Saturday, 6 October 2012

Olympic Pride

There have been many, many millions of words written about London 2012; the Olympics, the Paralympics and the all-encompassing 'feelgood' atmosphere which spread across the entire country in the wake of such a fantastic summer of sport.  I guess there isn't much to add, but yet I feel compelled to share my personal experience of being a part of this epic period in our history. 

Despite living abroad for many years, I still feel very proud of my British heritage.  Indeed, I wrote about it here.  My husband and I were thrilled when London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics and planned, all those years ago, to be there to witness the spectacle for ourselves.  Events, however, conspired against us and, when the time came, we found ourselves living and working in Vietnam, 6,000 miles away from the action.  We followed every moment, though, on TV and via the internet. 

We were in Jakarta, Java renewing Mark's visa when the opening ceremony was on.  We set the alarm for 1.30am and sat up all night in our hotel room watching the coverage on ESPN, bemoaning the frequent ad breaks.  We yearned for the BBC and uninterrupted viewing.  We wouldn't have missed it, though, and felt connected to the billions of people all over the world tuning in at the same time.  We felt incredibly proud of London for putting on such an amazing show.

Back at work after our Indonesian trip, we watched the Olympics at every opportunity, the sense of pride building as Team GB racked up the medals and the games progressed with apparently flawless organisation.  We again got up in the middle of the night to watch the closing ceremony and reflected on what a great job London had done.

But that wasn't the end, was it?  We still had the Paralympics to come and, this time, we would be there!!  We were so excited!  When we'd realised months earlier that our visit to the UK would coincide with the Paralympic Games, we immediately looked at when we could be in London and how we could secure tickets.  So it was that we had day passes for the Olympic Park on September 5th and stadium tickets for the morning session of athletics.

Before the day in question dawned, we were up and on our way to Ash station to begin our journey to East London.  It was very early, but we wanted to make the most of our day!  We arrived at East Ham tube station at around 7.15am and, from the moment we stepped off the train, our 'Olympic experience' began.  We were greeted by cheerful 'gamesmakers' who showed us the way to go and wished us a great day at the games.  These smiling faces were a constant as we made the twenty-minute walk to the park and really set the mood for the day!  Once at the park, security checks were also made very pleasant by the presence of these wonderful volunteers.

Inside the Olympic Park, we were struck by how beautiful it was.  The planting of wild flowers, as well as more formally laid out gardens, had softened the overall appearance of the entire complex.  The weather helped, too!!  It was a gloriously sunny day!  We quickly got our bearings - clear signage and helpful gamesmakers were everywhere - and decided to queue for Orbit tickets before entering the stadium for the athletics session.  Orbit is an eye-catching metal structure which dominates the park and affords those who venture to the top of it great views of the stadium and surrounding area. 

Having secured tickets for 2.30pm, we strolled past the massive queues for McDonalds, congratulating ourselves on our foresight at having brought our own food and water bottles which we could refill from any of the convenient water fountains, and entered the stadium.  Emerging from the 'tunnel', we caught our first glimpse of the interior in all its glory and, I have to say, we were blown away by the scale of the place.  We located our seats and sat back to take in the atmosphere.  Mark has visited countless stadia in his life and he concluded that this was the best he'd ever been in - not a bad seat in the entire venue!

Despite the early hour, the place quickly filled up and by the time the athletics got underway, there wasn't a spare seat to be had.  What a fantastic atmosphere!  80,000 people cheering on Paralympic athletes in the heats of the 200m, the 100m relay and the 800m, as well as the finals of the discus and shot putt competitions.  Who would have thought it?!  The commentators who were billing these as the greatest Paralympic Games ever were not overstating the case.  Never before have so many people turned out to watch events such as these!  The global TV viewing figures have broken all records.

The highlight of the morning for us had to be witnessing the medal ceremony for the 1500m wheelchair event.  We had watched the final on TV the evening before and cheered like mad as David Weir won gold for Team GB.  Now, in the stadium the following morning, we had just watched the same super athlete comfortably win his 800m heat and, an hour later, here he was again receiving his gold medal.  I can't begin to describe the sense of pride we felt as the flag was raised and 80,000 voices joined in singing the national anthem!

David Weir won four gold medals in total at London 2012 and his name, along with many other British Paralympians, is now as recognised as equally successful able-bodied athletes.  That is as it should be!  And that, for me, is one of the greatest triumphs of this fantastic summer of sport.

Our day passes gave us access to a whole range of events taking place in the Olympic Park, so after our morning of athletics we spent some time watching seven-a-side football.  It was really exciting, but, unfortunately, we only had time to watch the first half before we had to go to use our Orbit tickets.

The views from the top of Orbit were well worth the wait for the lift to get up there.  We spent quite a long time taking in every aspect of the park and beyond before making our way back down.  The descent down the spiral walkway was long and slow and we both agreed the designers had missed a trick by not installing a slide!!  Happy memories of childhood helter-skelter rides were evoked as we imagined what it could have been like!!

Time was marching on, but we were keen to see one more sporting event - the wheelchair tennis which was taking place at the far end of the park.  We were lucky enough to get in to see the last set of the men's doubles final and, although the British pair lost to the Americans, the match and the subsequent medal ceremony (where the medals were presented by the Duchess of Gloucester) were the crowning glory of an amazing day!!

As we made our way out of the park at around 7.0pm (our tickets entitled us to stay longer, but we still had a long journey back to where we were staying) crowds of people were flooding in for the evening's athletics session.  Everyone was smiling, the marvellous gamesmakers were still there enthusiastically welcoming the new arrivals and wishing those leaving a good journey home, and the sense of pride and joy was simply immense!!  We are so glad to have witnessed it first hand.

You can see more of my photos of the day here.

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