I went to the Olympics again yesterday. This time I went to Eton Dorney to watch the canoe sprint. You might have seen me on BBC1.
Canoe Sprint - the venue: Eton Dorney Normally when the Olympics come round the host nation has to build a 2km rowing lake from scratch. Not so London 2012, who appropriated Eton College's pride and joy at no additional taxpayer outlay. Dorney Lake is set in a bend in the Thames to the west of Windsor, which is great if you fancy a riverside ramble, but not so easy when delivering thirty thousand spectators by nine in the morning. A shuttle bus service was put into operation, with steady streams of vehicles running in from Slough and Windsor & Eton Riverside. They gravitated towards a vast temporary bus station on a paddock near the racecourse, where huge numbers of lilac vehicles lined up to disgorge their human cargo. And then the long walk. London 2012's been full of long walks, which is fine if you're fit and expecting it, less so if you're elderly. In this case the trek followed all the way around the racecourse and over a number of temporary footbridges (the last of these spanning the Thames). Security was easy - I again experienced no queues, despite several busloads arriving at once. And all fairly fast - I reached my seat just over an hour after departing Paddington. This being Eton, spectators were very much grouped by class. Prestige visitors got their own bespoke pavilion near the finish line. Mainstream spectators in Grandstand 1 got a better view than those in Grandstand 2, further up the course. And those who'd paid the least got to sit on the lawns near the 500m start, with an oblique view of the big screen and pretty much no sight of the far distant finish. A lovely location, with waterfowl occasionally swooping in for an impromptu airshow. Should you ever fancy a peek at the lake shorn of hog roast stands and portaloos, the surrounding parkland is normally open to the public for a wander. [my report]
Canoe Sprint - the event: Men's 1000m C2, Women's 500m K1, Women's 500m K2 A morning of heats and semi-finals was on offer, nineteen races in total. We were treated to a broad mixture of events, some with one woman (sitting) in a kayak, others with two men (kneeling)in a canoe. This is paddling, not rowing, which probably explains why you don't see it on TV much, although the first half hour did make it onto BBC1 simply because there were no other Olympic events taking place. I've checked the iPlayer footage and I think I can work out which small dot is me, but you're unlikely to be so fortunate. Each race lasted somewhere between two and four minutes, unless you were the two-man crew from Angola in which case nearer five, eventually reaching the finishing line to a chorus of encouraging cheers. It's not like you get on the TV, watching live, more a lengthy session of repetitive races interspersed with some waiting around. Some of the younger children in the crowd found this difficult to maintain for two hours, indeed a few of the adults couldn't stick it either. But on the whole this was a polite but enthusiastic crowd of the southeast's middle classes - more Maidenhead than Slough, let's say. The dad to the left of me proved he should have been in the office by taking a call about a Birmingham property deal on his Blackberry. The daughter to my right hoped to support New Zealand, but had made a right mess of painting "NZ" on her face in a mirror. Several genuine national contingents were also present, with clusters of vocal over-enthusiasm whenever Germany or certain Eastern European countries paddled past. "Go Hungary! Go Hungary" they cried, which sounded like they'd not had enough breakfast. The grandstand erupted when race 8 finally included a competitor from Team GB. Rachel Cawthorn was competing in the heats of the Kayak Single, and the crowd whooped and waved as she powered down the course at the head of the field. Their fervour was astonishing given the non life-or-death nature of the race. There were six competitors in her heat of whom the fastest six would qualify... but never mind that irrelevance, the cheering collective were enraptured anyway. They were more rightly chuffed when she squeaked secondin the semi-final, rising to their feet to see better... and thereby completely blocking the view for all the under five-footers in the grandstand. Rachel's final is tomorrow, and we'll all have a better view online, but it was good to be there to watch far more than the edited highlights. [five photos]