Sunday, July 29, 2012

Let The Games Begin

The crowds gather: Olympic Park

Sports fans

There has been so much press on the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony that it would be completely superfluous for me to add any more. It would also be a bit difficult, since I missed - or didn’t understand - some large chunks of it. No, I couldn’t get tickets (or didn’t want to pay £2000 apiece for the last-minute seats that appeared). But I was within spitting distance, so to speak, of the Stadium. Out at Stratford, where the Westfield company cannily finished a new mega-mall just in time for London 2012, there were a number of hospitality junkets in progress, and we managed to book into one on a roof top with a great view of the Stadium and the crowds of lucky ticket-holders streaming in to enjoy Danny Boyle’s spectacle. Of course, it did start to rain early in proceedings - it would have been disappointing somehow if Britain hadn’t turned on at least a little rain - so we moved indoors. 

Overlooking Olympic Park.
We settled down with a glass of bubbly to watch the Ceremony unfold on television. The screen was small, the sound was poor, and television coverage didn’t start until an hour after proceedings in the arena (“The Prologue”) began. Weirdly, we could actually see one of the big screens in the Stadium itself from where we sat, so we could catch glimpses of the carthorses and geese and bucolic pastorale even though the BBC wasn’t showing us.

From our cheap seats we also experienced the red, white & blue fly-past overhead (very exciting) and the fireworks at various points (nice). But perhaps most excitingly we could see the Queen leap out of the helicopter. Now, for those of you - there must be one or two - who didn’t watch the Opening Ceremony, that will sound surprising. I’ll just leave it at that.

The fireworks begin....

...and really take off.
My favourite moment amongst those I did understand was Sir Simon Rattle conducting the LSO, playing the theme from ‘Chariots of Fire’. But fond as I am of the LSO, it was Rowan Atkinson on ostinato at the back of the band that had me in stitches. It was interesting too to see the role that Mark Rylance relinquished because of a bereavement in his family - that of Islambad Brunel, the Victorian engineer. The part was taken by Kenneth Branagh, and apart from standing about in a top hat looking admiringly at the depressing smoking chimney stacks that despoiled the green and pleasant land, his big moment was to read that very excerpt from Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. The words were fine out of context, but that play does come rather close to the bone on questions of colonialism...perhaps no one noticed. (IMHO, Mark Rylance would have made even such a role ridiculously memorable.)

Showing us her boots...
When the festivities were done and Sir Paul McCartney had begun his closing number, we joined the rest of the early crowd whizzing out to Stratford Station, humming along to “Hey Jude”, and onto the tube for the journey home. It was 1 am, and most of our fellow travellers at this stage were Olly Vollies and performers from the ceremony. One lady in our carriage talked excitedly, indeed at great length, about her stint as an Industrial Revolution-era worker. She even showed us her boots. It’s moments like these...

But what of the sport? I hear you ask. Well, of course the parade of athletes at the Ceremony was a big highlight, if a 1.5 hour-long highlight. We felt the Australian team’s dignified outfits, and the dapper Great Gatsby-styled team USA looked the best. We criticised Team GB’ s ghastly Wacko Jacko, gold-underarm, High Street designed jackets.


Happy Archers - Mexico v Italy

Oh, you mean the actual sports competition? Well yes - we must get on to that. Day One saw us at the Archery, handily located at Lord’s Cricket Ground, just a five minute walk around the corner from home. And what a great afternoon of sport it turned out to be! We watched eight teams play off, then the semis, and the medal finals. We learnt a lot about Archery, the scoring, the timing, the equipment, the concentration. We saw the favourites, South Korea, eliminated from the Gold medal round, though they took home Bronze. The Korean archers were named Im, Kim and Oh. Somewhat amazingly, Im is registered as blind. You’d never have known, as the three of them scored tow rounds of three perfect tens in their heat. Playing for Silver & Gold were the USA and Italy -- in a thrilling nail-biter, the Gold came down to the very last arrow. The Italian archer took his bow, knowing that they needed a perfect ten for Gold, and he calmly shot that ten with two seconds to spare on the clock. Wowsa!


And after a Gold Medal comes...a Medal Ceremony! A little pomp and ceremony, formality, officials, medals, flowers, flag raisings, and the National Anthem, in this case of Italy. So exciting.

The winners! Italy.

What has he got there?

Our first Olympic Archery experience was also enlivened by the discovery, on arrival, that our seats didn’t exist. Yes, they’d sold us Row 7, seats 88 & 89, for £95 each, and then constructed a walkway where the seats should be. I should mention that the Archery course and seating is all a temporary, narrow alley plonked in the middle of the hallowed turf of Lord’s. The usual broad cricket arena would be too wide for Archery. So we waited for a supervisor, who shuffled us around a few times, once into seats where we had no view at all. Cursing him roundly, I went off to find a higher authority, and was assisted by a terribly friendly and helpful Olly Vollie who pointed me at a hidden ticket office about as big as toilet cubicle. There, waiting patiently for us, was an envelope with substitute tickets - for perfectly fine seats. So apart from missing a few arrows and enjoying some righteous indignation, we felt that the matter was resolved.

Go LOCOG - you’re getting it 85% right. 

And congratulations Italy!

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