I was asked, earlier in the week, for an Olympic ticket recommendation.
"If I wanted to see SOMETHING, didn't really mind what it was, as long as I could say 'I was there' for the Olympics, what's your hunch on what might be the best thing to bid for?"
Which I thought was a good question. The ticket ballot system makes it really difficult to guarantee a seat, especially for the more popular sports. If you only apply for a handful of events, there's a real risk that they'll all be over-subscribed and you'll walk away with nothing. But you don't want to apply for too many sessions in case you're accidentally over-successful and end up forking out a fortune. So what's the ideal 'dead cert' event?
Some Olympic events are free. Who cares whether you get a ticket or not, you can go along and watch anyway. The marathon, of course, and the race walk. The cycling road race, which heads all the way out to Surrey, and the biking bit of the triathlon. The sailing off Weymouth, so long as you find yourself a non-ticketed bit of foreshore. Or, my top tip, the ranking rounds of the archery, which are two unticketed sessions on the morning and afternoon before the Opening Ceremony. But none of these free events really fit what my questioner required. To truly 'be there', it's going to cost.
The Olympic Ticket guide helpfully highlights all the sessions that organisers think they're going to have trouble selling tickets for. These are the sessions where the "Ticket limit" is 20, not 4 or 6. They're usually sessions where special prices for children and senior citizens are available, and are all for the preliminary rounds of something, never a final, For the best chance of actually winning an Olympic ticket in the 2012 lottery, apply for one these. But be warned. Some £20 sessions have been subsidised to appear generous, when in fact they would have sold out at a much higher price. Don't think you'll get into the athletics for £20, for example, because everyone else will have had the same idea.
Football's probably a very good bet. There are more than a million tickets to Olympic football matches up for grabs, all over the country, where you can go and watch two as yet unnamed countries kicking a ball around for 90 minutes. A Great Britain team is scheduled to take part next year, although few Britons give a damn about Olympic football because we haven't officially entered a team since 1960. And football's so common, so everyday, so ordinary, isn't it? So somehow this doesn't feel like properly 'being there' either.
What you're looking for are the sports that nobody really cares about. That's where the sure-fire ticket opportunities are. Badminton, fencing, handball, judo, table tennis, taekwondo, volleyball, and wrestling - these surely won't be over-subscribed. Or aim for sports with large arenas to fill and plenty of preliminary rounds, sports such as basketball, boxing, canoeing, hockey, rowing and weightlifting.
But some of these won't have a true Olympic feel, because of where they're taking place. Badminton has lots of tickets, but at Wembley Arena, which isn't special. Boxing, fencing, judo, table tennis, taekwondo, weightlifting and wrestling are all being held at ExCel, a cavernous venue with all the charm of a supermarket warehouse. And the volleyball will be hosted at Earl's Court, so that's doubly boring. To be able to say "I was there", you don't want to have gone here.
So here are my top 3 "I was there" choices.
Bronze: Rowing (Eton Dorney, capacity 30000) It's not in Stratford, it's near Windsor, but there's something very Olympic about the rowing. Eton Dorney will host £20 sessions on each of the last four days of July, the first of which (on Saturday 28th) lasts for nearly five hours. Rowing will be a popular ticket choice, but the lake is so huge that there'll be plenty of standing room to cram in lots of spectators, and the view should still be good.
Silver: Handball (Handball Arena, capacity 7000) Nobody gives a damn about handball. I mean, you never see it on the TV. It's nothing but water polo without the water, and where's the fun in that? But London's built a dedicated Handball Arena in the Olympic Park, and its seven thousand seats need filling on the cheap every morning for ten days. Hundreds have gone to Thomas Cook, that's how desperate organisers are to shift these tickets. But there should still be plenty for you.
Gold: Hockey (Hockey Centre, capacity 16000) The hockey's taking place on 14 consecutive days, and all the morning sessions are £20 specials. You'll need to turn up by 8:30am, which is damned early, but all the sessions run past noon, so you're getting a lot of spectating for your money. Best of all, the Hockey Centre is inside the boundaries of the Olympic Park, so you'll be able to spend the rest of the day there soaking in the atmosphere. Bargain. And a dead cert?
Don't blame me if you don't get in, but hopefully these three will boost your chances. Ten days left...