Friday, 3 August – exploring London
When it was determined I was going to London for the Olympics, Aimee and I discussed who should try to get tickets. Initially, we put the ball in her court figuring that being in the UK there would be more tickets available and sold to locals. I told her I’d be willing to go to anything but equestrian since I’m quite allergic to horses. She checked a lot of boxes for the ticket lottery, and when tickets were announced guess what she had been awarded? Equestrian. And nothing else. I eventually got tickets through the US for other events, but on the third she and a friend went to see dressage while I went out to explore London again.
My only to-do for the day was try to find the London Harley Davidson shop to get a t-shirt for my dad, who collects them. Got the address and looked at the Google map, but getting there was easier said than done since roads are neither straight nor uniform. I stopped in a shop that sold nothing but doorknobs (and apparently is pretty famous for doing so, celebs flying in to special order their door knobs) to ask directions and eventually found the store before heading back to central London.
Even though when I told people at home my itinerary they would most commonly sigh, “Ah, Prague…” I’ve found I love London more (though, don’t get me wrong, Prague is amazing). Even just visually London is interesting to look at. The architecture is amazing; every building seems to have been designed with care and to last rather than cheaply. The structures are all white, grey, and brown, but then there are pops of red peppered throughout the city in the form of post boxes, phone booths, Underground signs, and buses. The sidewalks are just as likely to be cobblestone or granite as concrete. Many of the buildings are so old that they look (to me) like they’re about to fall down, but people still live in them; it’s odd to see homes built without barge boards that appear to go from bricks straight to roof shingles.
I first went to Hyde Park where there was supposed to be a place where people were gathering en masse to watch the Olympics on a giant outdoor screen. After walking an annoying half mile around the perimeter to find the only entrance, I saw you had to go through airport security to stand on a field of wood chips. Not worth it.
Decided to take the London version of the free tour I took in Prague, which mainly covered things I had already seen – Buckingham Palace, Parliament, St. James Palace. and Trafalgar Square – but also pointed out Westminster Abbey and Downing Street. And I took more photos of the Elizabeth Tower in all its beauty (which photos cannot do justice).
Then it was off to Greenwich to meet up with Aimee. I was really looking forward to seeing “the line” that separates the east and west hemispheres, but the observatory was in part of the grounds blocked off for the Olympic dressage event. Oh well. We took a ferry back to central London down the Thames. It was neat to go under Tower Bridge and take photos of the Olympic rings. After the long day, we took a London cab the last few miles back to Aimee’s and went to bed early to get up for shooting the next day.
Saturday, 4 August – Olympic shooting
Some early train rides and a walk led us to the Royal Artillery Barracks for my first chance to see the Olympics! The tickets were general admission to the shooting park, so we initially settled in to the outdoor stands to watch the qualifying for the women’s shotgun trap. I knew nothing about shooting, but this was an event for which the tickets were fairly inexpensive, and ALL athletes who are competing at the Olympic level are inspiring no matter what the sport.
We were sitting in the back row of the bleachers and it started to drizzle. I was just about to get up and head to the booth to buy a poncho when one fell out of the sky! No joke! There was a small stage above us, and possibly it had been hastily draped over a camera but then caught by a small gust of wind. There was no one above calling for it, so I called it the magical sky poncho, and put it on.
After watching a bit of trap (shoot the clay pigeon, which expodes is filled with neon green powder), we decided we’d like to see what else was going on. We bypassed the face-painting but got our photos taken with one of the relay torches. Then we went to see the women’s indoor rifle competition. With general admission tickets, it was a free-for-all and the seats were all full so we waited outside for them to let us in. And then the skies opened up and it poured. Suddenly we had a lot of new friends in line behind us to try to get into the only covered venue.
I’m not sure how long we stood there, but eventually we did get in when some unsuspecting souls exited and probably didn’t realize they would lose their seats. It was women’s three-position rifle, and we had arrived in the middle of the second position (standing). I was seated behind one of the Americans and a Serbian who eventually won silver. All the shooters were going at their own pace and it was actually quite interesting to watch. Also, my seat was on a corner by the door and since coaches and athletes didn’t have to stand in line for a seat to become available, they kept milling about and I got a lot more for my countries picture collection.
After the qualifications ended and we saw the shootout for the last position in the finals and grabbing some food (no official-Olympic-sponsor-McDonalds being forced on us, amazingly enough! Hooray! I had curry), we headed back to the shotgun stands where the medal round would be taking place. We were two hours early, but wanted to make sure we weren’t waiting in another line for seats. We watched the end of the qualifications, including another shootout for the last position in the finals. And then we heard the Star Spangled Banner coming from the next building where an American had just won the finals for women’s three-position rifle. (And I sighed internally a little knowing she’d be lucky to get ten seconds of coverage on NBC between swimming and athletics.)
The finals were amazing partly because the leader (an Italian) had a perfect score. She had thus far shot 75 of 75 clays – 25 in each round. She continued her perfect streak always hitting with the first bullet, never needing to take the second shot in her barrel. Until number 92, which she missed. The whole crowd gasped, and then cheered anyway. That was the only shot she missed, and 99 out of 100 clays was a new world record set.
As we left the park, there was a man standing on the sidewalk in GB warm ups with a gold medal and a small crowd forming around him. Aimee asked, “Who is it?” and I said, “I’m not sure. A Brit with a gold medal.” One of the volunteers overheard me and said it was Peter Wilson. I gasped, “That’s Peter Wilson?!?” He had won men’s double trap shooting a few days earlier. He was taking picture with fans, letting THEM wear his medal for the pictures. What a nice guy! I would have loved to see a gold medal up close, but I decided to leave meeting him to some of the others and we headed home, exhausted from a great day at the Olympics.
(And I KNOW I took a picture of Peter Wilson because I remember looking through my photos and being surprised that I only took one picture of him, but I must have accidentally deleted it! Sniffle.)
Sunday, 5 August – Olympic women’s marathon and Oxford Circus
I knew when returned home everyone would ask, “What was the best part of your trip?” I agonized about how to answer this for weeks. But how do you choose between amazing, fantastic, and terrific? I think, though, that saying the women’s marathon was “best” is a good answer because it really was a marvelous day.
I figured that regardless of if I was able to get Olympics tickets or not, the marathons would be on the street so I could probably see that. Then, lo and behold, CU alum Kara Goucher made it to the US marathon team so I had ANOTHER reason to want to see the marathon.
The night before I examined the route on the map and picked a spot along the Thames where the runners would pass several times during their loops. The race didn’t start until 11:00 but I got there really early anyway, not knowing what the crowds might be like. I walked up and down the blocks a few times trying to decided where I wanted to stand for the race. Finally, I settled on my initial choice: a bus stop. Two sweet ladies had already perched there while I had been wandering. Really, it was the smartest choice: it had a bench for sitting, and it had a roof in case it decided to rain.
Crowds gathered on both sides of the street, and 30 minutes before the race was set to start, it poured again. Suddenly our bus stop became quite popular, even when the lights started to leak and drip inside. The median of the street was set up with tables for each of the countries to have athlete-specific items on the tables. There was a water station on the opposite side, but these tables were for Gatorade or Gu or whatever the athletes specifically wanted all lines up in alphabetical order for the athletes to be able to easier spot their table. Our location was directly across from Peru, and when the rains came down suddenly our bus stop was filled with coaches from the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Poland, and Portugal. The coach from Namibia just ducked under his table.
A fellow who reminded me of James Cromwell (from Babe) joined our booth at one point. As another spectator asked about the course, I mentioned we’d see the athletes pass by us six times as they ran the three loops. “James” spoke up and said, “No, they’ll cancel each other out.” Me: “Because they’re running both directions?” James: “Exactly.” Me: “Ah, so we’ll see them zero times?” James: “Correct.” I snickered.
Both Kara and Shalane Flanagan (another from Team USA) ran the race very well, up in the front for the whole thing and finishing 11th and 10th respectively, less than three minutes behind the leaders. That was exciting, but what made the experience great was the crowd cheering for all the athletes. Every single one. As the race went on, they spread out and we really got to cheer for each athlete. If we could see a country or flag on their jersey, we cheered their country name. Occasionally we’d yell the athlete name on the bib; we’d chant “Kim! Kim! Kim! Kim!” for the Koreans (who were all named Kim), and they’d look a bit flustered at the personal attention. We’d yell especially loud for the Peruvians since their table was right across from us.
The athlete who got the loudest cheers was one who, up until the last lap*, was running in last place: Juventina Napoleao from East Timor. No one in the crowd cared that she was last. Instead, you could feel a huge sense of joy and pride from the crowd that she was here representing her country. She FINISHED, unlike some other athletes who couldn’t, and though her time was 45 minutes behind the leaders it was a new personal best. Even the Team GB athletes didn’t get louder cheers than East Timor. To me, that exemplifies what the spirit of the Olympics is supposed to be.
* In the very end an Irish athlete was clearly struggling and fell to the back of the pack. She did finish the race, and when she went by as the crowds were shuffling to figure out how to leave a tremendous roar went up for her.
Whew, how do you celebrate after a great morning like that? Well, all throughout the games I was quite taken with the design that Team GB had chosen for all their jerseys and had been keeping an eye open for a replica jersey. Apparently everyone else liked it, too, because they were hard to find. I took the tube to Oxford Circus to the big John Lewis store to poke around their Olympic shop. Only shirts to be found were men’s shirts in enormous sizes. Darn. But I did pick up some other souvenirs while there, like some chocolate truffles for my mom and tea towels for me.
With that, my second day of Olympics came to a close, and I had one more day of events on the horizon. And, wow, my posts are getting longer. This may be a novel before I finish…