Thursday, August 02, 2012

Loving the 'Lympics

Suddenly everyone loves the Olympics. I think Tony Parsons summed it up best when he said: "Sneering at the Olympics is like sneering at Christmas... Time to stop synchronised moaning."

Stadium arcadium: Olympics happen here
As a fairly recent ex-resident of the Olympic borough of Hackney, and having the council tax Olympic surcharges to prove it, I have to say that I was always up for it. And not just for the regenerative powers of the Games. I think the jury is still out on that anyway, and I never really bought that idea that the stretch of the River Lea that is now Olympic Park needed saving. Yes, it was a bit wild, but it was a fascinating, and unique urban wilderness, which many people loved. I can understand why they were opposed to seeing it going. Hopefully the new Queen Elizabeth Park will be something equally unique, although very different of course.

No, the real reason I was up for the Olympics is pure, unadulterated excitement about the Games. Nothing this big has ever arrived on my doorstep before. Who wouldn't be excited? Well, Iain Sinclair obviously, although he's had plenty of column inches, a new book and ongoing art projects out of it. He can't be anything but excited, if only at the negative potential of the whole enterprise... if that makes sense.

Anyway, seven years after London won the bid, more than a year after applying for tickets, and a few days after Danny Boyle's jaw-dropping opening ceremony, it was our turn to head to the Olympic Park for a morning session of ladies basketball. To be honest, it could have been a crack of dawn liaison with the Outer Mongolian shove halfpenny B team, I didn't care - we were in!
Go Team GB: no.1 fan

Luckily we went on a beautifully sunny day when even crappy old Stratford couldn't help but look gorgeous. We turned up suitably early, aware of all the stories of security-induced queuing hell. As it happened, entry to the park was slick and painless.

Smiling volunteers with large pink foam hands pointed the way from Stratford station to the park, and a one way system ensured an easy crowd flow. Everyone looked so happy that I was on the verge of tears. The Olympic volunteers will probably be the stars of the show. They were so keen and eager to please that they created a great impression. There was obviously a lot of pride on their part in being involved.

Troops were on the airport style security gates and got everybody through without fuss and with a smile and a joke. Job done!

Once inside you are hit by the size of the place. Everything is on a vast scale, with walks between venues taking up to half an hour, according to signs. The McDonald's is the biggest in the world*, and the stadia are huge. At the same time, the gardens have been planted with lots of lovely wild flowers that don't require gallons of water - ironic given the summer we've had.

Hoop dreams: the basketball arena
I knew little about basketball but the event itself was great entertainment. Expecting a fairly serious and sterile event, I was surprised to be given the full NBA experience with a garrulous American MC explaining what was going on, interviewing fans and generally geeing everybody up. There were practically no empty seats apart from the regulation Olympic family benches, where about a tenth were occupied.

We took out four year old, who seemed to enjoy himself. It was a gamble, and I'm not sure how much he'll remember in years to come, but at least I won't have to answer for his absence when he asks about it - unlike his two year old brother who we left with Nana. He made it through one and a half games of basketball, which is pretty good I think, even if he probably found the tipping seats more fun than anything. By the end of the day he was exhausted and slept all the way home on the train (cheap tickets to encourage people to leave the car at home - they've thought of everything).

Mascots meet: Wenlock, or is it Mandeville?
The next day we went to archery at Lords without a child in tow. It was another great day, and left me wishing I'd got more tickets. Still I guess we're lucky to have got something as lots of people missed out completely. Luckily the TV coverage is excellent, but if any corporate sponsors need a body to fill a seat, I'm very available... athletics, cycling, gymnastics, handball, synchronised swimming. Anything accepted.

Verdict on London 2012: don't believe the cynics... if you can find any.

* A word on McDonald's. There's plenty to dislike about them, and I know it's controversial to have a fast food outfit associating itself with elite performance, but logistically it's hard to see who else could have handled it - Jimmy's Farm? All of the smaller food and drink stands were out of their main selling point (no pretzels at Pretzels R Us; ditto Churros and Coffee, Waffle stand, and anything cakey - this was at elevenses, before the lunch time rush started. Glad we took sandwiches.) The Golden Arches was rammed at lunch time, but it had a system in place that was serving the masses pretty damn quickly and the prices were on a par with what you'd pay in the high street. Also, it had its crack four-star staff serving, and not the work experiencers of some of the other stands. We even got a seat. When you're wrangling a rapidly tiring four-year old, sometimes it's the only thing that will do.