Last weekend saw me doing something I was admittedly doubtful I would ever do. In the past I’d complained about it and was dubious as to how spectacular it would be. But I did it.
On Saturday I visited the Olympic Park.
Back when everyone was trying to get tickets to London2012 (you know when everyone complained and it was labelled a bit of a shambles as ‘nobody’ could get tickets, you didn’t even know what events you’d get etc…), my boyfriend asked me if I’d like to go. My response was pretty much ‘Do what you want, I’m not bothered’, so he went about applying for tickets (about £300 worth I believe).
What happened? He got nothing for the Olympics and then received two sets of day passes – one for the Olympic Park, during the Paralympics, and one for the Excel Centre, during the Paralympics. No set events tickets and those he did have were for the Paralympics. He also got closing ceremony tickets to the Paralympics he informed me with a smile on his face.
I didn’t feel much excitement - scrap that – any excitement at this news, I wasn’t fussed about the Olympics anyway, it was primarily being hosted in the ‘dump’ that is Stratford (sorry if you live there…and yes, I do realise I live in Essex and can’t really talk!...) Ashamed as I am to admit this, I also felt disappointment that what he’d go wasn’t even for the ‘proper’ Olympics, and in fact for the Paralympics. Yes I know, what an awful thing to say or think. But there, it’s out there, that was my honest reaction.
Fast forward to July and my thoughts on the Olympics and Paralympics were still somewhat Scrooge-like and my main concerns were the impact it was going to have on my journey to and from work and that I hoped it didn’t cause delays to my journey to the airport for my holiday in Thailand for my 30th!
As it was – as much as I hate to admit it – I thought London coped pretty well with this major event and the floods of tourists and additional people in and around the Olympics venues. I rarely experienced any delays or problems on my trains (no more than usual anyway!) and everything did seem to be ready on time and go to plan.
I came back from Thailand super relaxed, if a little depressed at being back in boring Britain and not in a stunning tropical island setting, and realised pretty soon we were due to go to the Paralympics. The only thing this filled me with was dread – ever since I got back from holiday my time has been filled with eating and drinking out constantly and not getting enough sleep. My boyfriend informed me we had some sort of plans on Saturday evening (which turned out to be a great birthday surprise) so we need an early start so we could see things at the Paralympics and get back home in time. Great – less sleep, again.
One saviour in all this was information from my Olympics-obsessed boss that although we had ‘day passes’ this did actually allow you access into events. Finally a little flicker of interest started to appear. Hm maybe I might in some way enjoy this?
Waking up at 730am on Saturday I did not feel this way. I just wanted to stay in bed and couldn’t be bothered to make the journey to Stratford (which is only a 5 minute bus ride and a 20 minutes train ride away). Off we went – my boyfriend dressed in suitable GB attire, me wearing a blue and white striped top (and a red ring on my finger – in a poor attempt to wear red, white and blue).
Unfortunately the day we went was so miserable weather-wise, the sky was grey and everything looked dark. Not ideal for Little Miss Sun-worshipper me! I always think wherever you go, when you visit places, they always look better in the sun. My words to my boyfriend as we walked out of the station and down the avenue towards the entrance were something along the lines of “Seriously though if you were a tourist or from abroad and you were met with this wouldn’t you be a bit unimpressed and think what a sh**hole?” He was not impressed.
My lack of enthusiasm continued as we queued to get through security and I had my arms crossed (to keep me warm honestly!) and I yawned non-stop. Unexpectedly friendly and enthusiastic staff did start to melt my ice maiden mood somewhat, but I felt no excitement at getting in and walking through the entrance. What was wrong with me??
We walked around the Olympic Park – past some of the now well-known sites – the aquatics centre, the velodrome, the hideous Orbit (sorry but I just don’t get it, as I said to my boyfriend “If I asked someone to design an iconic structure for a such an important historic event and I got that I’d be fuming!”), McDonalds(!) and more I was impressed at the size of the park itself but nothing more. My boyfriend accused me of being a ‘typical Brit’ for being miserable and not getting into the spirit.
Then we walked towards the Copper Box and saw that there were seats available for Goalball and we decided to go in and give it a go…
That is when I changed.
First off – day passes – are such a good idea. On first impression you may have thought – like me – that these were simply to get you into the main Olympic Park area and give you a chance to walk round and take a few photos, just to say ‘I was there’. But the whole idea of day passes is to give you a chance to go into the Olympic Park and yes walk round and see things/purchase Olympics merchandise, but then also have access to a select number of events. On the day we went we had a choice of Goalball, Wheelchair Basketball, Wheelchair tennis and Football. These involve 4 venues within the park – the Copper Box, Basketball Arena, Eton Manor and Riverbank Arena. Outside each venue is ticker displaying information and if there are ‘day pass’ seats available. To be honest I actually found this way of attending much better – I don’t think I’d be too keen on staying in one place for one event only.
Anyway, so back to Goalball. This involves participants with vision impairment, which varies between players so everyone has to wear dark shaded glasses to ensure they are all at the same level of sight (or lack of) to make things fair. There are 3 people on each team – we were lucky and got to see GB vs Sweden (we drew!) and the aim is to get a goal from throwing the ball from one end of the pitch to the other into the goal, players block the ball with their body and can only tell where it is by the sound of the rubber ball hitting the floor and the bells within it. Because of this you have to silent – the whole arena in which it’s played has to be silent during play.
I’m not sure if it’s the amazing skill of the players, the fact you’re at a historic event, or the way the whole buzz and chatter completely stops when that whistle blows, but this game is spellbinding. You just can’t take your eyes off what’s playing in front of you. I loved it.
After Goalball, we then walked round the park a bit more and headed over to the Basketball Arena. This was very busy, but we still managed to find a seat and saw the second half of a men’s game between Turkey and Italy. And then to our delight realised a GB match was coming up – Ladies GB against Ladies Brazil. Again the atmosphere was great, although I must admit the American-theme on things (which I know is part of basketball) did start to grate on me a little – the ‘host’ getting people to dance on camera, ‘play the bongos’ and use the ‘clapometer’. Don’t get me wrong for families and tourists it’d be great, but after a few times, it just got on my nerves!
After basketball (and grabbing some lunch) we headed off for another walk and after viewing the Park Live area we walked to Eton Manor for the tennis. Yes the lunch was expensive, but it tasted great and to be fair it’s no different to any other event or festival food and drink. Conscious of time, we didn’t sit in a particular court for long to watch the tennis, but instead poked our heads in on a few games to experience it at least. Unfortunately the football had no seats left and we had to leave the park in order to get back in time for my surprise. However, we’d been there for over 6 hours at this point so felt we’d ‘got our money’s worth’ and seen quite a lot.
I left the park feeling happy, impressed and inspired. In fact, I would even go so far to say I think we’re the lucky ones with our Paralympics tickets. I’m sure the Olympics were an indescribable experience don’t get me wrong – but what we got to see was something even more special and I’m glad the Paralympics have proven to be such a big hit for the Games.
I’m now looking forward to our next visit – a very pleasant surprise. Oh didn’t I mention? We’ve got another day pass for the Excel Centre this Saturday – where I believe we can see Boccia, wheelchair table tennis and wheelchair fencing. And then on Sunday evening we’re off to the closing ceremony – which is currently said to feature the likes of Coldplay, Rihanna and Jay-Z. I am so excited! I have a feeling it’s all going to be very moving too, so am hoping I don’t get all tearful!!
My view on London2012 – to be continued…