Sunday, August 12, 2012

Olympics 10: ATHLETICS

A very special evening. One of those rare times in life when you know, with complete certainty, that there is nowhere you would rather be on earth then exactly where you are. The Olympic stadium for an evening of athletics finals.
From the moment we won the tickets in the draw, this was the event that we were waiting for. Expectation had been building and building. Running out of work, jumping on a tube jam-packed with fans, entering the Olympic park, making our way over to the stadium, up the stairs and we were there. With a sigh of heightened expectation I walked into the arena.
 
A vast, beautiful theatre of sport. Packed to the rafters with expectant fans, the Olympic flame burning and the distinctive triangular floodlights of the stadium crowning it all. We were based half way up the stand by the 200m start line and had a great view of proceedings.

It started and ended with the men's decathlon. First up was the high jump, each success being greeted by a mass cheer. Last up the 400m, with many of the decathletes falling over that finish line after a tough day of competition. Our favourite was Brad Newdick from New Zealand, who has probably overcome much bullying to represent his country. In between was a whole host of running, jumping, hurdling and throwing. Each roared on by 80,000 people. 
There were of course a few events that particularly lit the touchpaper. It was only a semi-final, but the men's 200m was undoubtedly one of these. It was that man. The man. Usain Bolt. As he entered, the crowd erupted. This is a guy who knows it is his place and his time. Smiling, joking with the volunteers, communicating with the enamoured crowd. Stretch, crouch, on your marks, set.... The split second before BANG is the most magical moment of an athletics meet. The expectant audience takes a collective intake of breath, silence rules and thousands of flashes pierce the panorama. Only an instant and it's gone.
In the first 60m Bolt had destroyed the field. By 100m he was noticeably relaxing, by 150m slowing to a jog. Phenomenal. I just feel for the other guys. The only guy who compared was his training buddy and mate, Yohan Blake. He raced just before, similarly destroyed the field and slowed down so fast that he was almost pipped on the line.
As you would expect in London, the atmosphere revved up multiple notches whenever a Brit competed. Flags were raised and GB chants chanted. Shara Proctor in the long jump final, Lisa Dobriskey and Laura Weightman in the 1500m semi, Andy Turner and Lawrence Clarke in the 110m hurdles.
It was the last of these that put in the local performance of the night. Lawrence Clarke exceeded all expectations to make the final of 110m hurdles, so a fourth place in an Olympic final was fantastic and deservedly received a great reception from the crowd. So close to a medal, but we even got a bit of that with British high-jumper Robbie Grabarz receiving his bronze medal from the night before.
The Greek side of me was also delighted to watch a Greek man star in the javelin qualification. Seeing throws and jumps on TV is one thing, but viewing them in the flesh hammers home just close they come to conquering gravity. Spiridon Lebesis exceeded 80m with the javelin.
 
The night though belonged to the USA. Winner in the women's 200m, women's long jump and men's 110m hurdles. Only the Russians got in on the act, pipping them to the women's 400m hurdles. Each one fast, competitive races and followed up with flag-draped laps of honour. I was particularly impressed by Allyson Felix storming to 200m victory in 21.88 seconds. It was a privilege to witness these athletes reach such heights and join the crowd's outpouring of positive emotion towards them. 

I walked out of the Olympic stadium stuffed full of joy and so proud that my home city could put on such a show. A night at the Olympics athletics and a real dream fulfilled.
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