Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I watched an Olympic event in person. No television required.
More than a year ago, actually before our wedding, my wife and I were fortunate enough to get tickets for one Olympic event. However, how to best ensure we actually got the tickets. We, along with everyone else, knew that plenty of the events were going to be ridiculously oversubscribed. We also knew we were only going to be able to afford cheaper tickets. Well, while there were certain events I was not interested in (football for example) my wife has a long-standing interest in the equestrian disciplines. We looked at what was on offer and decided the discipline with least interest was likely to be the specialist dressage, in the first grand prix. We applied, and last May (iirc) forty pounds was withdrawn from my account for our two tickets. Two tickets which we used yesterday.
Of course, when we applied for those tickets we did not really expect to have a seven and a half week old baby just now. Fortunately family (in the form of my mother) and long-standing family friends (in the form of the wonderful lady who made our wedding cake, who fortuitously lives on the outskirts of London) offered to help take care of Melian from the friend’s house. That being only an hour or so outside of central London it would not put us too far away from Melian (if we had to leave Melian here in Somerset, we would not have gone).
Firstly, I have to praise the volunteer staff. They were, without exception, excellent. Not only excellent, they were also ubiquitous. They were friendly, welcoming and full of good cheer. Getting to Greenwich Park is not in and of itself terribly easy – there is basically no underground coverage there. Rather we went into London to Waterloo Station, went from there to Blackheath Station, and then walked 20 minutes or so to the entrance of the Olympic Grounds. The signage pointing the way was excellent. As my wife said, really, if you managed to get lost really it was your own fault. The volunteers were everywhere. Our fellow spectators also were all full of good humour and excitement. The security checkpoint was manned by some of the soldiers drafted in to cover for G4S. They were highly professional, and the entire security checkpoint was smooth and painless. I made a point of saying thank you to the guy who checked us through for standing in. He smiled.
We then had a further lengthy walk to the actual venue itself, seeing parts of the eventing cross-country course which were in the process of being dismantled so part of the park can be returned to public use. We got the venue and filled up our water bottles (one was not allowed to carry water in, but could take in empty bottles which could be filled up for free). Then we climbed up to our seats. Remember, we go the cheapest tickets. We were on level 38 – which was a very long way up. Our legs were a little tired by the time we got there, but once we got there and sat down, this is what we saw.
This was just after the tournament started, and the empty seats would basically fill up over the course of the next hour. It was rather windy up there too, but the view was fantastic.
I admit I do not really know all that much about dressage – just enough to know what is going on but not much more. Before the tournament began they showed a video explaining some of the more complicated dressage moves though for people like me or with even less knowledge. We left at the end of the second session – because we were starting to really miss our little baby girl – but in that time we had seen some wonderful horses and riders.
We saw a British rider perform absolutely splendidly. When his horse went into an extended trot, it was like watching silk on wind. It was the equine equivalent of some wonderful Shakespearean lines. We also saw a Moroccon rider – the first African ever to qualify apparently for specialist dressage (and when the announcer mentioned that at the end of his run, the crowed cheered even more to congratulation him). The last rider was saw was from Japan. It was the fourth Olympics he appeared in. The first was in Tokyo in 1964. Think on it, competing in the Olympics when one is 71!
If we did not want to go back to Melian, we would have happily stayed and enjoyed ourselves just as thoroughly in the second half I am sure. As it was we started our long walk back … and about ten minutes in it started to rain. At first it appeared to be a shower or two. We were soon disabused of this notion. About fifteen or twenty minutes later, when we were nearly at the railway station, I mustered all the British understatement I could muster and said to my wife “I think we are a little damp.” Those of you who know us in this island will have some idea of how wet we were 🙂 . The volunteers on the route back – getting wet themselves – laughed and joked with us. Again, they deserve the highest praise for their fun and dedication.
Then we went home, having achieved a lifetime ambition to go to an actual Olympic event.