Thursday, August 9, 2012

Our Gal in London

RHYS BOWEN: I was going to post something witty and intellectual today until it was suggested to me that people at home in the States would really like a first hand account of the Olympics.

So here are my impressions and experiences: the first impression is that  London is coping brilliantly with the games. There are volunteers on every street corner and at every station to help visitors find their way. London Transport has put on extra trains so there are minimal waits and the trains stop right at the Olympic park.

In spite of huge crowds the entry to the Olympic park was painless and smooth. We were in a seemingly neverending line but it kept moving and we zipped through security with no problem. There was a scare ahead of the games that the firm contracted to handle games security hadn't managed to find enough people, so the army and police were called in. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief that security was being staffed by people who knew what they were doing. And they've made it so pleasant by being friendly and agreeable (TSA could learn a lesson here).

The Olympic park is HUGE. It's literally a half hour walk from one side to the other with the venues--stadium, aquatics center, velodrome etc dotted around. There are central food courts, lovely gardens, a river walk and the buildings themselves are spectacular. One could actually spend a whole day here, eating a picnic while watching the giant screen or listening to concerts at the river bank stage. The  whole thing is spectacular lit up at night, including the weird sculpture tower, called the Orbit, I believe, that towers over the park.

Again there are zillions of volunteers all over the park. These are ordinary people who have given up two weeks of their lives. All they got was a uniform and free travel to the Olympic site. They can't even use unoccupied seats when off duty which I think stinks (one of the few bad things I can say about the way the games are run). They are so friendly, chatting with everyone in the crowd, laughing, joking. The police are equally nice and we saw a copper taking a photo of a family with the little boy wearing his helmet (can you see US cops doing that?) I was a little concerned before the games about the possibility of terrorism, but the atmosphere has felt safe, relaxed and congenial throughout. Everyone chats on trains and while waiting in line. This really is the global village we hope to see in the world one day. What a pity it's only for two weeks.

We had tickets to five events: first a day of badminton (a little ho-hum... sorry badminton fans), then two brilliant days of tennis. On the day of the quarter finals there was play on outside courts and we were able to see the Williams Sisters and Bryan brothers so close that we could almost touch them. Also watched the match between Federer and del Potro (went to 19-17 in the last set) and started to watch Andy Murray versus Djokavich on the screen on Henman Hill but it was cold and drizzly by then.

That's another negative--the weather has been bloody awful. Overcast, cold with a little shower every now and then. I brought nearly all summer clothes and have lived in two long sleeved shirts and two pairs of kahki pants.  \Our other events were women's water polo (US won and we found ourselves sitting in the middle of the US supporters, all chanting USA USA. So that was exciting) and last night women's soccer semi-final. Rather lack luster at Wembley Stadium and it took us hours to get home in the rain.

When not attending an event we've been clued to the TV. BBC has provided stellar coverage with selection of about five sports at any time. Ahead of the games I was asked whether I'd cheer for the US or GB. I replied whoever was winning. Actually it's been a mixture. Definitely US in swimming and water polo as those were our kids' sports and we know some of the teams. Definitely US in that fabulous women's gymnastic final and adorable Gabby in her all around. But for Britain in some of the track and field events, the rowing, the sailing where they have won an impressive number of medals. Considering the size of Britain compared with Russia etc we are doing remarkably well. And it's really special to hear 80,000 people all screaming their lungs out. It's like being part of a giant living breathing organism, a collective soul...really strange.

I was a little concerned before the games about the possibility of terrorism, but the atmosphere has felt safe, relaxed and congenial throughout. Everyone chats on trains and while waiting in line. This really is the global village we hope to see in the world one day. What a pity it's only for two weeks.


  1. Soooo jealous that you were at the Federer/Del Potro match. Bravo carried all of matches except finals here and I'm guilty of watching most of them.
    Also glued to tv for women's gymnastics. But water polo? Beach volleyball? What's next - kick the can? Stoop ball? (Ask a Brooklynite what that is.)

    So tell in the world did you score these tickets. Or shouldn't I ask? Because Jan and I are going to Rio if Federer decides to play in 2016.

  2. Great report Rhys! You took one for the team, didn't you? I for one am ready for them to end because I have hardly read a page!

    Ro, we went to the Olympics in Atlanta and bought tix online. They were for judo, weightlifting, and something else I can't even remember. Now it's coming to me--field hockey! But then we managed to score a few more once we got there. It was great fun anyway!

  3. Only a mystery writer would have been " clued to the TV. " I know, I know... a typo. But also A Clue!

    I have never been to the Olympics but I'm somewhat crowd-phobic so I think it's not to be. So great to hear what it's like Rhys - thanks!

  4. Great report! It's been fun to watch the sports I like (swimming, diving, gymnastics). If I'm not interested, I walk away. You can't like everything, but everyone likes something.

    I hope the athletes are having a blast in their down time.

    Loved the opening ceremony and look forward to the closing. London is putting on a fabulous show. Kudos from across the pond.

  5. The person in our house who has really gone Olympics-mad is our youngest. She can remember watching the Beijing Olypmiad when she was seven, but now she's old enough to really follow the brackets as athletes rise or fall. She's been on the internet a lot, looking up more information about the sports, as well. (Ross has been having her use her big Atlas to identify countries, locate them and learn something about them...sneaky geography lesson...)

    When I told her about Rhys being in London, watching the games, she was amazed. "You can DO that??" Now she's asking why WE can't go to Rio in 2016!

  6. The coverage of the Olympics here in the US has been mediocre. My husband has been following it far more faithfully than I. Loved your report.

  7. Rhys! SO exciting! And wonderful to have you as our special correspondent!

  8. Rhys, after English, what language have you heard spoken most often?

  9. Rhys, thanks for the on-the-scene report! I was hoping to get my TV up and running again in time for the Olympics but have had a heavy case of procrastination. Your report is far more personal than anything that one can see on TV! (And I hope you are feeling well enough now to fully enjoy all your activities.)

    Julia, your little one's reaction is so sweet!

  10. Super report, Rhys! Thanks so much for that. (Though I have to say after a summer of record-breaking heat wave and drought, that weather sounded wonderful to me!)

    I'll never go to the Olympics. Like Hallie, I'm slightly crowd-phobic. I can handle the AWP with 10,000 people, but get beyond that and I start to freak. Also, they're not all in one room or arena.

    I saw some beach volleyball on the TV at a restaurant the other night, and I was with Rosemary. The girls had to wear bikinis, and it looked like they'd trucked in tons of sand to the stadium. When does kickball (the Midwestern version of kick-the-can, Ro) become an Olympic sport?

    But I have followed Gabby online. I have a good friend who's now a writer but was an Olympic-quality gymnast when young who missed her Olympics because of an injury that took her out of gymnastics altogether. We've talked enough about it that I knew what it took for Gabby to accomplish what she did. (And don't get me started on the stupid hair thing!)

    So glad you're having this wonderful time, Rhys, after the nightmare you've just come through. You deserve it. xoxo

  11. Rhys, so envious.... You know how much I would have loved to watch the rowing, especially. Watching the huge crowd at Eton Dorney when GB won the Men's Four was thrilling!!

    It's made me so homesick for London, seeing all the bits they show here between events. And I very glad that things have gone smoothly. Hope what people have seen on TV around the world will make them want to visit London in the future. But what are they going to do with all that stuff in the Olympic park?

  12. Wonderful post, thank you Rhys! I have been glued to the TV but the first hand report is wonderful.

  13. Robin Agnew! How ARE you? Delighted to hear your "voice"!

    Red Julia says please let you know Reds have a spot for you whenever you might like to do a blog! You name the topic.

    It's a Malice Domestic Contest reunion with you, Julia, Donna Andrews' great post yesterday and the fab Hon. Red Linda Rodriguez!

  14. Darlene--I've heard every language under the sun spoken on the trains to the park. Lots of Italian, French, Russian, Swedish, Norwegian. There were crowds of Japanese going to see the women's soccer (many girls dressed in kimonos looking fabulous). Not many Chinese here that I've seen.

  15. Ro, I got tickets through the lottery like everyone else. We put in for almost every event and ended up with 5. Not bad.
    And the first day of Wimbledon was terrific as the side courts are so intimate, and the rest of the Czech team came to cheer on Kvitove and sat beside us.

  16. BMX bike riding is my least favorite addition to Olympic sports. To watch grown men jump around on dirt bikes--also not thrilled about syncronized swimming, rhythmic gymnastics.

  17. Sounds like a lovely time Rhys. Also, sounds like the people in charge of the olympics in London have done an awesome job as far as information and volunteers available to the public.

    Thanks for sharing your Fun experience, I have followed your FB post while you were there


  18. Aw! *blush* I do love my Jungle Reds!!!

  19. Thank you so much for the "on scene" report. Really wish I could see it too.

  20. I am so jealous Rhys, especially about the tennis matches you got to see!

    It makes total sense to me that London would handle the Olympics with aplomb.

    If anyone has heard the Euroheaven and Eurohell joke, it is Euroheaven when the English are policing it all.

  21. Oooh, is there an Olympaid in Georgie's future? Too bad the Berlin Olympics are still so far in the future. As if the IOC would deign to let you use the O-word...

  22. Thank you for your post.

    This year I had to watch the rowing especially after reading Deborah's last book.

    That's what reading does for me:
    open the world.

  23. Thanks for a great report.

    I, too, was fascinated by the rowing thanks to Deborah. I was following the Leander Club's medal count, too. Having lived in the Boston area I knew about the Head of the Charles regatta and used to drive by the boat clubs on the river and see the rowers but I was never that into it until NO MARK UPON HER.

    NBC coverage has been horrible, IMHO. Thankfully, I have been able to watch most events live via the internet and that's been great.

    I'm so jealous you were there for the tennis. That's something I'd love to see.

    I love the winter Olympics and I'm looking forward to Sochi in 2014. I wanted to be a world-class skier but my knees had other ideas.

  24. I heard about the mall there. It was in the paper and said they'd get a lot of business because people had to walk through it to get to the Olympic venues. The mall will be there for years to come it said.