Ten years ago I went to the opening day of competition in the Olympic Park but never blogged about it. I would have done but there wasn't time. My brother and his three teenagers came down from Norfolk for the day and we spent 13 hours in the Park, then they stayed overnight and the next morning we hurled ourselves straight into Day Two. I did manage to upload 40 photos and copy ten tweets before I went to bed on the floor of the spare room, but that's all you got at the time. So today I'm going to make good and tell you all about the day we went to the basketball and got to be amongst the first-footers to the London 2012 experience.
Saturday, July 28, 2012
I hadn't slept much. It'd been well past midnight when the amazing Opening Ceremony finished with a burst of fireworks I'd heard but couldn't quite see from my balcony. Now I had to grab breakfast, tidy the flat and await the early arrival of my family who had bags to drop off. Then we headed up to Stratford using the free travel that'd come with our Olympic tickets and met Dad off the train because we'd planned this opening salvo well. Ticket totals for Day One were deliberately much lower than subsequent days to help the Park bed in, with only swimming, handball and basketball underway, but we'd correctly targeted some minor heats which allowed us in through the gates just after 9am.
They'd warned us security might be time-consuming but we sailed through and found ourselves alongside the Aquatics Centre being welcomed by a Games Maker. Beaming smiles, purple uniforms and magenta signage were the order of the day. A Games Maker called Wendy took a photo of our family group in front of the Orbit - thanks Wendy - and then we admired the vibrant wild flower meadows in a stripe along the river. My family needed breakfast after their long journeys so we walked up to the biggest McDonalds in the world and were amongst its very first customers. The interior was cavernous and empty, the staff pleased to finally have someone to serve and the lift up to the roof terrace incredibly slow. I cadged a hash brown off someone while I admired the view.
Our event wasn't until the afternoon so we had plenty of time to wander up the park and have a look around. We passed the BBC studio on the central bridge, where I'm not sure much was happening yet, and several hopeful youngsters hoping to flog souvenir programmes from a freshly-printed pile. We walked round the London 2012 Megastore and shuddered at the cost of t-shirts. We decided not to go inside the startling red and white Coca-Cola pavilion for a photo with the torch, and rightly judged that the Panasonic sponsored box would be even duller. We found burnt fragments of the previous night's firework displays on pristine lawns, so I decided it would be a good idea to keep a canister for posterity. And then we sat down on the wooden terraces by the Lea and watched the cycling road race on a big screen in the middle of the river. "I remember when all this was allotments," I said, and I think they ignored me.
Rather than take root I managed to persuade everyone to explore further so we walked to the top of the park past makeshift and permanent arenas. The flowers around the bandstand were looking gorgeous, even if it was too early in the day for Wenlock to be performing. We peered over the edge of the Eton Manor bridge at the double deckers whisking staff and officials around, or more likely running empty. We explored some dead ends, dodged out of the way of passing street theatre and then returned to the riverside lawns at Park Live. It was warm and sunny now, and nearer to the start time of our event so the lawns were packed. The verdant landscape of the northern park seemed thrillingly new, although I didn't realise quite how many times I'd be seeing it again over the next decade.
We took LOCOG's advice and headed into the Basketball Arena 75 minutes before our session started, which turned out to be pessimistically unnecessary. I sat in a corner seat with my Dad and wished the announcer trying to keep the crowd hyped and occupied would calm down. It was a relief not to appear on the fancam. Eventually we got to stand for the anthems of Turkey and Angola, which isn't something I'd done before, and finally some sport began. It went on a bit. What's more we had two matches to watch, plus a burst of urban streetdance as edgy 'half time' entertainment, so were sat on those plastic seats for almost four hours. At least being basketball it was high-scoring end-to-end stuff, and at least in the second match we got to watch the eventual gold medal winners, predictably the USA. How thoughtful of Batman and Spiderman to come and cheer them on.
By the time we emerged it was already early evening so a lot of the crowd flooded away towards the exit. Youngest Nephew was keen to follow suit but we reminded him that this was a once in a lifetime event so we'd be staying. We chose to head down to the southern end of the Park, past half-telephone-boxes and security boats patrolling the waterways, to select something to eat from the stalls at Orbit Circus. I'd already done some reconnaissance to check menus and prices, so plumped for the MSC Fish and Chips over a roast beef roll or something spicier. The Cadbury-only Treat Kiosks were doing a less roaring trade. We watched the blimp fly over, we reflected on the day's events and we threw our rubbish into the correctly-coloured litter bins.
Despite teenage protestations we were determined to spend even more time inside the security perimeter so returned to the bowl by the mid-river screen. The Park took on a whole new atmosphere as the skies darkened and a range of previously-unseen illuminations switched on. The tops of the signage towers glowed pink, the spotlights around the stadium lit the wrap in dazzling white and even the Coca-Cola pavilion revealed a brighter silhouette. As we lay on the Leaside lawns we laughed at the fools who'd chosen to go home early, at least until we noticed there was a nip in the air and we left too. "Seriously," I said, "we can walk home from here, it won't take long." And so we headed out through the Greenway Gate, and once back in the flat sat down and watched the Olympics on TV because we had no idea what had been going on because we were actually there.
Before bed I uploaded 40 photos to Flickr and cobbled together a few words for Blogger, and then the next day I went back and did it all over again but with handball. What I wouldn't give to be going back and doing that tomorrow.