Thursday, August 23, 2012

The 30th Olympiad - London 2012

Retro Rides Gathering consumes my life during August and so this post is a touch late.  I just hope that I remember everything correctly and in order - those who were with me please feel free to correct where needed!

If you read my ramblings quite often you might remember my underwhelming response to the Olympic torch passing our part of the country.

As the days passed the media was full of what was going to go wrong and why the Olympics were such a bad idea ... and so me being me started to come round to the whole thing.  By the time the opening ceremony was taking place I was fully committed to making the most of the experience and we even let Alfie stay up late to watch as much as he could keep his eyes open for!

Many months ago when the whole ticket ballot took place Tash was the one who suggested we try for tickets.  We both went for a sport we liked and thought nothing of it.  As the games got closer the media were full of the ticket 'farce' and how so many people didn't get tickets when all of a sudden Tash says our account has been debited and we must have tickets!  And that's how I found myself on a train going to Greenwich to watch Equestrian on Day 2 of the London Olympics.  Its wasn't even the horsey jumping part, we had tickets to pony ballet (aka dressage).  I was a little gutted but after seeing the opening ceremony and the buzz that was around London I was looking forward to a day in the city.

Day 2 - Equestrian

We were up early and on the train to Kings Cross followed by a trip across to Greenwich on the DLR.  Alfie got plenty of time people watching on both!  He especially loved being able to see out the back of the DLR trains.

As soon as you get close to an Olympic venue you start to see these chaps.  They were given the title 'Games Makers' and they really became the stars of the Olympics.

A short walk delivered us to Greenwich Park

 and I was very impressed by the temporary stands they had erected.

Esme seemed very excited about it all.

We made our way to our seats and were stopped at the top of the stairway.  Dressage is a quiet business and we could go no further.  There was a horse prancing about the arena, and we were not to disturb her.  It was Zara Phillips on board no less!

Once up in our seats we could see right across to the City and had a lovely view to watch the action. 

 And with plenty of horses to watch Alfie was loving it!  After an hour or so Esme got tired and I fancied a walk too so I strapped her into a sling (we had travelled without a buggy) and we went for a walk.

We got right round to the other side where it became apparent that the teams and families seats must be.  From the back of this stand we even got to see the riders entering the arena and even coming over to speak with coaches and family.  This was one of the Thai competitors.

Another hour had passed and the promised rain showers were closing in.  Tash and I arranged to meet and so I started wandering back round towards our stand.  The worlds media really were at the Olympics and I captured this lady doing a report for Chinese Central TV.  I know it was Chinese Central TV because straight after this she approached me and asked if i'd do an interview for her!  I have no idea why people in China would want to hear from me, but I duly obliged.  I wonder if I got a name caption on screen ... "Keith Batsford, that chap from the Bake Off"  No, I doubt it either.

Tash said she was happy with what she had seen and so we decided to check out the street traders and viewing areas surrounding the venue and grab a bite to eat.  There was a fantastic buzz in the area outside the venue, in many ways actually better than being inside!

Just in time we dived inside the Heineken tent as a heavy thunderstorm opened outside!

Shortly afterwards the big screen fizzed out of action and then just as quickly as it started the rain ceased to fall.  We loaded the kids into the slings and ventured outside to see what was going on.

How cool are these seats!

With the Cutty Sark standing proudly just up the road we spent the afternoon wandering around the great old clipper.  I'll save that for another post though.

Day 5 - Cycling Time Trial

Having got a taste for the Olympics I'd arranged to meet our friends Claire and Jody down in London to catch the Time Trial Cycle Race.  With Bradley Wiggins having just won the Tour de France he was strong favourite for the mens race and it seemed a great chance to get out and have an enjoyable day.  

Alfie, Esme and I made good time down to Teddington and we made our way to Bushy Park with Claire and Jody.  We completely missed the women go through and so we made our way to a suitable spot to catch the action.

On the way through Jody and Alfie stopped for a race of their own.

 And we tried to avoid the amazingly tame wildlife!

We found ourself a nice spot just by the 1km to go banner and sat down to a picnic.  All very civilised!

Once we knew they were underway we got ourselves up to the barrier and waited for the first riders to arrive.

Alfie preferred to roll down the slope!

It was an awesome afternoon.  There was space for Alfie to play (and other kids about too), we had a great place to see the riders, and the sun shone all day on us!  The day was made all the more enjoyable by the company we were in - massive thanks to Claire and Jody, those guys are awesome with the kids and really add to the excitement and enjoyment for Alfie and Esme.

Here's a couple of shots from the afternoon - its actually pretty hard to shoot something moving at 30mph directly towards you whilst applauding and cheering!

And a quick vid of the last rider, Tony Martin, going through with the crowd cheering as Wiggo has already finished and victory was all but guaranteed.  He won it by a country mile!

We took our time before walking back down the route towards the train station.  After fighting our way a few stops on the train we walked the remainder of the the way with all the cycling team cars passing us going the other way.

By now - surprise surprise - I was really getting into the Olympics.  Having recently got back onto 2 wheels I fancied a ride into London to check out the Olympic Park.  Claire's got a Fireblade and so within a few days another Olympic adventure was planned.

Day 11 - The Olympic Park

It was a Tuesday night, it was later than I'd liked, and we had a rather suspect forecast.  A call to Claire confirmed I needed to 'grow a pair' and get a move on. A short while later I was at Kings Cross having ridden my first decent distance on the GPZ (without mirrors), ridden through rain, and ridden during sundown.  It was something of a baptism of fire but I was glad I had done it.

We made our way across to Stratford and following her did my riding the world of good - the confidence came flooding back to me!

As we came through the city I recognised where I was from when I used to commute into town and shortly we reached the junction where the A11 crosses the A12 ... then before us the Olympic Park just rose out from the East End perfectly illuminated against the night sky.  I wish I had stopped to grab a photo but I didn't so here's a couple I stole from the internet.

We managed to ride right to the front of the Park and hopped off our bikes right outside Stratford Station.  It was at this point we went for our pockets to grab cameras and having switched on the Powershot on my heart sank.  "No Card" were the words on the screen and I realised I must have left the memory card in the laptop from when I last downloaded pics.  To say the least I was really pee'd off with myself.  The result is that all my photos area rubbish camera phone ones.  The better ones I've stolen from Claire!

This is Stratford Station.

We decided to see how far we could venture, and what areas we could get to without having a ticket.  As we got closer there were 'Games Makers' asking you to have tickets ready and then finally security checking that you actually had a ticket.  We said we wanted to take a few photos, pointed to the end of the passage and asked if we could go that far to take a few shots.  We were still outside the venue and they let us carry on.  From here you can see the Aquatic Centre in front, the Olympic park next to it, and another venue to the right lit up in blue.

Having got this far we opted to carry on and somehow made it to the 'front' where the army were checking tickets.  It was clear we would get no further.  We got speaking to one of the 'Games Makers' and after a bit of chit-chat he let us down be saying he couldn't get us in.  On the plus side he said he could take a lovely photo with a gorgeous Olympic backdrop.  He is clearly an idiot - this is the photo.

We wandered around the outskirts of the venue until we came to the Heineken 'Podium Bar'.  By now it was drizzling, we fancied a bite to eat, and the chance to have a beer whilst watching the wrestling was just a once in a lifetime opportunity! (?)

It was a great evening though and by the end of it were making plans on how we could get even more out of the Olympic experience.

Over the next few days I heard more and more about tickets being reissued via the ticketing website, and then of a Twitter feed that announced when tickets became available.  I kept an eye on things, thought I knew how the 'system' worked yet struggled to bag tickets.  It was a four stage process where you needed to select your event, then choose your tickets, then search for tickets then reserve your tickets.  At any stage you can be hit with "sorry, no tickets available".  With thousands (if not more) trying for just a few tickets you had to be on the ball and get lucky!

I was after Athletics, the BMX, Handball and then laterly the Kayak Sprints.  After what seemed like a solid 48 hours of hitting refresh I got a pair of tickets to the Kayak Sprints and best of all I managed to get Alfie's as a kids ticket for just £2! (kids tickets were not available on all ticket 'codes'). 

Day 14 - Kayak Sprints

We managed to make last minute plans to stay with Sal and Dave (as they live 5 minutes from Eton Dorney) and the following night we made the journey down to Bracknell.  Parking at the venue seemed impossible so we booked into a local park and ride, choosing the latest arrival slot of 6:30-7am.  Expecting bulging car parks and huge queues this was what we were met with!  Yup, a near enough empty field!

Alfie really has that 'little schoolboy' mentality coming out in him now and he was straight to the back of the Park & Ride bus - union flag in hand ready for its third outing!

You can see why everyone has been so complimentary about transport to events.  They weren't exactly short of buses!

 It appears he even worked out we were going to see the Olympics!


After a short walk we reached the entrance to Eton Dorney.

We were actually so early the venue hadn't opened and so we had to wait a short while before being allowed to enter.  It was OK though cos there was a chap under a gazebo playing guitar and breakfast was available!  We managed to pick up the running order here too and I was extremely impressed to see we were going to get a race every 6 minutes and a total of 23 races!  Surely enough to keep a 2 year old with no attention span happy!?

Some were even more enthusiastic than Alfie!

At the first ticket checkpoint we were told we had VIP seats and were around the 'other' side of the lake!  Our seats were actually fantastic, and I presume were resold because some nation didn't need them - hence we were in the 'friends and family' area.  It meant we had the warm up/down lake behind us and there were no queues for any of the traders or caterers.

With the Kayak Sprints being just 200 metres it meant all the action would be right in front of us and we had the start line immediately by our stand.

We took a wander round to sample the atmosphere before things kicked off.  Some countries really get into their kayaking!

We made our way back to our seats before the races began and as the paddlers came to the line the chap on the mic was really building the crowd up.  This is much more like what I wanted for an Olympic experience - proper racing with cheering and shouting to be done!

To illustrate my point this is the first heat Ed Kimber, the British paddler, was in.  The following day he won gold.

The kayak racing was impressive, but the canoe racing was crazy.  How those guys have the power to literally drag those boats across the water is incredible!

We were promised the hottest day of the year and that, combined with a late night and early start, meant Alfie was getting tired towards the end of the morning.

We made our way downstairs to catch the last race before leaving.  Its was the mens kayak doubles.  These guys were awesome and absolutely flew down the course!

With the racing over we made our way towards the exit.  Being on the 'teams' side of the water we got to catch some of the paddlers giving post race interviews to the media.

We actually passed one of the British girls on the path round to the exit.

People grabbed a 'High-5' on their way out and that was another event ticked off.  For someone who a few weeks ago wasn't too interested in the Olympics I'd now been to four of the venues!

I strapped Alfie into the sling and we made our way for the Park & Ride.  He'd had an awesome morning, but the effort of shouting "GeeBee, GeeBee, GeeBee" had clearly taken its toll!

I tried desperately to get tickets for the final day - largely so we could be inside the Olympic Park for the final ceremony and at one thought I'd managed it.  Having selected £40 tickets I found myself having got through the select, search and request stages and now all I had to do was pay ... but for some reason I found two £125 tickets in my shopping basket! 

Needless to say I didn't pay, subsequently failed to get tickets, and watched the (fairly poor) closing ceremony from the comfort of FTC.

I have to say though, the Olympics have been brilliant, London has been buzzing, and its given this recession hit country a massive lift!  Its something that will probably never happen again in my lifetime and I had great fun making sure we made the most of it!

Want even more than this massive blog post?  All 400+ of my Olympic photos can be found here.

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