The Olympics Diary – Day Three – The Fast and The Furious

Fourteen years ago to the day I stood in front of my close friends and family and agreed to wed the Current Mrs Fuller. Despite her claims yesterday that going to watch the Tennis at Wimbledon was the “best day of her life”, it was a day full of fantastic memories for me and one I look back on every 1st August with fondness. Every year we try to celebrate it in a different location. In recent years we have had the excitement of a day on Barry Island, the canals of Birmingham and even a trip to see Cardiff City v Valencia. I know how to spoil a girl.

But this year what better way to celebrate our XIV Anniversary than a trip to the Olympic Park to get our daily fill of history. The ticket gods had been kind to us and we had manage to snaffle a couple of Water Polo tickets to go with our Handball ones (many thanks to the Daggers Diary team who had procured those for us last year).

Handball – now there is a game I would love to see more of in this country. I had been lucky enough during my time spent in Copenhagen to see the game played first hand in one of the best domestic leagues in the world and had loved watching the fast flowing game. I may have been slightly swayed in my admiration for the game by the fact the two teams I watched were young, female and blonde but even so it was a great event. Hopefully the packed arena in the Olympics will kick-start an increased interest for the sport in this country.

Water Polo on the other hand I had no idea what to expect, neither did any of the Fuller girls. I must have looked convincing when I told the Littlest Fuller’s that the game was basically Handball played on inflatables in the pool. They believed me and an idea for a new Olympic sport formulated in my head. Everyone I spoke to about the game told me it was “nasty”….The girls had seen a couple of games on Monday afternoon and confirmed that the female version was in no way ladylike.

An early start saw us drop the Littlest Fullers off at their child minders before we made the very easy journey to the OIympic Park via the DLR from Woolwich Arsenal. It seems this was the route into the park that the public ignored because every time we used it it was empty. Just over thirty minutes from leaving the house we were walking through security into the Park and heading for the Copperbox.

Wednesday 1st August 2012 – Handball
The original plan for the venue was to call it the Handball Arena. Simple really, but then some marketing guru decided it wasn’t “hip” enough and remarked it looked like a “Copper Box” and the name stuck. Quite where you would see a copper box is a different matter but so be it. The Box is a 7,000 structure which will be the only indoor arena that will remain after the games. Interestingly enough, the original plan for the park was to have 4 indoor arenas – Handball, Basketball, Fencing and Volleyball. With costs and space becoming ever-increasing issues, the Fencing one was shelved whilst the Volleyball was moved across town to Earls Court.

The venue also has a legacy when it was announced yesterday that in 2014 the Arena would be the new home of the London Lions Basketball team who, in a massive sense of irony would be relocating from Milton Keynes..I’m sure that fact wont be lost on AFC Wimbledon fans.

One factor you do not realise until you get in the Park is the sheer size of it. Despite passing through security at 9.30am it still took a further 15 minutes to reach the venue and by the time we arrived queues had started to build outside for those hoping for a chance to buy a “returned ticket”. This process had started on Saturday morning but wasn’t being publicised. Tickets were offered for as little as £1 for unsold and returned tickets for events in the Basketball Arena, Copper Box and Water Polo. Basically you got to a venue and as people left and they were able to “reclaim” their tickets, they were sold on a first come, first serve basis to people waiting. A great idea but its implementation failed as there wasn’t a willingness to get people leaving to give up their tickets.

By the time we got into the Arena Norway were already well up on South Korea. They reigning Olympic champions were certainly fit in more ways than one, throwing the ball around the court. The atmosphere was fantastic with a full house (of course bar our Olympic Family friends) including a fair contingent of Norwegians who were fully behind their side. At half time the Koreans had pulled themselves back into the game and led 15-13. The star of the game was undoubtably Norway’s Linn Jorum Sulland who was not only pleasing on the eye but seemed to score every time she had a shot. Her figures (no, not those although 32-24-30 if you want to know) were an impressive 11 goals from 14 shots – a record any Golden Boot winner would be proud of.

The second half was a real see-saw with the lead changing hands on almost every attack. With less than 2 minutes to go the Norwegians held a two point lead but then the South Koreans staged a come back and drew level with just 33 seconds left. Norway had one last chance and were given a free-kick (well a free-throw). The Koreans formed a wall and successfully kept the ball out to take a point.

Game two was just as good to watch with dark horses for the tournament, Montenegro, taking on rank outsiders (further rank than Team GB) Angola. Amazingly in this game the Africans, the only country from the continent playing in the competition, led Montenegro until the twenty-fifth minute and even went in at half time one point ahead. The star of their team was Azenaide Carlos, the Angolan number seven who spent most of the game standing very still in the corner of the court. She simply went unnoticed by the Montenegrin defence until the ball finally found its way to her where she slammed the ball home. Seven goals from ten shots was a great return. The Europeans slowly started pulling away on the fifty minute mark and eventually ran out 30-25 winners.

Few people had left their seats and both games had been a great advert for the game. In fact the two winning sides would go on to compete for the Olympic Gold medal. Nice work Dan to getting the tickets!

More pictures from the games can be found here.

After coming out of the Arena we headed for the Megastore, buying various over priced items for the girls (“Well, it’s a once in a lifetime thing isn’t it?”) and then sought out some lunch. We shared a table with a few chaps who had travelled down from Hereford with only Park tickets. They, like everyone else we spoke to, were having a fantastic time and it seemed that nobody had a bad word to say about the Games – well apart from the ticketing. People had brought laptops into the Park and were frantically trying to find a ticket to any event just yards away from venues where rows of empty seats were still very evident.

Wednesday 1st August 2012 – Water Polo
I wasn’t too bothered about seeing Water Polo until I read about events in Melbourne in 1956. “Fists flew and the blood flowed” was the headline in the New York Times, reporting on the game between Hungary and the Soviet Union. To this day it is still referred to as the “biggest brawl in Olympic history” and hostilities had actually started on the long-boat journey down under. That was enough to get me really excited.

The Water Polo arena is one of those that after the games will be taken down, with bits being used all over the world. Imagine a Donor Card for stadiums and you have the idea. The 5,000 seater arena was certainly impressive, with its inflatable roof looking like a massive lilo. As we took our seats high up in the banked seats we saw a few familiar faces – in fact five people from work including the lady trying to do the Decathlon (ten different events), Lucie Allen as well as Twitter’s finest Jamie Cutteridge and David Dickson. “What are the odds” I said to CMF – well not that high actually as apparently I had shouted across the office as soon as the tickets “popped up” on my special Olympic tickets monitor as well as Tweeting about it.

The first match saw the Hungarians take on the Chinese. The Europeans are the most successful Water Polo nation in the world with 9 Olympic Gold medals and were highly fancied for this tournament (they would eventually finish in 4th place, losing the Bronze medal game to Australia). As the teams emerged it look promising – 26 women in swimsuits marching out and then disrobing. On second thoughts I will put my eyes back in their sockets. Some of the players were definitely built for this physical game.

The game starts with a water version of Dodgeball – the whistle blows and both teams swim like mad for the ball floating in the middle. The team that gets there first has possession. To say it is a game constantly dominated by foul play is an understatement. The first whistle blew after 9 seconds, the first 20 second exclusion was given after 55 seconds. By the end of the first period of 8 minutes, five players had been excluded as China had a 3-1 lead.

The pattern continued throughout the game. I’m sure the skill is all in staying afloat whilst your opponent tries every trick to stop you playing – and bear in mind we can only really see what is happening ABOVE the water – God knows what is happening underneath it! With all the splashing around it was hard to actually make out the ball most of the time, but it became evident that the Chinese were the better side. Unfortunately they had a habit of hitting the bar (six times in the game) and this inaccuracies allowed the Hungarians to recover the points deficit and draw level in the last quarter. That final 8 minutes was a real game of aqua cat and mouse with only two goals scored – the most important one by Barbara Bujka (not the shy retiring type at over 85 kilos) with less than two minutes to go to win the game for the Hungarians.

Game two saw the Soviets take on the Italians. There was no Catenaccio on display in this game from the Azzuri as they were blown away by the might of the Russians. This started as a real cagey affair, with both sides playing like Spain (in the football sense), throwing the ball along their back line. At half time the Russians only led 2-1 but a third period hatrick by defender Ekarerina Lisunova put them out of sight of the Italians finally winning 7-4.

More photos from the Water Polo can be found here.

So what a cracking day it had been. Our original hope would be to find a third event to watch but it was not to be. We had seen two sports that we would normally never get to see in this country and enjoyed them both. It been a great anniversary and who knows where next year would take us (Rugby League World Cup in Leigh perhaps?).

Next up – Day Four and a visit to Earls Court for some Volleyball.

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