Aug 30

London 2012 Paralympics: Opening Ceremony

I went to the Opening Ceremony last night. At this point, everything is slightly blurry! So much going on when you’re in the stadium that I don’t think the brain settles on one thing to remember. I was entranced with the umbrellas, slightly bored with the parade, clapping with glee at some of the flying athletes and in awe, and tears, at the flame lighting. I loved the ceremony, even if it ran way over, providing anxiety about getting home!

ON walking in, for the warm-up show, this is what was greeting us. None of the pastoral scenes from the Olympics, but a big stage. With lots of umbrellas dotted around. the story still had routes in The Tempest, but it was a different take, using Miranda as the focus, who takes a journey to find knowledge.

London 2012: Paralympic Opening Ceremony

The umbrella scheme continued, as all of the initial dancers used them for props, for a canvas for the light show. Everybody danced around the big central umbrella, danced with them or flew in on the large ones around the edges

London 2012: Paralympic Opening Ceremony

Science, that’s what the rest of the show was mainly about. Science and the wonders that it can show and the wonders that people can do. Stephen Hawking was one of the star turns, complementing Ian McKellan. Hawkings’ words were projected onto the screens and rang round the stadium, about discovery and investigation and being curious. I was amazed. This was all about science and its power. I loved it.

It was a fairly short first act before we got onto the athletes parade. There were 164 countries and inevitably, they took far longer than planned. During this 2 hours or so, people were up and down, grabbing food, drink, loo breaks etc. There were polite cheers for the teams, some louder than others. Commonwealth nations were generally welcomed well, European nations were also well cheered, depending on who was there. But for most, this was just a waiting period. Finally, finally the GB team came out last, to huge cheers, flag waving and a standing ovation. The crowd was just, a little partisan. This is what we’d come to see!

London 2012: Paralympic Opening Ceremony

Some of the athletes did not stick around, doing a lap and heading straight out again. But most settled down into the seats provided to watch the third act. IF the first was umbrellas, the second the athletes, the third was all about apples. Back the science again, taking inspiration from Newton.

London 2012: Paralympic Opening Ceremony

London 2012: Paralympic Opening Ceremony

We had flying people in wheelchairs, men whirling with skirts on fire, a boat carrying Miranda traversing the sea in search of knowledge. It was a call out for the wonders of books and learning. It turned the stadium into the solar system and into the Large Hadron Collider. Hawkings and McKellen were back as narrators, guiding us on the journey. It was the breaking of glass ceilings, the demonstration that ambition should not be constrained by what others thought – or expected – you could do. That ended up with the largest ever co-ordinated apple crunch!

Then we got punk, with Spasticus Autisticus pounding out around the stadium and Alison Lapper rising in the middle of it

London 2012: Paralympic Opening Ceremony

Finally, the torch came into the stadium on a huge zip wire from the Orbit, before being passed to Margaret Maughan, Britain’s first ever ‘official’ Paralympic Gold from the 1960 games, who lit the petals.

London 2012: Paralympic Opening Ceremony

The final event was Beverley Knight singing I Am What I Am..but at this point the stadium started emptying. It was running late and we had to get home! One benefit of this, is that if you were outside the stadium, you got a great view of the fireworks!

London 2012: Paralympic Opening Ceremony

The mad dash for the exits started. The crowd was controlled, I got on a Jubilee line easily then remembered – change at West Ham for District. yay – the tubes were running later than my app was telling me and I was on my way home. No buses and few taxis available, but I finally got home just over 2 hours after I left.

Brilliant night, loved the show and I’m going to have to watch bits to work out what happened in some of them. Loved that the focus was science and learning and the power of the human spirit. Bring on the Games!!!

Aug 29

London 2012: Showjumping

My final event of the weekend was one of the first ones I booked – the showjumping at Greenwich Park.

Getting there

I’d decided to eschew the most obvious route, which was DLR to Greenwich and took the overground to Blackheath. Again, as with almost every trip I made, there were no issues. A long walk, but no issues! Guides were plentiful on the walk, pushing you across the heath to the entry point. This was way at the south of the venue, on the heath, before you entered the Greenwich Park area, but served its purpose. A few queues, a few holds to minimise congestion and security was traversed safely again. Then another, very long walk down to the arean, which was by the Greenwich buildings.

London 2012 : Show jumping

The Venue

Greenwick Park is big – that’s why they could hold the cross-country there. The area itself was wonderful – it held the all the jumping and dressage events. A large, separate catering area, toilets in every block (which had drinking water on tap), and plenty of great volunteers again. The water situation again led to long queues – it was only after I’d queued that I was told the washroom taps were potable as well, something that was not spread around. Seats were good, all the sightlines were good, so overall, an excellent place.

London 2012 : Show jumping

The Event

Equestrian events were one of the very first sports I started following. As a child, I’d learnt to ride a horse and taken part in a few dressage and show jumping events. Not very well, but it’s a sport I knew enough about, including taking trips to various showjumping meets. So unlike all the others, I’d seen it before!

This was the second round for the individual event and the first round for the teams. The target was to get a great score for the teams and to qualify in the top 40 for the next individual round. I had a great seat up high in one of the side stands, directly above the finishing fence, so got some lovely photos!

London 2012 : Show jumping

Although photos were great most of the time, not when it was raining. Open stands means umbrellas, for those that had not prepared for the weather by bringing ponchos and waterproofs. Which meant grumpy people who couldn’t see. But when the sun came out, all was brilliant!

The other thing that I could see was annoying to the jumping fans was the fan reactions. Like everything else, most people in the arena were not horse fans – so when British people came in the tendency was to cheer. Loudly. This had obviously upset some of the horses, as there were clear warnings before the British team riders came in to keep the noise down. Which was surprising, as I’ve been to indoor arenas and the crowd is generally loud!

London 2012 : Show jumping

So once the rain had stopped and the crowd cheering was contained, I had a brilliant time. Some great horses on show, the best jumpers in the world. One thing about showjumping is age is less of a barrier, so riders ranged from teens up to their sixties – and the fans had an even wider age range.

London 2012 : Show jumping

I left the same way I’d arrived, via Blackheath. Lewisham Council had set up a big screen on the heath and the Andy Murray tennis final was playing. So nothing for it but to stop, sit and watch more sport, cheering along with everyone when he was doing well. And then huge, huge cheers when another gold medal for Britain was grabbed. Another medal seen on the TV, none yet seen in person.

Aug 19

London 2012: Football

For my second event on the middle Saturday, I dashed out of the Olympic Park, jumped on the Jubilee Line and headed right across London to see some Football. Here’s a sport I could easily see for 9 months of the year on the TV and would find it easy to find a match to go to every weekend but I’d only ever been to one football match before (Celtic vs Ajax in the Champions’ League). But as it’s the Olympics AND I’d never seen Wembley Stadium, thought it would be good to add to my list of sports.

The journey was great, the people management was great and it was all nice and smooth. The only issue was when my self-printed ticket did not work properly. for some sports, they appear to have been emailing tickets to people to self print and the scanner was not picking it up correctly. The volunteers in this case were little help, seemingly suspicious that is was a paper ticket, but a little perseverance and the scanner eventually worked.

London 2012: Football

Wembley is well used to hosting large crowds and it appeared the match stewards were the same ones as would normally be there. The football stadiums had their own rules – you were not supposed to take in DSLRs for example. They also would not let you take alcohol into your seat, unlike all the other venues I went to. But overall, it worked well.

The match was Mexico vs Senegal. I sat next to quite a few Mexican fans, although it appeared that many in the stadium were neutral – British fans after some Olympic experience. The first half was OK, not brilliant, but average football. The second half picked up a lot more and there was a lot more energy in the match.

London 2012: Football

Having only really watched football on the TV, there was not as loud a crowd as some league matches, with little singing or chanting :-) But somethings seem to be the same – the deployment of stewards at the end, presumably to prevent a pitch invasion??

I left 5 mins early for the match, which was a shame, as it went into extra time, but it meant my journey home was easy. Those staying on were not as luck. The Stadium and Wembley Arena both emptied out at the same time and that led to the tube stations being closed for a while.

I’m still not convinced that football belongs in the Olympics. There were plenty of comments during the games about the difference in attitude between footballers, with their salaries and their dramatics on the pitch, comparing that to the attitude of the other athletes. Even if restricted to the under-23′s, the sport definitely needs to learn lessons from those who struggle to get enough money to make training sessions.

London 2012: Football

Aug 19

London 2012: Water Polo

Once the Olympics had started I decided I hadn’t got enough tickets. My sister was sharing the one’s she’d got in the initial lottery, I had bought some in the follow up lottery and from the EU site. But now I’d been to my first event, I’d seen the empty seats and LOCOG were releasing new tickets everyday. it was time to turn on my lucky clicking finger and get searching on the convoluted ticketing database. There was such a demand created for tickets that everytime some were released, the site ground to a halt, putting people in queues, with long wait times. If you only had 3-4 minutes max wait, you were probably going to be fine. Anything longer, no tickets for you!

Although I’d constantly look for events such as Athletics or Swimming or Cycling, the exciting ones, so did everyone else. They were very rare and I was unlucky. So I looked for other events, that I may not have seen, just to experience the Olympic atmosphere again. First of these was Water Polo. I’d watched it occasionally, seen the odd ‘how to play water polo’ feature, but had never experienced it live. Although, to be fair, I’d never seen most of the sports I went to live.

Water Polo was being held in a temporary structure, next to the Aquatic arena. Purpose built for this sport.

London 2012: Water Polo

During the session, I saw two matches. First was Romania vs Montenegro, then Australia vs Croatia. And I loved both matches. The action was fast and furious and interactivity very ‘vigorous’ – by which I mean it seems to be a pretty heavy contact sport. Players seem to develop a very exaggerated swimming action that just seem to land heavily on the opposition! I’ve no idea what was going on underwater, but I’m guessing there was as much jockeying for position.

Most of the action was around the goals; in that it was similar to handball, which I saw later in the week. One team has the ball around the goal, passing between themselves until they try to score, then it gets thrown to the other end for a repeat. Very little action in the middle of the pool.

London 2012: Water Polo

This sport had another odd volunteer role. Showjumping had the muck scoopers, who ran out in the breaks to clear up the horse muck from the course. Water Polo has the ball boys, whose job is to swim out and place the ball in the middle for each half. They sit there in their dressing gowns, collecting the balls when they get thrown out, just stripping off to put the ball in the middle of the pool. I wonder if they had a set of trunks in the volunteer colours?

London 2012: Water Polo

Aug 06

London 2012 Beach Volleyball

My third Olympic sports trip was to see the beach volleyball. There’ll be no legacy from the construction of this area – for some reason, beach volleyball takes place in the heart of government, right next to Downing Street on Horseguards Parade. There was obviously some interesting thinking going on when this decision was made, but it paid off, the location is gorgeous!

London 2012: Beach Volleyball

The whole of the Mall is cordoned off during this part of the games, which can’t make getting around London by car too easy, but makes it easy to get to the event. Volunteers were everywhere, dotted every 10m or so, keeping you moving, keeping you on the right side of the road and moving you through security. As at the tennis, security was easy, just a small fast-moving queue and straight through the scans.

London 2012: Beach Volleyball

Inside, the same stalls as in the Olympic Park, non-branded as usual, loads of loo blocks and loads of volunteers ready to answer your questions and keep everything fun. Initially feeling quite empty, the grandstands soon filled up.

London 2012: Beach Volleyball

There were 4 matches on the programme, each scheduled for an hour from 8pm. Two men and two women’s matches. The women’s clothing seemed to disappoint the men in the audience, they were fully covered up. Apparently special dispensation has been given from the governing body for the London Olympics to allow more clothing to be worn and I think they’re right. It was COLD out there especially when it started raining. But the entertainment – a group of dancers who appeared between matches and in time-outs – were dressed for the sun rather than the rain.

London 2012: Beach Volleyball

I’ve seen beach volleyball on TV, so rules are pretty straightforward to understand. Just in case, they played the how-to video for the crowd before the first. However, the whole set up of the evening appeared to want to distract you from the sport. There was music between each point, there were calls from the announcer. There were congas and dancing and crowd shots. And all the time, people just coming and going, moving around. This was not a tennis or golf crowd, no respect for play here. In fact, that was the deliberate atmosphere encouraged by the organisers. The game itself seemed to be less important than the party. Fun, but not quite right for me…

London 2012: Beach Volleyball

So go with a bunch of friends, have a beer and have a laugh and you’ll have a great time. Enjoy the view!