Today I went to Eton Dorney. near Windsor, the Olympic rowing venue.
I bought the ticket online just four days ago. Most of the events I searched for were sold out but there were unsold tickets for Eton Dorney. On Thursday I went there to collect the ticket, taking, as required, the email confirming the purchase, the credit card I’d used and my passport as photo ID.
Rising at 5.40, I caught the Underground to Paddington, then got a train to Slough. There was a shuttle bus from Slough station to Eton Dorney, followed by a half hour walk to the lake. I’d cleared security there by 8.30.
The day’s programme was divided into two parts.
From 9.30 to 11.30 there were races to establish the lower ranking places for some of the contests. From 11.30 there were four finals.
I was puzzled by the earlier races. For example, in the case of the men’s single scull, they established positions down to 28th. Yes, 28th. I didn’t realize they did this in the Olympics. I’m not aware of them doing it for other events. I suppose this is consistent with the Olympic principle, ‘It’s not the winning but the taking part that counts.’ And recognizing this, the crowd gave a special cheer for the man from Myanmar, who came in 28th, quite a long way after the 27th.
That’s all fine and dandy, but the Olympics is very much about the winning, isn’t it? In the UK we take to our hearts plucky eccentrics like Eddie the Eagle, who get nowhere in the rankings. Yet most of those who are rooting for team GB in 2012 want them to win medals. Or is it just me? I suspect not.
As it turned out, I didn’t watch all of the earlier races. I intended to, but from 10 o’clock onwards, for about 40 minutes, it rained. Rain, not drizzle. Drizzle is for wimps. These were big rain-drops splattering down and plenty of them. On the subject of wimps, I eventually wimped out myself and left my place on the open stand, seeking shelter.
There was little shelter at Eton Dorney, which is very much an outdoor venue. One of the few places of shelter were the toilets. Desperate to escape a soaking, people without rainwear or umbrellas crowded into them, making it difficult to use these facilities for their intended purpose.
At about 10.40, the rain eased off and the sun shone intermittently for the rest of the session.
At all the Olympic events I have attended so far, the crowd was warmed up in the same way as the audience is warmed up for TV quiz shows.
At Eton Dorney it was all utterly childish. So naturally I participated enthusiastically.
We were encouraged to do the Mexican Wave; something not exactly traditional at rowing events, apparently. Uncoordinated as I am, I managed to participate in the Wave by raising my arms at more or less the right time. Encouraged by this, I thought there was maybe still hope for me to get the coordination right for bike riding and driving. You never know.
Later on, there was a competition between Stand 1 (where I was) and Stand 2 for the loudest shouting. Really artistically challenging stuff. Stand 1 met the challenge head on. Would it be boastful for me to claim that my raucous contribution tipped the balance for Stand 1? Anyway, Stand 1 was adjudged the loudest. Gold medal position, in other words! I’m thinking of claiming yet another gold medal for Team GB today. A gold medal for crowd shouting would give me my 10 seconds of fame, but my natural modesty will probably prevail and I’ll let the opportunity pass.
Then it was 11.30 and time for the finals.
I’m not going to say much about them and I’m not usually lost for words. They were most exciting and satisfying. Two of the four finals resulted it gold medals for Team GB and we were just pipped at the post by the Danes in the men’s double sculls.
Stand 1 was very close to the finishing line, so I got a great view of the last stretch of the races. There was a big screen on the opposite side of the lake, enabling spectators in Stand 1 to watch the earlier part of each contest.
I was also pleased that the final race, the women’s single scull, was won by Miroslava Knapkova, from the Czech Republic. I like and admire the Czechs.
The playing of the Czech National Anthem at the victory ceremony took me back to those exhilarating days in 1989 when the Soviet Empire was crumbling and Czechoslovakia, having been crushed after the promise held out by the Prague Spring in 1967, was finally free. The Czechs went on to demonstrate that theirs was not an empty belief in freedom. When the Slovaks wanted their own state, the Czechs didn’t use force to defend the union, they agreed to an amicable separation of the two nations.
I was back home by 4.00, had something to eat and then gave in to my tiredness. I slept through Jessica Ennis’ triumph in the heptathlon but saw Greg Rutherford win the long jump and Mo Farah the 10,000 metres.
What a day for Team GB.