diamond geezer

 Saturday, August 11, 2012

I went to the Olympics again yesterday.
This time I took my niece to the synchronised swimming.
It was all over in a splosh.

Synchronised Swimming - the venue: Aquatic Centre
The Aquatic Centre would be the standout architectural triumph of these Games if only it didn't have two huge wings attached. But those grandstands are essential, else only a couple of thousand spectators could cram inside to watch the action. They're also very very tall. There were five flights of stairs to climb from ground level security, around the nose of the building, to reach the main concourse. And then, oh, you want us to walk up that temporary staircase into the heart of the stand? That was ten flights of stairs, a feat which certain more overweight spectators found to be an unexpected endurance test. Emerging into the upper echelons, blimey, I was glad not to have much further to climb. But there were still at least two dozen further rows of seats behind where we sat, accessed via a vertiginous staircase, for those perching in the gods. We had excellent seats for the diving, high above the 10m board, looking down directly on the plunge pool. Unfortunately we weren't there for the diving, we were there for the synchronised swimming. That was taking place in the main pool, more precisely a small area in the centre, so far down that the swimmers looked like eight spangly ants. My line of sight was part-blocked by a stair rail, a very important stair rail because it prevented those on the staircase tumbling accidentally to their doom. But the rail blocked a significant strip of the action, so much so that sometimes the crowd whooped with delight at some aquatic feat I'd never noticed. It was noticeable that several of the seats in front of me stayed empty, as if LOCOG had checked the sightlines and decided it wouldn't be fair to position any spectator there. But my seat was fair game, it seems, despite a less than ideal aspect. Don't get me wrong, it could have been a lot worse, for example if I'd been sat behind the girl in the tall Union Jack hat or the group of wildly over-enthusiastic Russians. And I saw plenty, almost as much as I could have expected from such a high elevation, mostly because I'd had the foresight to bring binoculars. But ho hum, the event I paid the most to attend was also the event with the worst view. So it goes.

Synchronised Swimming - the event: Team Free Routine
Many laugh at synchronised swimming as a bit of a joke, a lot of splashing around in the water wearing outlandish costumes. But to do it well takes astonishing skill, and dedication, and the ability to listen to the same four minute piece of music over and over and over while practising. The girls had completed a technical routine the previous day, and day two was their chance to shine with a free routine of their own devising. The British eight were on first, emerging from backstage to strike a pose on the poolside, then diving in. They swam, they high-kicked, they disappeared beneath the water to do something fancy, and occasionally one leapt from the pool like a hungry dolphin. Our sequence appeared to be a Peter Pan medley, at one point with legs snapping like crocodiles, at another forming some kind of pirate ship. Taekwondo this is not. They did well, and because they were first leapt immediately into gold medal position. We knew it couldn't last. The remaining seven countries appeared in what looked like reverse-seeded order, so the performances got better and better. Higher leaps, more original set pieces, and more seamlessly polished legwork. Every performance demonstrated such sustained athleticism, and all this while frequently holding their breath underwater. And oh, the costumes. Some glittered, all sparkled, and in shades that made London's magenta signage look dull by comparison. I particularly liked Spain's understated silver, a combination of mirrored swimming cap with what could have been a fishing net wrap. They swam so well even I knew they were in with a medal chance, but were outgunned by the grinning Chinese, and ultimately the faultless Russians. Hence it was the Russian national anthem we got to stand for at the end, at least those of the crowd who hadn't walked out early "to avoid the rush". With eight in a team there are a lot of medals to distribute, so this took a while, the winners suddenly looking much more normal without their bathing caps and fixed grins. Oh and Great Britain came sixth, which I thought was great in a sport where we'd not even been expected to qualify. Should the legacy of the Games be a greater inspiration to take part in sport, synchronised swimming looks a whole lot more fun than football, and probably considerably harder too. [eight photos]

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