Life in London: Olympic bubbles and musings

The Olympics have finished and for those who stayed in London it was a dream. The city was quiet, traffic was minimal, the tube seemed empty when I needed it and people were in a jolly mood. There was some seriously good sport to watch and so in a break from theatre I took the chance to see what drama was on offer of the muscle, sweat and lycra kind.

But my choices of Olympic sport included catching the women's team foil final of the fencing and the women's freestyle wrestling. Both of the events were at the Excel, a rather bland and underwhelming venue where the need to be one big mother of a convention centre are the main priority in design and accessibility. The smell from the nearby meat rendering plant seemed to be carried over on an ill-favoured wind as well. But what was lost on architecture and dead animal smell was made up for by the atmosphere inside. It was electric.Fencing is staged in what looks like a giant television set that could have been inspired from game shows such as Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. There is so much technology and fancy lights on display that you could be forgiven for underestimating the difficulty of the sport. When the Italian women's team took the gold, the venue erupted in cheers as there were obviously more Italians than Koreans at the place. It was the incessant chanting of Italia that gave it away. And there is something to be somewhat jealous about a country that can chant its name in three syllables... It sounds more powerful and authoritative than filling it with claps or yelling, "OI" three times...

The view from the cheap seats... Freestyle WrestlingWhen tickets were released to everyone it was my desire to be able to say to anybody who cared that I was off to see the Women's Freestyle Wrestling. So that was my next Olympic sport. There was something quite refreshing about arriving to the arena and seeing two women tear each other apart for the first time. It felt a primitive and an authentic Olympic experience where the only thing that was missing was a trapdoor to let the loser fall through and be devoured by wild animals.

And it wasn't the heavier women's categories that provided the best show. The most entertaining were the lighter weight categories as they appeared nimbler and more agile. But none of the matches were boring, particularly since they lasted no more than seven minutes. If there was a knockout things could also move very quickly. From arriving to taking our seats two matches were completed. It was a challenge to keep up with all that fast action, hair pulling and interesting manoeuvres. But it was hard not to like it either.

Scenes from Hyde Park Mens TriathlonThere were also the free outdoor events that managed to make London feels as if it were just one big television stage. The men's triathlon which was helpfully staged during Tuesday lunchtime turned Hyde Park into a sporting arena worthy of an extended lunch break... Most people worked out by the second week that the travel advice being given was not always entirely accurate so with the tourists following extended diversions locals could dart across the network.

Of course arriving at Hyde Park it wasn't easy to tell with crowds ten or more thick who was in front but judging by the mass flag waving and cheering I assumed that figure passing by was one of the Brownlee Brothers. As the cheers got louder it was some indication that they were coming around the loop, so that was a cue to get the iPhone ready...

The same could be said about the marathon which managed to create a route running past every major landmark north of the Thames. Once in position and after the last of the runners passed in this fast paced race, it was up to everyone with smart phone to find out the positions. Nobody seemed to have a radio, which would have been more practical, if a bit too old school for this modern Olympiad where everything from buying tickets to downloading maps was done online. But it was an experience to live in the bubble of one serious sporting party where everywhere you turned there were fuchsia signage and that awful logo... Now to return to the rest of what London has to offer before the Paralympics starts...

 

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