Oh what a night!

Published on 05. Aug, 2012 by in Holiday, Olympics, Wendy

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I haven’t blogged for an age now (although there have been many half-posts that sit in the drafts section along the way) but right now I am sufficiently caught up in the moment that I wanted to record how I feel right now so I can look back in future years and remember this experience. This comes with a health warning though: it’s a very long one!

What has shaken me out of my silence and compelled me to write? You guessed it: Olympic fever!

As I write I am (once again) on the train. But unlike my commutes of past times, I am now sat in First Class, early on a Sunday morning, on the way to pick up Millie and Harry from their Grandma and Grandad Turner. Wendy and I are at the end of 3 days of Hastie Olympic madness where we have seen a selection of sports many of which in no other context would we have decided to buy tickets to watch. Combined with the children being safely deposited at their wonderful Grandparents (all having a wail of a time by the sound of our phone conversations and Skype!) our 3 days of Olympics fun, staying in a hotel in London to add to the experience, have been incredible.

Over the three days of Thursday, Friday and Saturday, we have seen a session of swimming, the womens all-round gymnastics final, beach volleyball and rounded it all off with one of the most phenomenal nights in recent British Olympic history, at the Olympic Stadium, watching the athletics.

Being just over half way through the games, with one week left to go, my overriding thoughts are that they have been a phenomenal success so far. London and UK should be proud of the how smoothly everything has run. Everyone is friendly and helpful (not something that is commonly associated with London) and the whole logistics and process of transporting, handling, and checking the masses arriving to and leaving from the many Olympic venues each day has been incredibly efficient. Of course the credit goes largely to the organisers, but two other special groups should not be forgotten as they are both doing a fantastic job. Without the general good spirits and friendliness of the volunteers along with the unswerving professionalism of the Armed Forces, the experience would not be the same.

Personally, the experience of watching this array of sports, combined with having a substantial period of grown-up time with my lovely wife has made me very happy. While it seems we have been very lucky to have tickets to all these events, in fact we were no luckier than most others in the Olympic ballot, as we managed to secure only a couple of sessions that were very low priority on the (very long) list that we requested. However, listening to the press mentioning European websites selling the tickets (with only a small handling fee on top of face value) we had soon amassed a few more tickets to some excellent events.

Gymnastics – suitably pink!

Of all the events that we have seen, only swimming disappointed, and I think that may largely have been because my expectations were high. The pool and the venue were incredible, I think what was missing was the fact that our session contained only heats: no finals or semi-finals. And however much you want to applaud the taking part, and recognise the achievement of the athletes given their personal circumstances, watching 10 minutes of a lady from Djibouti completing the 800m freestyle is not compelling viewing. Nonetheless, there were highlights, and I can now say I have seen Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin, and Rebecca Addlington swim (and they’re all pretty good at it actually).

Since that first session of the swimming, I have loved everything else. Gymnastics was truly incredible, seeing ladies, many of them only children, performing such incredible feats of athleticism, strength, balance and grace was awe inspiring. If ever there was a sport that I knew I would never have been able to do, gymnastics is it (oh, and climbing). Beach volleyball was also amazing although probably not for the obvious reasons that the dirty old men amongst you are currently sniggering at like school boys. Instead, it was the carnival atmosphere of the whole sport that captured my imagination, and ramped up my enjoyment. Added to this was the realisation that this really was a sporting event, and some of the athleticism, skill and reaction times that the athletes were demonstrating were the result of many hours training and dedication.

Beach volleyball – a true sport!

As our days have gone by what has added to the experience of hosting an Olympics is how successful Team GB have been. Currently third in the medal table, with a level of dominance in cycling and rowing that governing associations should attempt to emulate in other sports, it has been compelling to watch session after session peppered with British medals. Whether the feel-good factor of hosting the games would be quite the same without the success is a question that we will never definitively know the answer to, but could make a decent guess at. Whatever they teach you at school, taking part is important, but it is succeeding that really makes the difference.

Nothing encapsulated this more than the final session of our Olympic extravaganza, in the athletics stadium last night, Super Saturday. I have been fortunate enough to go to some big stadiums and to witness some incredible sporting events but nothing has ever compared to the atmosphere and crescendo of being in the Olympic stadium last night.

We had fantastic seats (they weren’t cheap) that were about 30m from the long jump pit, where we knew two British athletes were competing in the final. What we didn’t expect was that one of them would win gold, and that every time the other jumped it also felt like he had a real chance. To see a British Gold being achieved in an event we were not expected to win was very special.

But not quite as special as the incredible 800m that Jessica Ennis ran to secure her Heptathlon gold medal. I am not an expert in the 800m or heptathlon, and many wiser people will write many wiser words than I possibly could. But to see her kick in, in the last 200m and storm past the field, as the crowd was on their feet literally screaming her home to a personal best and a completely dominant gold medal was breathtaking. The pressure that she has had to endure as the poster girl of the games is something that we cannot possibly imagine as non-athletes. But she was the poster girl for a reason, because she had proven herself to be world class, and able to deal with that pressure. Her achievements throughout the seven events were beyond compare. The release of emotion during the victory ceremony, at the very end of the night, was palpable, the majority of the 80,000 people in the stadium swelling with pride.

The calm before the gold rush storm

And just when we were revelling in the shared joy of watching two Team GB golds, along came Mo Farah. For me this was the pinnacle. 10,000m is a long event. The world record is over 26 minutes. But that is what made it so incredible to watch, 25 laps around the stadium, building gradually, until the noise in the final two laps was deafening. During the last 400m where Mo kicked in and dug out a significant lead, I don’t think I have ever screamed so much and so loudly at a live sporting event and yet been so unheard in the cacophony of noise. The shouts, cheers and beaming smiles are something that will live with me for a very very long time. Words cannot describe that atmosphere (even though I have written many here!) I just wish I could have bottled it and taken it with me to open at later times when I needed to be perked up and reminded about all that could be good in sport!

For me, last night was everything that was good about sport. Everyone knows that I love football, but in so many ways witnessing last night felt so much better, so much rawer. This was not about money or egos, fame or fortune, this was people doing the event that they loved, to compete, to win, to be the best in their chosen sport that they possibly could. There are many things that they could teach footballers.

The whole few days have felt like a proper holiday. Partially this has been having time away from the children although everyone knows how special they are to us. While we have missed them a lot, it is also lovely to have some time away from the routines that come with the territory, and knowing that they have been having a truly lovely time with their Grandma and Grandad makes their absence considerably easier. And for the first time since starting Onside Analysis, I feel like I have managed to properly escape work for a few days, letting go of trying to sort the bits and pieces and all the concerns that come with owning and running a business.

Maybe that is why there were so many smiles last night. Of course, as mentioned above, a key factor has been the success of the British team and the ability to punch above their weight. On the other hand, if we get philosophical and question the more general benefit of sport to the human race, one very important consideration must be the escapism it provides. Marvelling at humans competing at the very boundaries of their physical capabilities and succeeding gives us a feeling of collective enjoyment; shared experiences and belonging. By seeing something so removed from the experiences of regular daily life we can live in the moment and forget everything else.

In a time of economic recession, when many people are struggling this should not be undervalued. The Olympics may not directly increase the economy in the ways anticipated when the city bid for the games (it appears the greater tourism spend is not really materialising) but the intangible feel-good factor will undoubtedly have an effect. Personally, I strongly believe that not everything should be translated into monetary terms, and while the investment and cost of hosting the games may outweigh the overall income in both the short and long term, I am so glad that I have had this life experience of witnessing a host nation games.

Fortunately, there is a week still to go. And in that week I’ll be lucky enough to see some more athletics, some basketball and some boxing, and I just can’t wait. But could it possibly surpass how I feel about the games right now? I doubt it!

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