What a start to the Olympics! London is has been absolutely buzzing for a couple of weeks now and the first three days of Olympic events have been incredible!
I started my Olympic experience last week when I went to an African music concert at the Pontoon Dock in East London. It was further east than I had ever been in London and well worth the commute! The music was from all over Africa, as it was one of the “continent” stages set up throughout the city and the weather cooperated. An interesting cultural experience before I headed out of London for the bulk of last week to catch up with family. I ended up coming home late Friday night, just in time for the main event to kick off!
The Opening Ceremony, put together by Danny Boyle, was very impressive, incorporating British history, culture and humour to create a memorable show. I watched the ceremony at a pub in Covent Garden, which was filled primarily with UK residents who proudly belted out God Save the Queen when Queen Elizabeth II, the latest Bond Girl, arrived and cheered loudly at the comic relief provided by Rowan Atkinson. As a history teacher I quite enjoyed the theme of the night being a history lesson and thought Boyle did well to represent the many eras of British history.
Day 1 of the Olympics was an eventful one for me. I spent the morning around London Bridge as I had to pick up my Olympic tickets that I had purchased a few months back. Walking around the area and soaking in the atmosphere of the Olympic spirit got me quite excited as I popped into the ticket office and confirmed the tickets to gymnastics and tennis. I was lucky to not have to wait too long in the ticket queue as I had to rush from there to North Greenwich Arena (more commonly known as the o2) for the Men’s gymnastics qualification round.
After clearing the airport style security and making my way up to the last row of the stadium I settled in to watch a sport I am not all that familiar with, but was blown away by! Seeing the strength of the athletes on apparatuses such as the swinging rings, or the high bar was incredible. The balance and gracefulness with which they are able to move was something I never fully appreciated watching gymnastics on TV in previous olympics. The atmosphere in the three quarters full arena was very positive with the crowd getting behind all the athletes, particularly on the change overs where we would all clap in time as the competitors walked to their next apparatus. Team USA was easily the best team of the five I got to see and the American fans in attendance certainly felt the same way chanting U-S-A at any opportunity.
Day 2 was an early start for me as I headed over to west London to catch a glimpse of the Women’s cycling road race. The race began near Buckingham Palace before heading south of London and making its way back to the Mall for the grandstand finish. I wasn’t lucky enough to have tickets to the finish line but was able to stand about 2km away and see the cyclists as they started and just before they finished. The entire course was filled with supporters and it looked more like the Tour de France than a race through the streets of London, it is great to see the city getting so enthusaistic about the games! A Canadian, Clara Hughes, was one of the medal favourites but unfortunately, due to the typically British weather conditions, she wasn’t able to medal. I did however get to witness the first Great Britain medalist, Lizzie Armitstead, fly by en route to her silver finish.
In between glimpses of the road race we decided to head over to Hyde Park and see the live site for watching the games. Again we had to queue up and clear the airport style security before entering the venue which was filled with 6 or 7 huge TVs where people could sit down and watch the different events. While the site is a cool idea I felt it could have been developed a lot further by having more interactive activities for kids or having more entertainment throughout the park. The idea is a good one though and perhaps as the crowds really arrive in London next weekend the atmosphere of Hyde Park will pick up. I am looking forward to getting to Victoria Park, the other live site, to compare the two.
It was an eventful first Olympic weekend for me and London seems to be withstanding all of the tourists with relative ease. Outside of the venues the city seems oddly normal and the trains are running well. I think the true test will come today as the usual rush hour overlaps with the numerous events around the city, and as more people begin to arrive in London later this week it could be a different story, but so far all the talk of disaster and chaos has been overblown. How shocking that the British media would do such a thing!