Monday, September 10, 2012

Olympic Hangover

OK, it's long past time to get my political rantings off the top of the docket here. Guess what else has been going on?

I must confess to being completely ignorant of the location of the 2012 Summer Games when we moved over here in 2009. Like most Americans, I pay attention to the Olympics during the two-week period they're in progress and pretty much not at all the rest of the time. And the Paralympics? Forget it. However, living in the host city does make the Olympic/Paralympic experience pretty much inescapable. For the 12 months leading up to 23 July, most of the water cooler gossip re London 2012 focused on what an utter and complete disaster it was going to be. People made plans to leave town (or the country, in the case of one of my American friends), or work from home for the entire duration of the Games. People complained about not getting tickets (quite rightly in alot of cases), and about how the dedicated traffic lanes all over the city were going to make what is, on a good day, a horrific traffic situation into a scene from Lovecraft's darkest nightmares. The Tube was going to be jam packed, the trains wouldn't be able to handle the increased demand, Stratford was going to become a running of the bulls without any outlet.

None of this was particularly encouraging, but even less encouraging were the reports of people spending up to 6 hours in line to get through Customs and Immigration at Heathrow. After hearing this, we decided that our usual summer trip back to the States might be better saved for Christmas, and we hunkered down and prepared for the worst.

In the ticket sweepstakes, we were completely shut out in the initial and secondary rounds of sales. But, lucky corporate hangers-on that we are, Himself's company had some internal options for getting tickets, and LOCOG opened up sales again in the month before the Opening Ceremonies to get rid of unsold tickets. By the start of the Games we had secured tickets to the Women's Road Race on the first weekend, a session of Rowing at Eton Dorney, and a full day up at the Olympic Park for Paralympic swimming and track cycling.

We started off the Olympic experience four days after moving into our new house, by getting to see the Olympic Torch float down the Thames in the Queen's Barge from the end of our new road.

The next day we went to Richmond Park to watch the men speed by on their way back in to the finish of the men's road race, with a few interesting fashion statements to keep us entertained.


On Sunday morning, we got up, looked outside at the beautiful sunshine and promptly set off for Box Hill sans any kind of wet weather gear at all. What is usually a 2+ hour journey to go 26 miles, ended up being a 45 min easy trip to the course. Sadly, by the time we arrived, it was pouring, but we huddled under some trees and managed to both chalk up the course with encouragement for the riders (using locally sourced chalk!), and have a grand time watching the ladies speed by (the rain did stop before the race came through, so all was well).
Tuesday's trip to the rowing threatened precipitation, but managed to hold off until we were headed out. I began seriously considering taking up rowing again, then smacked myself about the head and neck until I was forced to concede that there really is no way I can suddenly find an extra five hours in my day. Sadly... Again, the transportation issues that were direly predicted failed to materialize, so the Brits found themselves with one less thing to shake their heads about.
After all of that, I personally was feeling a bit Olympic-ed out. So we took some time off from actually physically attending any events, and instead glued ourselves to the TV to keep updated. The next week, the girls were in drama camp, so Ironman and I sneaked into Hyde Park on our own to watch the men's triathlon.
Two hours, some amazing racing, and two British medals later, it was time to head home. We watched the rest of the action on TV, and then had a week or so to relax before the next athletic extravaganza.

It was very interesting being in a different country for the Olympics. Maybe it's just because the Games were here, but people were so excited about it. And not just because the British athletes absolutely exceeded any and all expectations in terms of medals - folks were truly excited and happy when anyone did well. And equally unimpressed when the athletes dropped the ball (i.e. some of the badminton players). The Games came up in every conversation I had over the two weeks period. In the States, it's generally assumed that the Americans are going to do well in everything. Track and field (aka athletics if you're here), swimming (OK, Michael Phelps is pretty damn impressive), basketball (maybe not so much anymore), gymnastics (of course!). Maybe Atlanta and LA felt the same to residents during their Games, I don't know. But this was something special.

One of my favorite Olympic story: Gemma Gibbons, who won a silver medal in Judo, scraped onto the Olympic team by the skin of her teeth. I believe she only made it to the Games because the host city can pull some strings. She was ranked 42 in the world, and she ended up with a silver medal. Anyone who says there isn't a home crowd advantage is nuts (and wasn't in Hyde Park watching the Brownlee brothers destroy their competition).

Before the last two weeks, I'd never seen a Paralympic event on TV. I'm pretty sure I wasn't aware that they occured right after the Olympic Games finished before last year, when I raised some money for ParalympicGB by riding my bike across the country. We went up to the Olympic Park on the first day of the Paralympic Games and saw a session of swimming and then some track cycling. What an incredibly humbling experience - there's nothing like watching someone with one arm and no legs swim 100 meters faster then you do on a good day to get ride of your First World Problem griping. It was absolutely amazing to see how different swimmers with different disabilities adapted the various swimming strokes. Some of the adaptations were pretty clunky and ungraceful, but holy shit could they get down the pool.

And then we went to the Velodrome. First off: the building is shaped like a Pringle, with the same arching swoop to the roof. Second of all: you have to enter through what is basically an airlock, and you can't go in if there's a race on because the change in air currents might affect the riders. The more you know, right?
We saw the men's 1K time trial, a bunch of pursuit races and then, the crowning glory of my day: the bronze and gold medal races for the women's 3K pursuit.

So, there's this British woman who's kind of good at Paralympic track cycling. And Paralympic road racing. And Paralympic swimming. And able-bodied track racing - she almost made the women's team pursuit for the Olympic Games this year. Last year, I managed to stay with Sarah Storey for a whole 5 minutes during RAB, mostly because she blew past me in her World Champion jersey and then got stuck at a stop light. But on this particular day, I got to see her win the first of what would end up being 4 gold medals during this Paralympic Games.

That was it for us on the London 2012 events, although I did watch a bunch more swimming, some wheelchair basketball and some athleticson the telly. The whole almost month long extravaganza was truly a once in a lifetime experience. And, now that things are over, Londoners can go back to complaining when "the trains don't run as well as they did during the Olympics."