Sunday, September 09, 2012

The London 2012 Games – a personal commentary

I know others have written about this, and more eloquently too, but I just wanted to capture my thoughts on what it’s felt like to have been in the great city of London throughout the Olympics and Paralympics. I’m one of those who’s always wanted to be here (job situation aside). The mere thought of leaving the city because of the expected influx of tourists and resultant chaos never even crossed my mind. I mean, seriously? Leave London and voluntarily miss out on being a part of the greatest Olympic Games ever? Are you loco?

Up until June, I didn’t expect to be watching any events live.

Then the boyfriend managed to get us tickets for (men’s) beach volleyball, the event which seemed to be constantly adding new seats, and, which, thanks to the wonderful atmosphere led by the amazing X-Factor/Britain’s Got Talent (I forget which) commentator, rapidly turned into the place to be once the Olympics got underway.

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Men’s Beach Volleyball Quarterfinals – Germany vs. Brazil (Germany won)

Once I’d started working, and it became clear that I’d, at the very least, be gainfully employed until mid-September, I started trying to get more tickets, battling with one of the worst websites I’d ever had the misfortune to come across. I stayed up four nights in a row in an attempt to get tickets to either gymnastics or any event in the Olympic Park. As chances grew increasingly slim as more and more people decided they wanted to go, I decided on a back-up and got myself a pair of tickets to what turned out to be the best event I attended, if not the best live experience of my life – Paralympics athletics on 6-September-12, what turned out to be a fantastic day for Team GB aka Thriller Thursday.

To cut a long story short, I got tickets to men’s Olympic hockey an hour or so after I got the athletics tickets, and also snagged tickets to women’s wheelchair basketball (qualifiers and quarterfinals). I ended up giving the wheelchair basketball qualifiers tickets to my brother as he hadn’t yet had a chance to go, and the qualifiers were being held in the Olympic Park, while the quarterfinals were in Greenwich, which made me feel like a very good sister indeed.

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Nightfall at the Riverbank Arena (where the hockey games were held)

Where am I going with this? Bear with me.

The atmosphere at each and every one of the Games venues I attended was amazing, regardless of whether it was raining (as it did on the day of the beach volleyball) and how crowded and busy it was (which it always was). Volunteers (or Gamesmakers, as they’re known), emergency services, troops which had been called up to help with security following the G4S debacle… they were all happy and friendly. Everyone attending the Games was just as smiley and genuinely grateful and appreciative of the efforts put in by the athletes and everyone helping out. It was just so unreal to be in places where everyone was just so happy.

What was even more unreal was the effect on London. I don’t think there’s ever been a time when the British have ever felt this British before. I’ve not seen levels of patriotism to this extent in all my years here. And it’s amazing.

Of course, as a Londoner, it’s rubbed off on me too. I’ve been rooting for Team GB since the beginning – very unusual when you see how I feel about the England football team – and it’s been awesome. I’m proud to be a Londoner, I’m proud to be almost-British, and, yes, I’ve shed a tear or sixteen just watching the sheer joy and ecstasy on the athletes’ faces when they’re up on the podium.

Now, on to that magical night just a few days ago, otherwise known as the Paralympics Athletics equivalent of Olympics Athletics’ Super Saturday when Team GB won three gold medals through Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford.

This time around, it was the turn of Hannah Cockroft, the legendary David Weir and Britain’s golden boy Jonnie Peacock to capture the hearts and minds of the capacity crowd at the Olympic Stadium. I don’t think I’ll be able to do the atmosphere justice, other than to say that it was magical, and that every time I heard God Save The Queen being played and the flag of Britain being raised, my eyes got a little watery. Having the opportunity to be there and yell my heart out in support of Jonnie Peacock’s world-record-breaking run during the 100m – T44 final and David Weir winning his third gold in the 800m – T54 final by a whisker… it was just amazing.

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David Weir on his victory lap

And guess what? I was sitting 11 rows from the front. Yes. 11 rows. My tenacity paid off in spades. I didn’t even realise it until I walked into the Stadium too.

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Jonnie Peacock on his victory lap

(I’d missed out on Hannah Cockroft as I also had tickets for the Orbit during the event and had to run off to use them. The view of the sunset over the stadium was incredible and I returned in time to watch her collecting her gold medal, so I’m not too sad.)

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View of the Olympic Stadium from the ArcelorMittal Orbit

The London 2012 Games are drawing to a close tonight. And I feel sad, because it’s been such a great period for not just London, but Britain, and I don’t want it to end. We’ve shown the world just so friendly we can be, we’ve definitely shown everyone that, yes, there are beating hearts beneath the stiff upper-lip front that is so stereotypically British, and, best of all, the Games have shown the British what it feels like to be genuinely proud of who we are. (Yes, I include myself here.)

To sum up, well done to the Olympic and Paralympic organisers, especially to Lord Coe who led this from start to end, and to all of the volunteers and emergency services. I dearly wished I could have been a Gamesmaker, but I’m glad to still played my part in making these games great as an enthusiastic and vocal supporter.

How long this fantastic feeling will last is difficult to say. The problems which have plagued Europe haven’t gone away, so I personally think we’ll be lucky if this great feeling lasts more than a few weeks.

Still, this whole Games has far exceeded my expectations, and I honestly hope that its legacy continues to be one to be proud of.

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