Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Olympics 2: Beach Volleyball

Nearly every time I've mentioned to a mate that I won tickets to the Olympic beach volleyball in the draw the ever so slightly jealous reaction has centred around the eye pleasing attributes of the players, as opposed to their sporting prowess. Cue standard pervy picture (the Czechs).
Believe or not, only a small part of the occasion was spent leering (I will have you know that Christina took that picture!) because there was all round too much else to enjoy. If you did not know already, the temporary stadium has been parked right in the middle of Horse Guards Parade. Yup, a stone's throw from Buckingham Palace, with Downing Street as its neighbour and its backdrop consisting of Parliament, London Eye and, of course, the magnificent buildings of Horse Guards. A simply awesome setting, topped off by some Mediterranean weather.

The games weren't half bad either. First up, Czech Republic ladies gave the Mauritians a bit of a trouncing. This was followed by a fiercely competed match between China ladies and the Swiss, the former edging it in the decider. A lot of good rallies, high fives and, in particular from the Chinese, uber competitive shrieking.
It then switched over to the men's, with an intimidatingly impressive Norwegian team (who according to Christina should be forced to play topless to match the ladies in bikinis situation...please speak to your local IOC representative...) thumped an enthusiastic, but much weaker Canadian side. Last up were my top team of the day, a highly skilled Latvian team, who put the South African pair to the sword. Loads of testosterone, the odd chest bump and, happily, simply great beach volleyball. The ferocity of the spikes and tenacity of defence on some of the points really took me aback.
We had a great time. I was not sure how my one year old would take the whole experience, but safe to say Niko loved it as much as his parents. The noise, the cheers, the clapping, the music. He so wore himself out that he missed one of the games fast asleep, sheltering from the sun beneath our GB flag, before waking back up to make more friends in the crowd.
Bar the few empty seats which have grabbed the news headlines (it was shocking to see a whole block of "Olympic family" seats empty at an event that was apparently the most over subscribed in the whole Olympics), the organisers have done a brilliant job with the beach volleyball. They enhanced the inspired choice of venue with a party atmosphere. At every mini break, dancers poured on with sassy routines, conga lines formed - an impromptu one led by Canadians in hockey helmets - music blasted out and the MC joked around. The crowd really got into it and it felt a million miles away from any other Tuesday morning in the City.
As a Londoner, the whole thing gave me a tinge of pride. For some reason it really meant something when the friendly Belgians next to us commented on how great an event it was. From a spectator perspective, for me, this is what the Olympics are all about. Turning up to watch some random sport you know sod all about, sharing in the experience with people from all over the world, saluting the impressive athletes and wandering off with a broad smile wanting to find a beach to start volleyballing on.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Olympics 1: GB Footie

After enjoying a thoroughly bizarre, perhaps a little too colloquial, but all in all wonderful opening ceremony around my flat with some mates and bevvies, it was time for our first live event - GB football at Wembley.
I am a firm believer that men's football should not be in the Olympics in its current format (U23s plus 3 older players), if at all. Bar none, an Olympic event should have the best players in the world showing what, at its peak, the human body can achieve. By making the event limited in scope, it makes it sub standard and takes the edge off the pinnacle that the Olympics is meant to represent. Saying that, I was very excited to get my hands on some tickets for the first GB team since 1960.

The first game, Senegal vs Uruguay, was a shock win for the African team who showed plenty of spirit going down early to 10 men, but also hacked like Sunday league players. As Wembley slowly filled to capacity a positive and festival atmosphere grew as people cheered on anyone and everyone.
By the time the UAE vs GB game started (I keep on starting to type England, just like the odd section of the crowd who started chanting EN-GER-LAND EN-GER-LAND, before promptly stopping and moving to something more appropriate and less monotone), the whole place was buzzing. It was really noticeable how many more families and less loutish blokes there were then the normal Wembley game. A patriotic, yet unconfrontational air ruled, with Union Jacks everywhere being were waved and shaken at anything half decent that emanated from the team.
As it happened the team didn't do half bad, with the older Welsh players (Giggs and the impressive Bellamy) giving some structure and confidence to the young mostly English remainder of the team. A good goal early in the first half led to huge cheers and a general mood of satisfaction. As the game stretched on, the crowd's interest shifted from average football into decent Mexican waves and the odd comedy chant. This was though rudely interrupted by the UAE scoring quite a decent goal on the break 60 mins into the match. I mean how dare they. Had they not heard this was our party?
Suddenly everyone was chewing their nails and GB did their very best to throw it all away for the next 10 minutes, the UAE striker missing a sitter. Fortunately it all came good with a couple of quick goals from the GB subs, each greeted with huge cheers and the odd jig. The satisfied haze filtered back through the crowd and, at least in my section, it descended into a few thousand people trying to fit GB into Hey Jude (for future experience, it fits best into the chorus by replacing "Hey" with "G and "Jude" with "B").
All in all a gentle, pleasant introduction to the London 2012 Olympics. The game was not a big one, Football is barely a real Olympic sport, but no one really cared, as it was a great excuse to allow a whole lot of people to grab their bit of the Olympic experience and, for 90 per cent of the crowd, cheer on Team GB.
Stuck on Wembley way inching towards the tube, I glimpsed back and beheld thousands of happy punters pouring out from the great stadium, Olympic logo finery to each and every side and, of course, that magnificent arch blazoned across the night sky. Quite a spectacle.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


After years of waiting it is finally here. In less then 24 hours the Olympic Games will be in London, my home town.

Tonight, I am but a little boy seething with excitement and anticipation. I spend half my normal life dreaming of jumping on a plane and exploring far flung lands, but right here and now there is unequivocally no place I would rather be than exactly where I am. Where I work, where I live, where I play. London.

It is a British trait to dwell on the negatives. As a nation we feel comfortable stooped in grey and far too many Londoners I have spoken to concentrate on the few detrimental, or potentially detrimental, aspects of the Games. Traffic, security, cost, nightmare journeys to work, rubbish ticketing system....etc. Some people go on and on. I just say sod them. The costs are sunk,  you can't spend your life worrying about whether some nut may or not try and blow himself up, if you really wanted a ticket you could I have got one (there are still some on sale now!), and, being British, we can put up with the odd queue.

The eye of the world is on this city. None less than humanity's greatest celebration of itself is back in London. The last time it was here Stalin ruled Russia, no one had a TV and my father was in the womb. The next time it comes I will almost certainly have fallen off this mortal coil. Let's just enjoy this wonderful one off opportunity!

Over the next two weeks, I will share a few experiences from the odd mish-mash of tickets I have managed to scrape together. From beach volleyball to taekwando, via hockey and athletics, a spot of heavyweight greco-roman wrestling, the odd bit of archery and couple of other events thrown in for good measure, I hope to pick up enough interesting experiences to savour and, just perhaps, make this blog worth reading.