London 2012: An Olympic Experience

I just had to put this in here. When you live just around 50 miles from the Olympics you cannot NOT go. It is an experience to be had. And I was determined to go. I mean why wouldn’t you? (All the reasons I can think of aside.) If you want to do the same: it is not too late and if you can get to London relatively easily – it is worth a shot!

The Olympic venue

The first difficulty: Getting a ticket

Getting a ticket can be the most annoying bit. Tickets are only sold over the official website, which is fair enough. Unfortunately, the website is not live – meaning that when you search for tickets the events that come up might not even be available. That is fairly understandable, but it does leave you frustrated. Once new tickets are released you have to be so quick. You pick an

event, decide it is worth paying roughly £100 for, put it in your shopping cart and when you click the “request” button only THEN will it check whether the tickets you are trying to buy are even there. For me this search has sometimes taken over half an hour only to tell me that “No tickets found”.  By that time you can be sure that all tickets are gone and you will have to wait another day or so for tickets to be released again. It is an awful lot of refreshing and it can drive you mad. This website here explains very well how you can get a ticket and what a pain it is.

We ended up getting a ticket for two of the women’s volleyball matches in Earl’s Court. The matches were China vs. Japan and Russia vs. Brazil. We got up early, packed lots of snacks (no drinks – you are not really allowed to bring anything except empty bottles) and got to the venue about 45 minutes before the start.

 

Next: Getting into the venue

Getting from the underground station to the venue is a piece of cake. London 2012 has so many volunteers that many of them just line the walk and point you in the direction of the venue. You really can’t get lost which is a big plus for all those that are visiting London for the first time.

The venues are well organised, too. You are directed to the security efficiently and the security (while being exactly like what you’d experience at any airport – what with the X-ray, the metal detectors, etc.) is quite quick.

While you are not allowed to bring in liquids more than 100ml (with exceptions such as sunscreen and baby food) you can bring bottles and fill them with water from fountains inside the venue. Now I don’t know whether this is just an Earl’s Court problem, but these fountains have the most laughable water pressure I have ever encountered. We got into the queue to fill up our water bottles and we stood in line for over half an hour to get a bit of water. Some people raised this to the staff but there wasn’t much they could do.

This meant we had to miss much of the stuff they put up for spectators – mostly food and souvenirs anyhow. And this is where the Olympics fails to pleasantly surprise you: it tries to milk tourists and spectators like cash-cows. Everything they offer you to buy is seriously overpriced. The T-shirts start at prices that are not justified for the design they show. I wasn’t able to check the quality of the fabric, the sewing, but it didn’t look amazing. Basically, they try to get as much money out of you as you will let them. Another thing that I find off-putting: Visa. Tickets can only be bought with visa cards and anything at the venue with either Visa cards or cash. While I understand that the games probably got a lot of money from Visa for that, I cannot understand how they can claim to be “proud” to limit their customers so severely. Many people do have Visa cards so I suppose it will not inconvenience too many, but this intentional limitation of service is nothing to be proud of.

 

THE GAMES: What we are here for

This day’s two matches spanned nearly five hours and provided an electrifying atmosphere.

China vs. Japan

With that wait for the water we just made it to the start of the first match: China vs. Japan. The girls were fast, agile and the match was well-paced. In volleyball up to 5 sets are played and 3 are needed to win. We really got our money’s worth and all 5 sets were played and all were incredibly close. After a nerve-racking match Japan won the 5th set making it a 28-26, 23-25, 25-23, 18-16 victory against China. While at the beginning China seemed a lot more powerful, Japan fought back hard and (as far as I could see) had the crowd’s support. The cutest might have been a small toddler behind me shouting “Go Japan!” in a tiny, squeaky voice.

As many people have already remarked throughout these games annoyingly many places were left empty, but no tickets were left. I am not quite sure what is up with that, but considering how hard it is to actually get tickets that sight is very frustrating.

Japan vs. China

Russia vs. Brazil

After a short break the second match was on (about an hour later than planned since the first match ended up being so long): Brazil vs. Russia. Like before the two teams were incredibly well matched and a total of 5 sets were played. Brazil had started the tournament slowly and didn’t come out so well during the group-phase and it seemed unlikely they would win considering that they were facing girls such as Ekaterina Gamova one of the best players in the world. After 4 sets (2 wins for each team) the 5th set proved to be the one to keep you on the edge of your seat. It was an amazing set, which cumulated in Russia first aiming for their Match Point. With the game almost over Brazil saved the point and evened the score.  Brazil ended up saving a total of 6 Match Points making you think: “Come on, someone has to win it any second now!” And they did, Brazil that is! Unbelievable, but after almost losing the match 6 times in a row they scored and won and are now contestants for the semi-finals. Who would have thought?

Russia vs. Brazil

The atmosphere: a lesson in common courtesy needed?

The best thing about seeing a sport live is unarguably the atmosphere. Otherwise I would totally trade in the bad seats and backpains for my amazing sofa at home. Also, it allows you to enjoy the sport a bit more – especially if you don’t know much about that. If the commentators and editors know their stuff everything will be explained, zoomed in on and re-played until even you can appreciate why one gymnast was better than the other. Much harder to do from the cheap seats (where I on my student budget would end up).

Anyway, the atmosphere: it was arguably amazing. People were happy, cheering and loud. An animator (possibly someone well-known in Britain, but I have no clue) would try to convince us to bang imaginary bongos and do Mexican waves and what not. I personally don’t care for that, but it was amusing to watch.

What I loved was the cheering whenever points were scored. People were amazed by the sports they saw.

The Volleyball Arena

In my opinion China and Russia didn’t get that much crowd support, but I understand that Brazilians and Japanese people prefer to cheer for their own team. People have been saying that in the London Olympics the crowds cheer for everyone and that it was really supportive, but I didn’t really feel that in the second match. We had both Brazilian and Russian fans, but the latter were far outnumbered and everything the Brazialian girls would do would get a roar from the crowd. That I can appreciate and enjoy and I just made sure to cheer for the Russian girls just as loud. What I take offense in is hissing and booing. And that I had to see a lot of in this match. Whenever a Russian girl would serve you would hear loud “Boo!”s from all over the stadium later only half-drowned by cheers of Russian supporters trying to drown out the hazing. I felt like I was surrounded by Brazilian hooligans and I think their behaviour lacked the class I would expect considering the Olympic spirit. Fact is: those girls are all amazing athletes. They are strong, agile and precise and it is such a joy to watch them do what they do. That’s what I am cheering for. Everybody is rooting for someone, but I don’t see any reason to put down the competition. In badminton the “Boo!”s were deserved – those athletes were trying to loose on purpose – not very much the spirit of sport. But in this Olympic match I am sorry to say that a large part of the crowd didn’t do the Olympic spirit justice. They just didn’t get it!

Brazil beat Russia 3-2 (24-26, 25-22, 19-25, 25-22, 21-19)

Japan beat China 3-2 (28-26, 23-25, 25-23, 23-25, 18-16)

An afterthought

After you have seen the Olympics it is time to reflect on what you have seen and I must say overall I am very pleased. The only thing I have taken issue with is the obscene prices of the food, drinks and merchandise and the attitude of the Brazilian fans – but that is no fault of London 2012. Apart from that I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience: the events were well-planned considering their magnitude, the sport was amazing and the atmosphere – with slight deductions – was truly riveting.

A once in a lifetime experience – but only if I want it to be.

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