Down the Olympic rabbit hole

I didn’t ever doubt that London could pull the Olympics off. As a nation, we’re pretty great at doing large events and pageantry. I wasn’t quite prepared for how amazing the Opening Ceremony was going to be. Danny Boyle produced a take on British social history of which my 17 year old self would have been proud, featuring Brunel, the Industrial Revolution, the Suffragettes, the NHS, Windrush and a tour through popular music that only lacked a burst of Pulp to make it complete. The torch lighting ceremony made me weepy with joy and the night was only tainted by Paul McCartney’s inability to sing his own songs any more.

I was already in love and the sport hadn’t even started….

LOCOG started releasing extra tickets at very short notice and I became addicted to the London 2012 ticket website. At 10.30pm each evening they release returned tickets and unwanted Olympic Family and Press seats. Dh had selflessly got everyone Paralympic tickets but didn’t manage to get himself any Olympic tickets. I decided that he had to go to something and picked up two single tickets for the swimming on the fourth day of competition as a wedding anniversary gift. As we approached the Stratford Gate of the Olympic Park I felt quite overwhelmed and we didn’t stop smiling the whole time we were there. We only watched a few heats but the atmosphere in the Aquatics Centre was fantastic and whenever a Team GB competitor appeared the whole place went bananas.

Dh’s Olympic sojourn ended there: mine was only just beginning. My Mum and I took the girls to the Olympic Park for the day – our adventures will appear in a separate post. After two heady days at the epicentre of the Games I took myself off to Lord’s for the Archery. It was the Olympics, clearly, but much more civilised – aside from one set of fans shouting MEHICO MEHICO and a whole gang of South Koreans chanting and banging sticks together whenever one of their countrywomen competed.

My late night forays on the ticketing website secured me three diving events in the second week. I had to go on my own, but that was not exactly a hardship. I went to the Men’ 3 metre springboard preliminary and was so into it all that the couple sitting next to me mistook me for the diving expert and started asking me about the nuances of the sport. I think I bluffed fairly well, largely thanks to listening to the expert commentary by Leon Taylor and Bob Ballard over the years. I have enjoyed watching diving for a while but I wasn’t expecting to become a fully-fledged groupie. My binoculars and the zoom on my camera were really put through their paces as I shamelessly peered at buff young (very young) men in tiny speedos. No need for Fifty Shades of Grey when you’ve spent a few hours in their company. In the interest of balance I also watched some women’s diving. I didn’t need to use my binoculars quite as much, but it was still really interesting. My second night of men’s diving gets a post to itself, too.

When I wasn’t at the Olympics I was watching them at home. We had access to a zillion channels of red button awesomeness so I set myself up with my work laptop on my lap, my home laptop to once side, my ipad on the other and the remote in east reach. I went into the office a couple of times for a few hours to get some bits and pieces done but I was largely based at home for the duration.

I watched more of this Olympics than any other. After a slow start, the gold medals started coming in and Team GB lived up to their pre-games billing of ‘Our Greatest Team’. One of my favourite moments was the first Thursday afternoon when we won Gold and Silver in the canoe slalom (who knew that canoeists – and kayackers for that matter – could be so charmingly geeky? They are an endearing counterpoint to the uber rah male rowers) and moments later won Gold in the shooting. Two more disparate events are hard to imagine. Alongside that I developed a fleeting love of judo or, more accurately of local girl Gemma Gibbons as she fought valiantly, with a broken thumb as it turned out, to win a silver medal and looked to the heavens to thank her mum. I, along with a million other women, did quite a bit of sobbing.

I became an armchair expert in a range of sports. I almost hurled my dinner at the screen when the men’s gymnastics team were demoted from silver to bronze thanks to a protest by the sulky Japanese team. Had I been in company I would have been arrested as I shouted expletives at the TV. Luckily the girls were fast asleep in bed and Dh was at work. The gymnasts (Max Whitlock for the teenies, Lewis Smith for the more discerning older lady like myself) were a million times more gracious about it all than I was.

I used to watch a lot of athletics as a kid but have fallen out of love with it in recent years. Too many whingers and too many druggies kept me away but on the magical Saturday night when we won three Gold medals courtesy of Jessica Ennis, Greg Ruthford and Mo Farah re-ignited my love of track and field. I sat with a glass of wine and a plate of cheese and biscuits and marvelled as Mo’s wife, heavily pregnant with twin girls lumbered over to congratulate him. I didn’t leave the house in the last six weeks of my twin pregnancy and yet she was there cheering her man home despite being in obvious and entirely understandable discomfort. Richard Curtis could not have scripted it better.

The Team GB medal tally kept growing, thanks in large part to our amazing cycling programme. It’s always amusing to piss the French off and we are properly good at the two wheel stuff. I’m really hacked off that the events in the Velodrome have been reduced to make way for BMX and mountain biking. I could happily watch that old bloke with the cob-on expression trundle round on a Keirin bike for hours. I miss the individual pursuit and the madness of the Madison. I like the fact that the cyclists and their entourages all go out with each other and I fervently hope they all combine genes and create cycling babies.

I didn’t really watch the sailing but I do rather like Ben Ainslie. I bet I wasn’t the only one to go all wibbly when he did his ‘THEY HAVE MADE ME ANGRY AND YOU WOULDN’T LIKE ME WHEN I’M ANGRY’ speech. I half-expected him to wrestle a bear to the ground and invade Poland armed only with a teaspoon, just because he could.

As things started to wind down I felt overwhelmingly sad. London had been building up to this for 7 years and now it was nearly over. The Closing Ceremony was the epitome of a curates egg. One minute I was bouncing with excitement and the next I was groaning and sinking into the sofa with embarrassment. I watched the whole thing though and felt quite choked up when the Olympic flame was extinguished.

I knew I was going to be consumed by the Olympics. I didn’t quite realise how hard I would fall for it and how bereft I would feel afterwards. On Monday it felt like I had the worst hangover ever and I felt genuinely downhearted.

A butterfly-like phenomenon had, in my lifetime touched down in Russia, America (twice), Spain, Australia and China landed six miles from our doorstep and stayed for a very brief 17 days. It is now in its way to the more exotic climes of Brazil and I can’t imagine that it will come back in my lifetime. Maybe the girls will get to experience it again. I hope they do. I hope they take me out of my nursing home in my wheelchair and plonk me in front of the male divers so I can get one more use out of my ancient binoculars. I don’t want this to be the end of our real-life Olympic adventures*

*Actually it’s not. We’re going to the Paralympics in a couple of weeks.


Life charted by Olympic Games

Moscow 1980

I was seven months old. The memories don’t exactly come flooding back.


Los Angeles 1984

I was 4 years old. Again, not many memories here, only the ones that YouTube can give me retrospectively.


Seoul 1988

I was 8 years old. This is the first Olympic Games that I have memories of, even though it took place during the school term. Mum bought me a guide to the Games and I read it from cover to cover, again and again. Ben Johnson taught a generation of children that taking performance enhancing drugs (or, in fact, any drugs) is a Really Bad Idea – or at least, don’t take one that will immediately show up in a bog-standard doping test. Florence Griffith-Joyner’s nickname led to me being called Flo-Jo at school for YEARS. Greg Louganis hit his head on the diving board, but still won two gold medals. The GB Men’s hockey team winning gold against the odds.


Barcelona 1992

I was 12 years old. Otherwise known as BAAAAARRRCELLLOOOOOONNNNNA thanks to Freddie Mercury (RIP) and Montserrat Caballe. The lighting of the cauldron by the Paralympic Archer. The mascot was Cobi. My sister (8 years old for this one) and I really wanted a Cobi. A unified Germany. South Africa  were allowed to compete for the first time since the end of apartheid. The USA Dream Team in the basketball – to twelve year olds in rainy England, those guys were superstars. Chris Boardman and his bike made in a shed. A far cry from the cycling superstars we know today. Derek Redmond and his Dad. Dh and I went to Barcelona six years ago BT (Before Twins) and visited the still-impressive although slighty frayed around the edges Montjuic Park


Atlanta 1996

I was 16 years old. I’d just finished my GCSEs and was working in our local Argos so I don’t have quite as many memories of this Olympics. Michelle Smith’s swimming achievements still appear in the record books, although she was banned in 1998 for doping offences. Michael Johnson’s ‘broom rammed up backside’ running style and all-round brilliance. GB only won one gold medal (a low point in our fortunes, which took place before lottery funding for sports kicked in) and it was, of course, won by Sir Steve Redgrave. He didn’t win Sports Personality of the Year, losing out to Damon Hill which led to a ‘heated’ exchange between my Dad and my Nan (his mother in law) over the phone at the end of the year which is now part of our family’s folklore.


Sydney 2000

I was 20 years old and just about to begin my final year at university. I watched half of it with my housemates in Reading and the other half with my Mum at home. Cathy Freeman lit the caluldron and won  gold. Ian Thorpe and his MASSIVE FEET. Redgrave’s fifth gold medal (thankfully he won SPOTY that year, so family harmony was restored.)

History note for HoT fans: The Games finished on 1st October. I had my first date with Dh on Friday 13th October.


Athens 2004

I was 24 years old and Dh and I had got married the week before. Kelly Holmes finally won gold and got her Damehood. Michael Phelps (swimming man/giant/geek/freak) won 8 medals. I’m sure I must have watched lots of it, but we were in honeymoon mode and had other things on our minds…


Beijing 2008

I was 28 years old. R and G were 8 months old. The Bird’s Nest Stadium. Team GB being abso-bloody-lutely amazing. I’d read good things about our athletes before the Games but dismissed it all as newspaper hype. I was proved wrong on the second day of competition when we won our first gold medal (Dh and I watched it in bed with the girls) and it just kept getting better after that. I even wrote a blog post on it, parts of which I’m going to replicate here:

“Most children watch cartoons, Baby TV or a music channel depending on the preference of the parent. R and G watch sport. They have already watched baseball, cricket and rugby and since last weekend they have been watching the Olympics with us. They were absolutely fascinated by the synchronised diving and were reduced to girlish giggles at the sight of extremely buff young men tumbling (mostly) gracefully into a deep pit of water wearing nothing but a pair of tiny speedos and sporting an impressive array of tattoos and body jewellery. I feel they are a little too young to be introduced to the concept of .gaydar., especially as mine is legendarily wonky.


Dh has refused to let them watch any of the equestrian events because he has an irrational fear of them becoming horsey girls. There’s no precedent for a predilection for horses in either family so he’s got nothing to worry about unless they pick up on his dislike and decide to rebel.


The girls have watched an American bag of muscles [I think I was referring to Michael Phelps here] break all sorts of records and be declared the greatest Olympian EVER. He’s not. explained this to them. They have watched the British women wipe the floor with their male colleagues: .SEE! SEE! Girls can do ANYTHING!.. They have also watched cycling, archery, rowing, swimming and canoeing. I didn.t let them watch the boxing or shooting.


The most important thing they are getting from the Olympics is a sense of what it is to be English/British. We’re good at the sailing, rowing, cycling and equestrian events. quite bad at judo, weight-lifting, athletics, diving and almost everything else. It’s good that they develop an acceptance of mediocrity, failure and the “It’s been a great experience and I’ll learn from it”. (NO IT.S NOT! YOU ARE TWENTY EIGHT!!) culture now so that they can avoid years of disappointment caused by faded hopes and crushed dreams”.


During the Closing Ceremony the handover to London took place which was great except that it featured the twin evils of Boris Johnson and Leona Lewis “Don’t worry!” I declared triumphantly.  “Boris won’t be mayor in four years’ time”. Oh.


London 2012

I am 32 years old. R and G are Four (AND A HALF!) years old. It’s here. In our city. The city in which R and G were born. This is MEGA. This is once in a lifetime stuff. We have seen the torch relay. I have spent more hours than is strictly normal on the ticket website. I’m GOING to a couple of events (Archery and Women’s Diving) and the girls and I have Olympic Park tickets next week. For the next few weeks, life is going to be AMAZING.