Legacy is a very popular word at the moment. It has become the political hot potato despite the fact the Games still haven’t finished. During the last week the one legacy I have seen already has been a change in the British people. No longer do we make small talk about the weather, but instead we talk about if we had any tickets for the Olympics. I have no idea what we will talk about next week when the Games have finished but I expect some embarrassing silences before we become comfortably enough to broach meteorology again.
When the question “Did you get any Olympic tickets?” raises his head you get two responses. A “No” will result in an almost patronizing “aahh” and a comment along the lines about the BBC showing all 24 events at the same time, and it’s better to watch Gary Linekar and Gabby Logan anyway. A “Yes” though almost certainly results in a second question…”Anything in the stadium yet?” The simple fact of the matter is that THE Olympics is really all about the events on the track.
Everyone wanted to see events in the stadium. I don’t think it was ever going to hit the heights in terms of jaw-dropping architecture of the Birds Nest Stadium in Beijing or the sheer size of Sydney’s stadium from 2000. The whole embarrassing fuss that has surrounded the future ownership of it has been unwanted and as we enter the final few weeks of its original designed “life” it was still no clearer than it was 3 years ago as to who would be the permanent tenant of the stadium. Bids had been received from West Ham United, Essex County Cricket and an audacious statement to turn the whole park into a Formula 1 track.
In the original ballot for tickets, the events in the stadium were oversubscribed fifty fold, and for some events such as Sunday 5th August when the final of the 100 metres was due to take place then you can times that by a further ten. We had applied for sessions in the original ballot without success, and then again during the “priority” period in May. In what was becoming a familiar pattern, tickets were released just after midnight on Monday 6th August, and I just happened to be in the right place (well, in bed on my iPad) at the right time. I managed to snare 1 single ticket for the events starting in just nine hours.
CMF was asleep next to me. I had to somehow break the news gently to her. I also had to re-arrange my morning work calendar. Fortunately the latter proved relatively easy as I work for similar minded people as me who would (I think) understand and not hold my absence from key budgeting meetings against me. CMF was a different kettle of fish.
So I set my alarm for 6.30am, made her breakfast in bed, woke the Littlest Fuller’s up and then prepared their bags for the rest of the day. “Blimey, what’s all this about” she said to me as I delivered Eggs Benedict to her in bed, “what are you after?”…Well, I could hardly lie and tried to hide my excitement. Whilst she said she wasn’t “upset or angry”, I know a cold shoulder when I feel it. Still, I am sure she would be excited when she saw my photos later on in the evening.
The event I had managed to get tickets for was the 100metres Women’s hurdle heats, Men’s 800 metres heats, Women’s 1500 metres heats and the Men’s Discuss and Women’s Shot Putt. All in a two and a bit hour session. It did mean an early start as I had to pick my ticket up and by 9am I had it in my hand, feeling like Charlie Bucket with his golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory.
At such an early hour the Park looked peaceful. One of the stunning aspects of the Olympic Park is how they have put so much effort into the “overlay”. Wild flowers and rabbits were flourishing in the area around the stadium and it was hard to believe that in just a few hours the Park would be heaving to the tune of around 300,000 spectators.
I took the opportunity to get to the front of the stand, soaking in the atmosphere that was building already. This was one arena where it was almost guaranteed to be a sell out and no ugly sight of empty corporate seats. The Olympic Flame burnt brightly just to my left and I counted down the minutes until the start of the events at 10am.
Monday 6th August 2012 – Track and Field
Proceedings started dead on 10am with the first round of the Men’s Discus taking place right in front of me. This is one of the few events at the Olympics where the women hold a longer Olympic record than the men. Back in 1988 in Seoul East Germany’s Martina Hellman threw the discus 72.30 metres, some four metres at the time further than any man had. This year the favourite was German Robert Harting who hadn’t lost a competition for nearly two years. In his first throw he reached the Final qualifying distance, put his tracksuit on and disappeared back to the Athletes Village (He would later go on to win the Gold and celebrate with a quick lap of hurdling much to the organisers annoyance).
The British hope in the first semi-final was Brett Morse. Unfortunately he failed to reach the required distance in any of his qualifying throws. In fact only six throwers reached the automatic qualifying distance in the semi-finals, although in that elite group was young GB hope Lawrence Okoye.
Whilst this was going on, the first heats in the women’s 100 metres hurdles started. The first set of athletes came out and starting warming up. Anne Zagre of Belgium was in Lane 9 and stripped off, ran towards the first hurdle, smashed straight through it and fell headfirst onto the track. Don’t worry Anne only 90,000 people saw you do that. Surprisingly, she still make it through to the semi-finals. The star of these heats was the Australian Sally Pearson who coasted through her race, winning by nearly half a second.
The great thing about the session was there was always something going on. At the far end of the stadium the women’s shot put semi-final was taking place. The favourite here was New Zealander Valerie Adams. Apparently, the 22 metre plus World Records in both male and female competitions are down to the Newtonian counter-reaction of slamming their foot into the wooden board at the edge of the throwing circle that adds extra energy to their throws. You learn something new every day.
Further track events followed with the 800metre men’s and 1500 women’s heats. For both events, every time a Team GB athlete was announced, the stadium rose as one to applaud them. Even when their performances weren’t stellar, the atmosphere was fantastic. We saw the Brits Laura Weightman, Lisa Dobriskey and Hannah England all make it through in the 1500m and Andrew Osagie from the 800m.
Two hours simply flew past. My seat in the top tier offered a great view of the track events, but the shot put at the far end was almost impossible to really follow. This was taking place where the penalty area would be if this stadium is turned into a football ground, but why let little details get in the way of the megalomaniacal plans of Sullivan and Gold.
The good thing about having my ticket was that in theory I could spend all day in the Olympic Park. The bad thing about buying it at the last minute was that I had to get back to work. Sometimes even being part of history doesn’t cut the mustard when financial year end budgeting is well overdue.
More photos from the morning can be found here.
Next up in our Olympic adventure would be a trip out to Royal Berkshire for the Canoe Sprint at Eton Dornay.