For months leading up to the start of the London Olympics, many British critics showed their usual bleak insolences that failure was on the horizon. The games would be no match to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and instead would simply be a huge stressful headache for Londoners and an economic flop. Many bleated of how it would be a pain in the backside to get to work or get on with their daily lives. Others just weren’t looking forward to the congestion of millions of tourists within the City. But after the fantastic opening ceremony just 11 days ago, all the negativity was instantly put to bed, replaced with a warm buzzing atmosphere and terrific optimism for what was to come.So far Great Britain really has come up trumps, producing one of the most memorable games ever. Londoners in particular (since they are the most affected by the Games’ presence), have suddenly welcomed the competition with open arms, joining the international community and other UK residents by gathering in their thousands to events in the capital and across the country. Despairing daily news reports on recession pummelling the spirits of the average Briton over a number of years has given up its self-pitying wallowing on the front pages – the country has finally had a chance to relax, have fun, feel optimistic and humanise.
What I have seen and experienced over the past few days has been mesmerising, with London turning into a huge collective energetic community in a matter of days.
Demand for tickets has been through the roof which has meant getting your hands on them extremely difficult. Team GB has been performing spectacularly well since the start – collecting Gold Medals and World Record accolades across a broad spectrum of competitions and this has ignited the public into feverish action, doing whatever it takes to access the Olympic Park and witness history in the making.
Confidence within Team GB has been sky high which has been reflected in the amazing support of the British public. I was lucky enough last week to finally get my hands on the Women’s Basketball group games on the 5th day between Team GB-Russia and Australia-Brazil for a mere £20. Ok – so it’s not the daddy of Olympic events like the 100m sprint, but I felt fortunate for an opportunity to be able to see a live game and it also meant I got into the Park to take in the atmosphere.
Despite the typically British weather being overcast with sporadic showers occasionally dampening the show, the day was a proudly uplifting and resounding success. There was so much talk about whether London would be able to cope with the games coming to town, but if my experience was anything to go by, the Olympic organisers have considered and coordinated every detail to its minutiae – in short, they’ve absolutely nailed it. Getting into the Park was quick, easy and completely stress-free, starting with a leisurely ride up to Stratford on the Jubilee line from Waterloo. Once there, I needed to pick up my tickets from the collection points which I was anticipating to be a long wait. It in fact took me all of 10 minutes as the guys working in the booths were extremely helpful and speedy. That introduced me to the effervescently fun, friendly and helpful stewards that I would bump into throughout the whole day. Just like the public, these volunteers were completely absorbed in the games, excited and enthusiastic, and it was instantly infectious as it acted as a reminder when entering the Park that I had arrived to witness a damn good show. This hospitality, this generous welcome – made the feel and mood of the day even lighter and heady, it made my experience all that much better.Equally, staff working in the most ridiculously largest and thus potentially most stressful McDonald’s in the world wore smiles – owned genuine grins – and were forthcoming with friendly tones and gestures – something of a a rarity when grabbing a Big Mac. The ironic sponsors of the games alone was something of a spectacle, the restaurant brimming with hundreds of people on two floors desperate to say they ate in the biggest store in the world, queues spilling out the doors for about 100 metres. It was crazy, but I guess just part of the experience, with international consumers safe in the knowledge of what food to expect – the only one predictability of their day. Once inside the Park, the atmosphere was electric from start to finish with thousands of people from many different nations coming together to mingle, chat, sing and joke around. Strolling round the park was a pleasure, the exacting layout spot-on with easy access to the stadia and facilities.
The backdrop to the stadia was beautiful, with walkways set up alongside sweeping canals lined with flower beds depicting the best of the British countryside.
The stadia themselves were also spectacular, my particular favourite being the Riverside Stadium – host to the hockey and the Cycling Velodrome
The Basketball Arena was also a delight, representing a strange huge oblong shaped mattress! The Copper Box and Aquatics Centre sat in front of the Olympic Stadium on their temporary foundations, apparently ready for flat packing and sent to Brazil for the 2016 Olympics. After wandering around taking shots of the park, I headed over to the Basketball Arena in the afternoon to take my seat for the two games.
Whilst entertaining, it undoubtedly missed the speed and showboating slam dunks of the man’s game.
Australia against Brazil took a while to get going with the players constantly missing the simplest of tee-ups and two pointers.
The event burst into life when Team GB came out for the second game against a ruthlessly tall Russian side. Undeterred, Team GB, berated our presumptions to our surprise to take a 10-point lead within minutes. The competition on, it didn’t take long before Russia got into their stride, sinking three pointers for fun and ending up winning the game 67-61. Although basketball isn’t a big sport in the UK, the crowd got involved throughout both games, saving their biggest cheers for the GB girls.
As the day progressed, the blue skies started to come out to paint a completely different picture of the dreary start to the day. I spent the rest of the evening on the Park Live hills where the crowd rested and picnicced in their hundreds watching the day’s proceedings unfold. Again, the atmosphere was buzzing which continued until the sun set behind the Riverside Stadium. Relaxed and happy, I headed out to West Ham to catch the tube back home, the stewards still smiling cheerfully, asking how my day went and wishing me good night every 50 yards or so. It was definitely a proud moment to be British.
The games are clearly turning out to be a huge triumph both on and off the track and field and the resultant energy and emotions will hopefully transpire into a rejuvenation of public motivation and inspiration for generations to come. With less than a week to go, this will no doubt be one of the most notable of historic events for our country, and not just because of the impressive list of sporting firsts achieved. A positive message is beaming vibrantly across the world carried by the media and will be reinforced in time by the visitors and guests who will eventually return home. London is a jubilant and triumphant host and Britain really is well and truly Great.
Further Reading on London Olympics 2012
Official Site of the London Olympics 2012
More Photography :
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters