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Mother and daughter trek to the London Olympic Games
Like so many of my fellow Londoners, I was a very grumpy Olympics-sceptic, shaking my fist at the screen when we beat Paris to the games seven years ago, and allowing my griping to increase in volume thereafter. As the Olympic lanes went in and traffic started to mount prior to the Opening Ceremony, I merrily predicted the worst, and took measures to be out of the country and pretty much as far away as possible in the Maldives before the Games started.
However, watching highlights of Danny Boyle’s unbelievable achievement from our remote atoll, and enjoying the privilege of coming back into Heathrow with the most swift and efficient exit I’ve enjoyed in a lifetime of incessant transit through it, it was impossible not to allow excitement to mount.
My seven year old daughter Estella, who regular readers will know is accustomed to being taken everywhere with me from Albania to Abu Dhabi, had been studying the Olympics at school and was desperate to go and see them for herself. I caved in to pressure after she proudly brought home a huge piece of project work with the somewhat chilling final line, “I’m going to the Olympics because my mummy has bought us tickets!”
When I subsequently failed to get any tickets in the first two ballots, despite speculating on so many tickets that we would have had to remortgage if even half of them had been allocated to me, it became a bit of a white knuckle ride. To my enormous relief, in the third ballot I parted with a painful £150 for the two of us to go and see the women’s basketball on a Friday night.
There were plenty of potential routes in but we had been advised to ride the Javelin high speed train. The Javelin is a genuine phenomenon, hurtling you to the Olympic Park in just seven minutes. We will be returning to the park to try out the cable car, which is also apparently unmissable.
It’s not possible to properly conceive of the scale and ambition of the Olympic Park from the TV. We, along with the crowds of people around us, walked around with our mouths agape from the minute we entered through the vast, vibrant Westfield shopping and restaurant complex.
What was most striking was the air of good-humored camaraderie around the site. Security, both civilian and military, was visible everywhere but efficient and incredibly friendly. At the large communal benches provided for sitting and eating, everyone chatted to each other about how brilliant the experience was. At the event, two gents behind us offered to take a couple of shots of Estella and I together at the games. At no point during the journey or at the park did we feel in any way vulnerable or at risk.
I had expected the vast Olympic Stadium to dominate the entire park but there are so many vast structures it’s all quite hard to absorb at first. The big screens, thronged with cheering crowds on the grass, really multiply the excitement. The basketball arena is beautiful from the outside and near other must-see structures including the Velodrome and the Riverbank Arena.
The food and drink stands are extremely ambitious, serving a bewildering range including champagne, sushi and Thai curries as well as the more usual suspects of burgers and fish and chips. The large, chaotic dining area near the stadium is slightly a victim of its own popularity. However, conveniently for us, the brilliant Street Market right outside the Basketball Arena was comparatively empty.
After all the news footage of empty seats, it was a jolt of adrenalin to walk into an buzzing, raucous arena, with thousands of people feeding off each other’s excitement. The games turned out to be absolutely nail-biting, with the home crowd frantically cheering on the UK team against the French, who ended up beating us by just two points. There were infectiously enthusiastic cheerleaders and commentators, and it was really something to see the whole crowd doing the Mexican wave and going crazy every time a hoop was shot.
Getting out of the park was time-consuming, and not enhanced by the weight of my daughter slumped asleep on my shoulder. The bonhomie continued though, with everybody waiting patiently in line without the barging and belly-aching you tend to get in very large international crowds.
Needless to say, I spent hours on the internet trying and failing to get tickets to Paralympic events, because I couldn’t resist the urge to get back inside the park again; it really is addictive. Roll on Rio, but London laid down the gauntlet in how to put on an Olympic spectacular. We will never forget it.
*Photos by and property of the author, used with permission.