every moment possible of my spare time to soak up the Olympics (and my visiting friends’ company). I was in my flat only to sleep, getting by on 4 or 5 hours sleep a night and getting through the day with Red Bull.
First thing on the Saturday morning – despite an impending 9 hour night shift later that day, my mother and I headed down to Constitution Hill to watch the Men’s Cycle Race. Just 1km from the finish line at The Mall, we stood with hundreds of people from countries all around the world. Unlike some other sporting events I have seen on TV, there was no rivalry here. Everyone was cheering everyone, regardless of their country and whatever our political history with it. I loved seeing the normally traffic-filled, polluted roads of Hyde Park Corner awash with pedestrians, not cars and trucks, with the drab grey tarmac replaced by the colours of the world’s flags. Ahead of the bikes passing, people hammered on the sidelines with excitement and we did a few Mexican waves. When the cyclists finally arrived, they whizzed past in seconds. The leader was out of our sight in moments, but the crowd showed just as much appreciation for the athletes at the back. The true spirit of the games is to cheer everyone on – the sentiment being most of the spectators and myself could never dream of attempting what they have, so good on them for trying anyway. First isn’t everything.
However, by the Monday, I was ill and had to take two days off work. It was only then, I truly got sucked in! With daytime TV generally being known as bad, I fortunately had the BBC’s excellent coverage to keep me entertained. I particularly enjoyed the men’s synchronised diving and men’s team gymnastics – 10 minutes of edge of your seat tension when 4th place Japan argued over some points and we were were dramatically knocked down from silver to bronze. Every time Team GB won a gold, I was incredibly moved, and am not ashamed to admit I cried a little when Jessica Ennis, Victoria Pendleton and Chris Hoy won gold.
On Friday 3rd August, I finally got into the Olympic Park. Many friends and colleagues were jealous and I acknowledged how lucky I was to get inside it. Other friends who had bought tickets at non-Olympic venues expressed their disappointment they couldn’t get inside the park. My day started with a lovely reception by Lloyds TSB, where my sister and I were presented with our tickets and some souvenirs. We even got to hold a torch – one of the many things which made my day. Heeding warnings from TFL, we opted to go to West Ham. Despite a blissfully sunny morning, the heavens opened with heavy rain when we got there and we got a bit wet. However, by the time we walked the 25 minutes to the entrance of the Olympic Park, it was back to glorious sunshine, which remained for the rest of the day.
Inside the park, I wasn’t quite prepared for the sheer scale. The roar from just outside the Olympic Stadium as we ate our lunch was immense… and infectious. After realising it was a 20 minute walk to the Riverside Arena, we had to do a bit of power walking to get there in time for the hockey match. Once inside, we settled down with bottles of cider to watch Germany play India. We decided to support Germany as we had some relatives there, but both teams were getting equal support. For the second match, we were lucky enough to see our own boys – Team GB play Pakistan. Although we were cheering on GB – of course – I felt sorry for Pakistan supporters being so outnumbered. Whether it was the team’s skills or our rousing support, GB won 4-1, prompting a enthusiastic response from all of us.
After our game ended, we were then free to stay in the Olympic Park. Our attempts to get tickets for an evening session weren’t fruitful, so we settled with watching the swimming and cycling on the big screen by the Velodrome. With the warm sunshine, amazing atmosphere and bottles of cider on sale nearby, it was the perfect day. It sounds a cliché, but I will remember that day so fondly for the rest of my life.
Despite my long day at the Olympic Park – which involved a lot of walking and cheering – which lets face it, takes a lot out of you, I was up bright and early the next morning for the Women’s Triathlon at Hyde Park. Although we just missed the swimming due to the logistics of meeting a big group of friends, we got good viewpoints to cheer on the athletes on the cycling laps, before settling down to watch the running on the big screen in the park. A lot of my friends with me didn’t have tickets to the games, but said they were loving the atmosphere and were so glad they were robbed of their Saturday morning sleep-in.
Afterwards, we moved into BT London Live in Hyde Park – a free festival-like event with big screens, live music, food and drinks and appearances by Olympians. We watched some gymnastics and cycling in the hot sun, again while sipping cider, before going on to wave our flags when gold medallist Bradley Wiggins appeared on stage. Later that day, I went to a BBQ which ended with eating strawberries and cream while watching Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah win golds in the stadium – amazing TV viewing.
Back at work the following week, we had the Olympics on all day, proving a distraction from our job at hand. After working early mornings and long days, every night I was out again – watching Olympics in a pub or on a big screen. I managed to watch events at both Potters Field Park and Blackheath, which made the viewing all the more special, sharing the euphoria with others when Team GB secured another gold. On Monday 6th August, I was lucky enough to be invited to adidasunderground’s party in East London. There were tons of celebrities inside, but the main attraction were the gold medallists in the building, including a newly-minted Jessica Ennis, Bradley Wiggins, Tim Baillie and Etienne Scott. The glow of ‘I finally did it’ could be read on their faces and it was very special to be in the same room of them so soon after they had won gold. I briefly spoke to Jessica and congratulated her on her win and she was very friendly and gracious in reply. I ended up only having about 3 hours sleep before work, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave. The room just oozed brilliance and I hoped it would rub off on me.
After playing the ticket ‘game’ (going through the motions on the official tickets website to find they are unavailable or way too expensive) every day, that so many of us did, I finally got lucky and bought some tickets to the Women’s Semi-Final Basketball. I had made plans with a friend, but I told her we would have to change them and go and watch some basketball instead… unsurprisingly, she jumped at the chance. Although it wasn’t Team GB playing, it was USA V Australia – two places I have lived and worked in in the past. However, I decided to opt for Australia, having lived there for longer, and chose some yellow and green clothes to show my support. Although I was wondering if the Olympic Park spirit spread to the North Greenwich Arena (or O2 Arena to us Londoners), my fears were unfounded. Aussie and Americans are known for being pretty vocal and enthusiastic sports fans so it was great atmosphere as we cheered them on. Although Australia started well, Team USA took control halfway through and ended up winning 86-73.
Afterwards, we took advantage of the early finish to take the Emirates Airline cable car across to ExCel – where the boxing was on. Although a little bumpier than I anticipated and over very quickly, the views were amazing. As you travel over the river, you look over the roof of the O2 Arena and beyond to Canary Wharf and Westminster. I would particularly recommend going near sunset and take your Oyster card – then you don’t need to queue for tickets. Walking to the DLR near the ExCel, we ran into excited Irish fans, having just watched Katie Taylor secure the country’s first gold. After getting the DLR, we then crossed over Tower Bridge – which was adorned with the five Olympic rings. The sunset last Thursday was particularly stunning. As I stood surrounded by tourists from all over the world, I thought, I am so damn lucky to live here. As the sun went down, the Thames came to life like never before with all the bridges lit up to mark the games. Old Billingsgate Market was a beacon of red, white and blue light as the French’s Hospitality House during the games.
So that brings me to my final Olympic experience on the day of the closing ceremony. Despite a hangover and not much sleep (bit of a pattern here with the no sleeping), I dragged myself out of bed to watch the Men’s Marathon. Some friends and I ended up finding a good spot by Monument tube station on Cannon Street. Unlike our London Marathon in April, this one involved three laps, with us being just 3 kilometres from the finish line at The Mall by the final lap. Every single runner was cheered on, but again, our most rapturous applause was saved for our Team GB runners Lee Merrion and Scott Overall. Unfortunately, one runner felt incredibly ill on the final lap and dropped out just beside us. It was quite distressing to see the mix of pain he was in and the disappointment on his face. When he stood up assisted by paramedics to head off for more medical treatment, all of us applauded him for being so brave and inspirational to enter in the first place.
So, last night, I watched the closing ceremony alone on TV as was due to get up for work at 5.30am. I’m very proud to say my godmother was dancing in it and I briefly saw her during the brilliant Pet Shops Boys’ performance. With music being so subjective, I found people divided on Twitter and Facebook. I personally didn’t enjoy the Spice Girls (but never was a fan) and found Liam Gallagher a bit too nasally, but loved George Michael, Ray Davies and The Who.
So waking up today, there’s no rush to flick on the Beeb and catch-up on who is where in the medals table. It’s all over. As we handed over to Rio De Janeiro yesterday, I thought ‘you’ve got a hell of a job on your hands to top this’. And while I am contemplating going back to Rio for the 2016 Games (I visited in 2003 and it is one of my favourite cities in the world), it’ll never be the London Olympics. While I’m a new convert to the excitement and joy of the Olympics, part of my passion for the games was down to being a Londoner. Many doubted us, but the past two weeks was a giant ‘up yours’ to those doubters! Good luck Rio!
- For more Olympic and Paralympic blogs posts read Follow the Wenlocks: Olympic discovery trails around London or They put the Great into Great Britain: Team GB’s victory parade.