A new day brought the challenge of rain to our Olympic experience. We had been lucky with the British weather so far–although there were a few moments during the rowing when the stands were suddenly full of open umbrellas, they were always put away after a minute or two. We thought we might escape again, as the threatening rain held off on the drive from our hotel to the Underground station, but by the time we emerged from the tube it was coming down in sheets. We were thankful for our umbrellas and the free ponchos the hotel staff had given us. Despite the rain and the noisy crowds, Roman took a nice nap in his stroller protected by one of the ponchos. Also, the rain dried up about forty five minutes into the race.
We didn’t have to walk far before we found a good spectating location. The race consisted of three long loops and one short one, and we had chosen an area where the competitors would be going in both directions on the same stretch of road, so got to cheer six times. Spectators were about three deep on the fence line so we positioned ourselves next to a stone wall topped by an iron fence. By climbing up on the wall and hanging onto the fence, we had a great view of all the action over the top of the crowds.
Long distance running is normally such a solitary pursuit, but the Olympic marathon offers no solitude. A helicopter hovers overhead, a truck precedes the leaders–it displays the time on its roof and there’s a full complement of photographers sitting on makeshift bleachers in the bed. Crowds cheer every step, from the first runner to the last, and cameras observe and record the action on every side. The racers almost all had stunning musculature, more so than I’ve ever noticed on television, but some of them had such odd gaits that it seemed impossible that could be moving as fast as they were. Half the racers finished in under two and a half hours, and almost all the times were under three hours. For me it was an amazing illustration of how the Olympics celebrates the effort of testing the limits of humanity, at least in the physical realm.
The crowds began to disperse once the racers passed by us on their last lap. After eating our humble lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, we set out for more sightseeing. Jenny took us to the Tower of London and Tower bridge. We took advantage of a tremendous photo opportunity: the bridge had giant Olympic rings hanging from it. After that, we had just one more main goal: to see the Olympic Park. However, we made a misguided effort to find an Underground station that would take us there without a transfer and ended up taking a long detour through Cheapside, the London financial district. Even though it took more time than we had hoped, all was not lost because we walked down Gracechurch street, which we knew of because it’s mentioned in Pride and Prejudice.
Without tickets, we knew we wouldn’t be able to get into the Olympic Park, but we still wanted to experience the energy of the place, and we knew that the brand new mall at the park entrance would be full of life and Olympic spirit. It was crowded, but lots of fun and we even saw some Olympic athletes, although nobody famous or recognizable and we weren’t bold enough to say hello to them. One of the department stores had a big picture window looking out onto the park, from which we could see the stadium and the aquatic complex and not much else. (They were charging three pounds for this same view on the next floor up, but we’re glad we didn’t join the long line of people who had taken that bait–it was more fun to look at the Lego Olympic stadium.) While eating dinner in the food court, a Japanese man sat next to us and gave Elena what he called a Japanese happiness bell. Hooray for international Olympic goodwill! Our last stop at the mall was to make one very important purchase: matching London 2012 t-shirts to wear to the sprint canoe event the next day.
Watching the canoe and kayak racing was a wonderful way to bring our weekend to a close. It wasn’t too crowded and we found a good place on the lawn near a jumbo-tron where we could relax with Amy and Heather and watch a sport that we didn’t know very much about. When the races were going on, it was easy to find a spot right along the fence line with a great view of the athletes and all the coaches riding their bikes on the path alongside. Elena didn’t understand why nobody was getting medals, so I tried to explain the concept of preliminary events; she eventually stopped complaining about it, but was still sad.
After the racing, we walked around the venue looking for fun places to take photos–for some reason, we thought that there was an Olympic rings display somewhere that we could stand near or even climb on, but the only one we found was behind a fence and wasn’t even painted on the side facing us. The kids were getting tired, so we made do with it. Elena wanted another picture with a Wenlock statue, and I dusted off my language skills to ask some Russian fans in full team attire if they would take a photo with me. We were also treated to a drum band and a full military marching band, but after that had to endure the long walk back to the bus stop. The friendly volunteers cheered us along and we eventually made it, first to the bus, then back to the car, then eventually back home, full of memories that will last a lifetime.