Attending an event at the Olympic games is one those things that, on top of going to enjoy live sport, you do partly just to be able to say that you were there. It’s a story to someday tell the grandkids, or something to tick off the bucket list. I’m generally not into sports. I don’t play them and I don’t watch them, until the Olympics come around every two years and I inexplicably find myself glued to the television for two weeks. I haven’t attended a live sporting event since a handful of Blue Bomber football games back in the 1990s but now I’m living in London and the Olympics were coming to town and I was on a mission for Olympic tickets.
Getting Olympic tickets did turn out to be a bit of a mission. The Olympics are a hot ticket and for anyone on a budget the competition for the high demand limited cheaper, reasonably priced seats can be tough. Events which include finals are more than double the price of preliminary events and the top ticket prices for the most popular events are more than slightly outside my budget (such as up to £725 for the athletics session with the men’s 100 metre race and up to £2012 (!!!) for the opening ceremonies). I spent several hours wrestling with and cursing out the frustrating online ticket booking system which generally involves stalking the website until tickets become available, adding tickets to your shopping basket, requesting the tickets and being placed in a long virtual queue, waiting, and waiting, only to finally be met with a message to tell you that the tickets are no longer available, followed by more cursing. I was, however, and able to grab some tickets for beach volleyball and an athletics session, I was going to the games!
I had several “eek, I’m at the Olympics!” moments during the beach volleyball session. Beach Volleyball is being held at Horse Guards Parade in central London. The historical parade ground was the site of jousting tournaments in medieval times and is now where the pageantry of Trooping the Colour (the ceremony to commemorate the Queen’s birthday) takes places each year. For the Olympics the site has been transformed into a beach, complete with dance troupe dressed in vintage bathing suits entertaining the crowd. It is a lovely setting and the surrounding buildings provide a picturesque backdrop with the entrance reached by walking up the Olympic flag-lined Mall (the road which leads to Buckingham Palace). The beach volleyball session which my boyfriend and I attended was during the preliminary stages of the competition and included two women’s games and two men’s games. Great Britain wasn’t playing and so, in true British fashion, the crowd cheered on the underdogs. The crowd was predominantly British but there was a good representation of flags from around the world (I had fun playing spot the maple leafs). It was a fun time watching amazing athletes smash volleyballs about in their swimsuits, although the crowd’s enthusiasm for the Mexican wave got a bit tiring after the 25th go round, and I wish I hadn’t eaten that entire bag of Cadbury’s chocolate buttons so early in the morning.
As excited as I was about beach volleyball I was even more looking forward to watching athletics in the Olympic Stadium. The athletics session which we attended included two women’s heptathlon events (long jump and javelin), pole vault, steeplechase heats, and men’s 100 and 400 metre heats. My conclusions after watching these events are that the steeplechase looks like a form of torture, pole vault is scary and it’s quite cool watching the world’s fastest men race. Oh, and Usain Bolt looks much smaller in person, especially through my binoculars from my stadium seat up with the pigeons. I did miss the close-up view and insightful commentary that you get when watching athletics on the television at home. As several different events happen simultaneously it was confusing to follow at times (especially as I kept getting distracted and gazing at the Olympic cauldron .. yep, the flame is still burning) but it was very exciting to be there. The day that we were at the Olympic Park was the busiest of the games and the sprawling Olympic Park was packed with people donning flags worn as capes around their shoulders. After queuing for pizza, ice cream, the free water tap, the loo and to enter the Olympic megastore, I was feeling a bit queue-ed out. That said, the crowds were extremely well managed considering there was over 200,000 people in the park. Visiting Olympic Park itself is an event and after watching the athletics we spent several hours wandering the grounds (and waiting in queues). The Olympic Park in East London spans over 2.5 square km over what was once industrial land and is now home to eight venues, the athlete’s village, lots and lots of food stands, sponsor tents and, most importantly, the world’s largest McDonalds. There is also a considerable amount of green space incorporated into the site with walking trails and art pieces.
It has been an exciting time to be in London from cheering on the Olympic torchbearer when the torch relay passed through my London neighbourhood, watching the men’s road cycling in West London, watching events being screened live in Hyde Park, and watching the opening ceremonies on television at home in southeast London and being able to hear the spectacular fireworks display as the entire London sky lit up with bursts of colour. There’s an energy and buzz about town which reminds me of the excitement when Winnipeg hosted the Pan Am Games in 1999. Even for London, a city which is used to hosting international events and is always brimming with business visitors and tourists from around the world, hosting the Olympics is a big deal.
It’s been fantastic to see the Brits get behind their athletes and the enthusiasm is contagious. As I’ve been exposed almost exclusively to British media I know much more about the Team GB athletes than I do about Team Canada and find myself cheering on the Team GB athletes as if they were my own. Almost. As much as I was rooting for GB’s Jessica Ennis along with the predominantly British crowd during the heptathlon (who erupted into a roar of cheers and applause at her every move), I knew there was something missing from my sense of excitement. I could never be quite as excited for GB’s Jessica Ennis as I would be if the Olympics were being held in Canada and I was cheering on a Canadian heptathlete along with a Canadian crowd. After the athletics we watched some track cycling on one of the live big screens in the Olympic Park. One of the races was a heat between the GB and Canadian teams. As the crowd went wild cheering for Team GB I found myself feeling a bit annoyed that they were cheering against the Canadians! So I cheered on Canada, quietly, by myself. I tried to convince my British boyfriend to defect and cheer with me, but he wasn't having it. You can take the girl out of Canada, but it will always be Team Canada for me.
Being in London during the Olympics and attending two Olympic events has been an epic experience that I won’t soon forget, and I can’t wait to tell my grandkids about it.