A few days ago, opinionated Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson sent out a rather revealing Tweet.
Having been one of the (many) critics of the London Olympics in the lead-up, he too was forced to re-evaluate hi stance, tweeting “Off to America today. Trip planned months ago to get away from Olympics. Thought it’d be dull. Mistake. Big mistake.”
Having lived through an identical pessimism-to-optimism cycle for the Sydney 2000 Games, I knew it would turn out alright.
More than that, I knew it would be an absolute triumph and resolutely held that opinion over the last few months, even when it was more fashionable to criticise the upcoming event.
And after reading about it for weeks and watching blanket coverage on TV for days (hats off to the BBC for the most outstanding coverage), it was finally my turn to experience London 2012 first hand.
On Tuesday, accompanied by my wife and 5 week old baby, I made the trip to Olympic Park for an evening of athletics. Here are ten personal observations of my day.
(Incidentally, if some of you are thinking, “a 5 week old at the Olympics? You must be mad”, he turned out to be a masterstroke, providing us with celebrity-style access to the front of several queues)
1. Transport – much had been made beforehand about London’s creaking transport system and its inability to cope with the crowds, but I found no such problem. A simple tube trip into Stratford from the West End to get there and then straight out of the stadium and onto a tube after the end of day. We were back at our hotel within the hour.
2. Security – again a big source of pre-Games doom and gloom with the G4S scandal and the army being brought in to help amidst talk of 2-3 hour waits to get through security. My experience was a very short wait, followed by a friendly greeting and bag check from a young army guy followed by an airport-style x-ray machine and quick frisk. All through in 10 minutes.
3. Volunteers – this was certainly a highlight of Sydney 2000 and is again the case for London. Whenever you were wondering where to go, there was a well-informed volunteer on hand in a smart purple uniform with a cheerful answer to your questions.
4. Olympic Park – when you consider that a decade ago this area was a run-down wasteland, the transformation is extraordinary. It is now a massive, sprawling area full of state-of-the-art sporting venues. To give you some idea of scale, one signpost informed me that it was a 20 minute walk to the Velodrome (‘The Pringle’). And when you realise that this massive piece of infrastructure was completed ahead of schedule and under budget, then it becomes even more impressive. After the Games are over, work will start on converting the site to provide a long term legacy for the area and I, for one, intend to return for a visit.
5. Landscaping – Olympic Park is not just a mass of concrete. Much thought has been given to its aesthetic appearance, right down to the beautiful Riverwalk area and the widespread use of wildflowers to provide dramatic and continually changing colour.
6. The Orbit – one of the more striking pieces of architecture in Olympic Park is Anish Kapoor’s Orbit structure. When I first saw it, I did think it looked rather strange. A bit like a long abandoned attraction at a rundown amusement park. However, when I emerged from the athletic stadium a few hours later and saw it all lit up and glowing red, I was more able to appreciate its unconventional beauty as the latest addition to London’s constantly evolving skyline.
7. Olympic stadium – of all the stadia, the athletics stadium is the jewel in the crown. Not perhaps as architecturally interesting as the Velodrome or the Aquatic Centre, but magnificent, nevertheless. Emerging from the stairwell and catching my first glimpse of the track and field was breath-taking. I can only imagine what it must have been like to be there for the Opening ceremony.
8. Noise – my evening of athletics did not feature any Team GB gold medals, but the support for British high jumper Robbie Grabarz whenever he cleared the bar on his way to bronze was deafening. But support was widespread and generous for athletes from other countries as witnessed by the rolling wall of sound that accompanied the 1500m runners as they competed in the men’s final. I’m sure the noise when Jess Ennis and Mo Farah won their races on Super Saturday would have been ear-splitting – I wish I’d been there.
9. Patriotism – often a little reserved when it comes to nationalistic pride, there has been no such problem for the Brits here. I have never seen so many people wandering around, wearing the Union flag with pride. And while I was watching on the big screen at the free Park Live site as Team GB won more gold in the Cycling and Dressage I experienced a mass outpouring of joy that I didn’t think we British had in us.
10. Atmosphere – last, but not least, the whole day had such a positive, friendly and happy atmosphere as people from all nations mingled together in a world class location, enjoying their own personal Olympic moment. I only wish that more people had the opportunity to experience it.
In summary, (as if you had any doubts by now), I had a fabulous day. One that will live on long in my memory.
I feel so privileged to have experienced two Olympic Games in my (then) home countries. Sydney was very special, but London has been even more so for me, tying in so neatly and emotionally with my return back home.
And whilst Mr Clarkson may have been regretting his decision as he watched the delayed, ad-riddled NBC coverage, I dare say a few million of his fellow Brits will be glad to have the chance to say “I was there”.