An Olympic odyssey

YEARS of preparation, months of anticipation and all of it to be at the Olympics.

No, I wasn’t competing (although I reckon I’d have Mo Farah in a hotdog eating contest, sod the 5,000 metres) but I was there.

I saw the fastest man on the planet in action. I saw Team GB win gold and the euphoria of the crowds. I was there.

First off I want to apologise if I’m sounding a little boastful, I don’t intend to, but if you are a sports fan like me you would have been in your element. Even my girlfriend, who wouldn’t be the biggest sporting fan (asking “Is the football on again?” with disdain has almost become a catchphrase for her) found herself thoroughly enthralled by the Games.

Our Olympic adventure started off almost two years ago when we were lucky enough to get tickets for the Games. We avoided the ticketing ballot, preferring to opt for a package deal which also included our accommodation for the Games.

That was the start of the excitement. Then there was a long wait until the flights were released for this August. A new airport at Southend has been opened and is particularly handy for getting to Stratford for the Olympic Park but we opted to book Stansted as our digs for the duration of our trip were in central London by Tower Bridge.

Then came another long wait.

On Monday of last week we finally set off for our trip for London, full of stories of how bad the traffic was, how the main shopping districts of the city had been deserted and how there were thousands of tourists, with no idea where they were going, walking around like lemmings.

Nothing could have been further from the case. On our way into London we were slightly delayed going past the stadium but we weren’t that far off our estimated 50-minute journey.

We had got a bus to Liverpool Street station and from there we got the Tube to Tower Hill, where our hotel was. On each of the routes the stops for each of the venues had been marked out so you knew where to get off and when you came out of your station two of the Games Makers (more of them later) were on hand to direct you. And if you were still lost after that there were lots and lots of pink signs directing you to the various arenas, telling you how far you had to walk and how long it was going to take you.

Our first port of call was Hyde Park where big screens had been erected so fans could come in and soak up the Olympic atmosphere for free. We arrived just in time to see Team GB take their first ever gold in the dressage. The roar of over 100,000 people celebrating was incredible. ‘We Are The Champions’ blared out from the speakers, streamers exploded from the big stage and the feel good factor, which has been often been spoken about during the coverage of these Games, was in full flow.

If I could have one complaint about the Games it would be about the price of food. I was charged £2.50 for a bottle of coke, which I thought was steep, but as I walked out I noticed that the burger stalls were selling a burger and a coke for £7.50. Then again I suppose it was to be expected.

I could tell you that next we wanted to see how the rest of London was celebrating the biggest show on Earth, but I’d be lying. We just fancied a dander down Oxford Street for a bit of shopping. And it was wall to wall Team GB.

Every shop we went into was selling something to celebrate the Olympics, or at least the fact that London was hosting the Games. You could get anything from t-shirts to tumblers, key rings to phone covers. Oxford Street was bunged too, it was hard at times to avoid not being trampled on, but our movement wasn’t restricted that much.

After being up from before 6am and given that we need to be up for 6.45am the next morning we decided to get some supper and head to bed and grab some shuteye ahead of our big day on Tuesday.

Our hotel was beside the Tower Gateway stop for the DLR train (which is the overground version of the Underground but without as many lines) so we bailed on to it, bedecked in our Team GB gear. Each ticket came with a travel pass that allowed you to use the Transport for London facilities as much as you liked to get you from A-B on that particular day.

We arrived at the Olympic Park at 7.45am, which was still silly o’clock in the morning, armed with our tickets for the first athletics session of the day. Out in force were those Games Makers, who I am convinced have manufactured that feel-good factor I mentioned earlier. If one was telling you how to get to your venue, the next one would be cracking jokes – “You only need two things to get into the Park, your ticket… and your smile!” was a particular favourite.

After going through security we began heading for the Olympic Stadium, taking in our surroundings. The massive aquatics centre which looks like a swimmer doing the butterfly; the bigger-than-it-looks-on-TV velodrome and the beauty of the actual park itself – a must see for floral fans.

After devouring a spot of breakfast we made our way into the stadium, but not before looking all round us at the tens of thousands of people walking about the place. At that stage there was nobody really there but it soon filled up and by 10am 80,000 people were seated around us in anticipation of the day’s action.

All of the athletes were well supported, especially the Team GB competitors and those who were trailing in last place and needed a bit of encouragement. But the biggest roar of the morning, and perhaps the biggest cheer I have ever heard, was for Usain Bolt in the first heat of the 200m competition, one he would go on to win. I have a video on my phone of that cheer and I keep expecting my speaker to explode every time I play it.

The Mexican wave of sound which followed the runners around the track; the ‘clap…clap..clap’ of encouragement for each of the javelin throwers and the triple jumpers and the collective cheering all played their part in a memorable occasion.

After the event we were herded through the massive Westfield Shopping Centre which opened just in time for the Games. We didn’t have the time to spend in it but it certainly looked like the sort of place you could spend a day in. We saw everything from Marks and Spencer to Armani – there was even a Mini showroom which had a car hanging off the front of the shop and I’m pretty sure I spotted a casino and a bookies too.

After a quick lunch we headed to Wembley for the men’s football semi-final clash between Mexico and Japan. This was a little treat to myself – as a football fan I’ve always wanted to walk up Wembley Way and into the famous stadium. I had to admit there was a little smile on my face as I ticked it off my bucket list in my head, although to be honest I’m not sure it counts as the game wasn’t a cup final.

I couldn’t tell you who was playing for either team, certainly there were no big names, but it was actually a very good game. Mexican wave after Mexican wave, quite aptly, flowed around the bowl of the stadium while the supporters played their instruments.

As another 80,000 people flowed out of Wembley there were massive queues for the tube, but fortunately we got stuck in with those Mexican supporters, who were rightly delighted following their 3-1 win. We were treated to some of their finest Mariachi tunes which helped to ease the half-hour wait to get into the station.

There wasn’t much to tell about Wednesday as we were heading home, except to say that a bird decided it would be a great idea to poo on me which amused my girlfriend greatly. She is still laughing about it. What goes around…

My words have probably not done the experience justice but I’ve done my best. It was so good to be able to experience the Olympic spirit and sample the happy atmosphere which have surrounded these Games, so much so that it’s even rubbed off on me! But most of all, the best of all is the fact that I can say three little words - I was there.

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