August 8, 2012
Posted in: Forever Cunard
Wow it’s great to be in London at the moment and my wife and I were fortunate enough to be in the Olympic Stadium on Sunday evening to see the Athletics. I just wanted to share with you some of the excitement we encountered and what a fabulous job the whole British Olympics are doing. In the lead up to the Olympics we had the normal scepticism from the press as to whether it would work or not. I was away at the time of the opening ceremony, but thought it was wonderful to see Her Majesty The Queen taking such an active part in the opening ceremony – it reminds us that she does after all have a wonderful sense of humour. Good for her.
The whole experience at the Olympic park is awesome. We took the Jubilee line from London Waterloo to Stratford Station. Everybody on the tube was chatting to each other – that never happens in London – but on this occasion there was so much excitement that we were all going to see the Olympics in our own backyard. The minute we got off the tube we were surrounded by many of the fantastic volunteers in their lovely purple and pink uniforms. We were directed seamlessly the right way to come out into the security area. Every 10 yards or so there would be a different volunteer with a little loudspeaker getting everybody excited and making sure we were going in the right direction. There have been many comments about the security arrangements and the number of staff needed to make it all work. While we were approaching, at a very busy time, as there were many heading towards the main athletic events, I have to tell you that the security was fantastic and more helpful and friendly than any airport I’ve been to recently. Believe it or not, with many thousands of people amongst us, there was no queue to go through security. I had a quick chat with some of the Army boys who had to take over after the embarrassment of the recruitment of security staff – I think we should get the Army to do security on a more regular basis, they knew exactly what they were doing, knew exactly what to look for and did so with a smile – good for them.
And then we were into the Park. Signage is good. It was great to see all the different venues and as you walk along Olympic Way you can hear the cheers coming from the different events. We were lucky enough to be invited for lunch in the hospitality area prior to going into the main event of the evening. Just above the table where we sat for lunch was a lovely big plasma TV screen showing our own Andy Murray beat (in fact thrash) Roger Federer to win a gold medal at Wimbledon. There he was bounding up to hug his coaches and mother – a very emotional moment. Sensibly, the first person he hugged was his girlfriend.
There was so much excitement – I have never been to a major athletics event and so into the stadium we went, full of anticipation. The big event of the night was the 100m Men’s final and there was so much excitement about Usain Bolt. But going to a major athletics event is really impressive. There are events going on the whole time. We saw the medal ceremonies for our own Mo Farah who won gold in the 10,000 metres and Greg Rutherford who won gold in the Long Jump – both British and both had won the previous night. To see the emotion of them come out and stand there to accept their medals and see the Union Jack as we all sang the National Anthem – it was marvellous.
We were so lucky then to see some incredible events:
Mens 400 metres heats – it’s great to be close up and actually see how they prepare for each race. It was also very emotional to see the South African Oscar Pistorius – those of you who don’t know, he is the chap who lost both his legs and is running for the very first time in the Olympics with two artificial blades. Now in his heat he came last. But he came last by a very small margin. In his heat was the current World Champion who after the race went straight up to Pistorius, removed his own shirt and swapped it with Pistorius and there was a massive cheer from the whole stadium as he did that.
At the same time they kicked off the men’s high jump. What you may not know is that in the early rounds of the high jump they run two pits at the same time. They started the high jump first round at a very low 2m 15cm – that’s a lot taller than I am. I think 30 odd went through in the first round, and as the evening went on they ended up with 14 who would go through to the subsequent final. This includes a Brit and each time he jumped there was a major round of clapping in advance and then a huge cheer as he went clear. On the far side of the track we had the women’s triple jump and when you look at that sideways on, they covered a huge length as they hopped, skipped and jumped. Then out came the men for the semi finals of the 100m. The minute they came out the whole atmosphere went electric. These athletes are phenomenal and just watching their warm up is exciting enough. Of course all eyes were on Usain Bolt and in his semi-final he seemed to jog down the track and win very easily.
Then out came the ladies for the 400m final. Of course we were all screaming for Christine Ohuruogu who won the gold medal at the last Olympics and there were high hopes for her again. It was quite remarkable because as they came round the final bend with around 80 metres to go she was nowhere, and yet 80,000 people in the stadium were screaming with encouragement and over the final 80 yards, particularly in the last 10 yards, she cruised past other competitors to make silver and only narrowly missing making the gold.
The seats in the stadium are really comfy – it’s the first time I’ve been to a major stadium where the seats are slightly padded. You could also easily nip out the back to very good toilet facilities and if you wanted a beer, or a pie, or in my case a cup of coffee, the queues were very small and service very friendly
The other thing at the Olympic athletics event is how well the whole atmosphere in the stadium is managed. There is music playing, which adds to the excitement – and happily not just modern music but music that certainly my wife and I recognised and were able to sing along to from time to time. There was also very good commentary provided as to what was going on. The 80,000 were remarkably well behaved as each race, prior to the “on your marks” there was complete silence.
I must tell a story for our British fans which really was rather funny. In one of the heats of the 400 metres there is a British runner with the surname Rooney. Well of course in our world here in the UK the Rooney we all know and love is Wayne Rooney who plays football for Manchester United. The minute the name was mentioned the whole crowd started chanting “Rooney, Rooney, Rooney” as if we were watching a Manchester United football match. The whole stadium quietened down, all the runners were on their blocks and just at the moment before the “on your marks” and in total silence one wag in the crowd screamed out at the top of his voice “Come on Wayne” – well it’s good to hear 80,000 people laugh and the starter had to wait for those laughs to subside. Anyway it was good for this particular Rooney – he ran very well, but did not make the final.
As it got dark it was incredible to see the camera flashes going off around the stadium. And then the moment we had waited for. We were so lucky to be present in what was without question the most dramatic sporting 10 seconds in the past four years. There was huge deal of expectation and watching these incredible athletes come out to warm up was interesting. Most of them looked very serious, very focused and working solely on getting ready for their 10 seconds of brilliance. Most of them that is, apart from Usain Bolt who was smiling, laughing and talking with the crowd around him. The posse of cameras at the far end of the track was quite definitely the largest posse of photographers I have ever seen. They went through the real drama of announcing each of the runners and of course when it came to Usain Bolt everybody looked at him and he came up with one of his wonderful Jamaican faces much to everyone’s pleasure. Then they set down to their blocks to take their positions for the “On your marks”. At that point as we approached silence there was still some chatter going on in the crowd and blow me if Usain Bolt didn’t look up and put his fingers to his lips in a “Shhhh” gesture. So there we were – in London, in a fantastic Olympic stadium, in good company, in complete silence knowing that when the gun went there would be 10 seconds of sheer magic and noise. The gun went. Bolt came out of his blocks a little bit behind the rest of the runners. There was an amazing wall of noise the minute the gun went and an exhilarating feeling around the stadium. By the time he passed us – and we were about 30 yards down the straight – he was just standing up to his full height, but was still a little behind 3 or 4 of the runners. I shifted my eyes to the giant screen to look in more detail and then stood breathless as he screamed past all of them winning by a mile and setting the fastest time in Olympic history. The explosion of noise just continued and sure enough he just stood there in that wonderful famous Usain Bolt pose soaking up the adulation of the crowd. We had just witnessed the 2nd fastest 100 metres in history and a pure magical moment of sport. And then good for him – he did a full lap of the stadium and was laughing and joking and waving to the crowd all the way around. Magic!
It was so exhilarating as we left the stadium, but what would the travel home be like, we wondered. Well, it was quite remarkable, because there must have been 80,000 people leaving just the athletics stadium and at least another 50–100,000 people leaving the park in total. So we walked along in a massive crowd all the time being encouraged and controlled by the many helpful volunteers towards the tube station. I thought at one point – as would be the case at Twickenham after a rugby match – the moving snake would come to a standstill and there would be a long wait. There was none of that – somehow we kept moving, without stopping all the way until we had a seat (yes, actually had a seat) on the tube at Stratford to go back to Waterloo. We did not get home until quite late – but on the train home – it happened again. Normally on a late train out of London, no-one would be talking, everyone would look exhausted. And yet many people on the train had been to the Olympics and were chatting to each other and of course those who had not been were wanting to know what it was like.
So I have to admit to feeling proud to be British. Well done Sebastian Coe. Well done Boris Johnson – London’s Mayor. Well done the many thousands of people who organised such a wonderful event in the London Olympics. And a particular well done to all those volunteers who were doing such a great job in martialing the event – and creating a wonderful Olympic event in London.
Hopefully some of our readers have been to an event or will be going. If not I hope many of you are able to watch on television. I think it’s a real moment for Britain and will give a real lift in terms of pride, which in itself will rub off onto creating more of a feel good factor for the country as a whole.
I am also very pleased to report that my confident prediction that Great Britain would win most of their medals sitting down has proved to be the case. We have won out in Cycling, Rowing, Sailing and Equestrian events. We have also done well in some standing up events, but as I thought, our core competence at the Olympics is winning medals where you sit down – proud to be British.
I hope you don’t mind me sharing my Olympic experience, but I just wanted to.