We had organised our own triathlon down to London, clutching our £35 hockey tickets. We paced the drive, the walk and the tube stages perfectly, with smooth changeovers. The threatened 60 minute queue through security into the Olympic Park took a world record 3 minutes (including a frisk, but no urine samples).
We flowed with the rivers of people into the park; posing and clicking in front of the Olympic Stadium. The whole place had the feel of a theme park – complete with those icons of modern consumerism, Coca Cola; McDonalds and coloured recycle bins.
Our safety and enjoyment was efficiently organised with teams of pink-coloured enthusiasts, shouting orders on megaphones like dinner-ladies in the playground or sergeant majors on parade. “Keep to the left – have your tickets ready”. “It you don’t have a ticket you won’t be admitted.” “Not unless you can describe the rules of handball and name the leading scorer for the South Korean water-polo team”.
It felt more like a tourist day-out than and serious international sporting event. We admired the collection of stadia, much as we would admire the monuments of ancient Athens, Each one beautifully designed, impeccably constructed and oozing with imagination. And 90% green to boot. Some of them will be recycled. Not the velodrome, we hear. That will just be cycled.
We spend a couple of hours shuffling round the park. It was impossible to get close to, or inside the stadium, which was a shame. By my calculation, few of them were in use that day – no cycling, no basketball, no water polo and nothing in the main stadium. They were still clearing up the grass, NHS beds and remains of Paul McCartney’s career following the opening ceremony. And security is security.
So we were able to admire it, but not touch it. But more beautiful were the gorgeous displays of wild flowers by the riverside park. Stunning colours and patterns, beyond the capability of any artist, architect and engineer apart from the master designer himself. One lady was taking photos of the flowers without any Olympic stadium in the background at all. Crazy!
The ladies with us wanted to shop for authentic Olympic merchandise. So we joined the 800m mega-store queue. An interesting event this one. Only the final 400m is run in lanes. For those of us well-practised in zig-zagging unnecessarily for airport security or passport control, this was familiar territory. It was the first half which proved more challenging. The queue was too long to fit between the ribbons, and had somehow mysteriously extended itself into closely packed zig-zags without the aid of barriers. We walked between imaginary lines, nobody breaking rank or cheating. We British know how to queue. This was no ordinary queuing, this was Olympic Queuing. And the team gold was in the bag.
Also in the bag, as we exited the shop 30 minutes later were two Olympic t-shirts, two Olympic posters, one Olympic water bottle, one Olympic flag and one Olympic t-towel. Shopping is another event the British excel in. We are uniquely able to fight through the crowds and buy things we don’t really want at extortionate prices, pacing ourselves to the finishing line of the checkout with consummate ease.
Then, somewhere out there, we heard, there were some proper games going on. A game of hockey had broken out. So we strolled over to the Riverside Stadium do some spectating.
Hockey was not – you will be shocked to hear – our first choice sport. Mrs B had a promising career as a hockey player in her youth, despite her left-handedness in what is a purely right-handed sport. That was in the days of the offside rule, non-continuous play and short pleated skirts. My memory of the only other hockey game I had watched was stood on the touchline shouting encouragement with the man who was to become my father-in-law.
No matter, I had printed off the rules from the BBC web-site. A goal is cored when the ball passes between the posts and under the cross-bar. A point is awarded for each goal. The team with the most points wins. So hockey players are basically footballers with sticks and smaller balls.
We took our seats in a packed stadium. By an amazing stroke of good fortune, we were just a few rows in front of the four loud blokes with brass instruments. They were here to stoke up our excitement and enthusiasm. Which, is of course what the Olympic Games seem to have become “all about”. The spectators lining the roads for the cycling, the crowds roaring the rowers to “row harder”. And here the band and the PA announcer encouraging us to be encouraging.
We knew none of the players nor the finer points of hockey tactics. Yet within minutes we were berating the experienced international referee (or is it the umpire) for failing to award a foul to the GB team. No matter how little we know; we are to be partisan, patriotic, enthusiastic and – apparently – loud. And throw out a few choice terms – peloton is my favourite – in the pretence that we understand the finer technicalities of that particular sport. I would like to see more appreciation of the technicalities and skill rather than the personalities and facial hair arrangements.
So we shouted and sang as prompted. Although shouting “Go GeeBee” made me feel more like a cheerleader than a proper supporter. It is hard to mentally encompass Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and all of the various territories in my patriotism, when I am used to simply barracking England. But then, this wasn’t cynical, morose, sarcastic, bitter-and-twisted England supporting, This was a different event altogether. This was open-minded, happy-clappy, pseudo-American GB supporting. The result hardly mattered. It was 2-2 against South Africa. And they had a Dutch umpire. So that wasn’t fair.
News came in that GB had won their first Golds with Bradley, Heather and Helen. The crowd whooped and cheered and we waved our flags. We were true supporters, not stay-at-home-watch-it-on-TV supporters. No matter that the medals were being won in some distant locations across London. We were there. We were part of the success.
This blogger does veer towards the cynical and critical. But in all fairness, to be so of this day would be churlish. It was – I have to admit – a fantastic day out. I could be picky, but that would betray the spirit of the whole thing. It was well-staged, well-attended and everyone was well-behaved.
Yes, it is only sport, and it was only a 70 minute game of hockey in a qualifying group stage, which we drew. But it was a unique experience. We did the London 2012 Olympic Games. And as I agreed with my 18 year old son – neither of will ever be able to do this again. There are too many other countries now. It’s hard to believe any of them could create a better venue or a better event. And certainly none of them can organise crowds and freestyle-queue like we do.