Our Olympic plans began to take shape several months ago, just after we accepted this assignment in England when someone pointed out that we would be here during the Olympics. Even though we live several hours from London, we knew it was a rare opportunity that we didn’t want to miss. We tried to find tickets while we were still stateside but they were expensive and rare, so we didn’t pick them up when we had the chance, and before long there were none to be had at all. Once we arrived in the UK, we determined that we satisfied the requirements to buy UK tickets–they required only UK residence, not citizenship–although we did have to do some complicated things to ensure that we could provide payment in an approved manner. Just a few weeks before the Games began, our plans began to take shape: we bought tickets for a canoe sprint event, and planned to watch the women’s triathlon and marathon from parts of the race routes where tickets wouldn’t be required.
Although new tickets were being released almost every day, we didn’t hold out much hope of finding tickets for any of the other events that we wanted to see, although we checked the ticketing website frequently for ourselves and for some friends who were also looking for tickets. We found some things for them, but still didn’t see anything else we wanted for ourselves. Then one evening, out of nowhere, some tickets appeared for rowing on the first day we would be in London, for a session that included several finals and medal ceremonies. We clicked through the website as quickly as possible and managed to purchase tickets just in time, because there were none left even fifteen minutes later. I was so excited; rowing was the number one thing that I wanted to see. It was all the more special because the rowing venue was Dorney Lake, where I had raced ten years ago at the Marlow regatta, one of the first few events held there.
We drove down to London by way of Manchester, where we picked up our tickets at the Manchester United stadium, the site of some of the Olympic football (soccer) matches. The detour made our drive longer than it would have been, but it was worth it to have tickets in hand so we didn’t have to worry about picking them up on the day of the competition. We drove through the dark and the rain to our hotel near Heathrow, very tired but happy to arrive safely. Just getting to the venue the next morning was quite a trek requiring two bus trips, then most of a mile walking to get to the gates, and another long walk from the entrance to the stands. Jenny and I split up because we hadn’t connected with our friends to hand off their tickets but the rowing had already started. While Roman and I watched some of the lower-level finals, Jenny and Elena kept searching and eventually found Amy and Heather, after which they joined us in plenty of time to watch the B-finals and medal events.
Being in the stands with thousands of fans and cheering on the Olympians was absolutely incredible. Our seats were not quite together, so I sat with Elena while Jenny took Roman. The most thrilling moments were when a crew from Team GB was in the lead or at least in medal position as they sprinted through the grandstand area to the finish line. It happened in most of the races, but the most amazing were the women’s double, which the British crew won by a significant margin, and the men’s single, when Britain’s Alan Campbell moved through Lassi Karonen in the closing meters to take the bronze.
It was also a treat to watch the medal ceremonies. Elena and I were sitting in front of some Kiwis, and twice we got to hear them sing their national anthem. The ceremonies made a big impression on Elena–now she always wants to see the athletes get their medals, and talks about the medals any time we discuss the Olympics. Roman loved all the applause. Now when we watch events on the computer, he joins in with claps and cheers whenever he hears the crowd.