Thursday, 27 October 2011

The toughest crowd

A familiar face loomed out of the pages of yesterday’s London Evening Standard. At first, I couldn’t place her, but then I read the caption: Suzie O’Neill, hides her pain after getting silver in Sydney. Of course! Suzie O’Neill the swimmer was Australia’s equivalent of London’s Jessica Ennis or Chris Hoy. She had the hopes of the nation piled high on her shoulders and in her star event, the 200 metres butterfly, she was cruelly pipped at the post by American Misty Hyman.

She’s now in town talking to London’s athletes about the pressure of performing at a Home Games. For me, the hardest part of her story was the fact it has taken 10 years for her to properly process her loss. She was devastated and couldn’t even look at any footage surrounding the Games for many years.

It’s an interesting read, particularly when you realise how much extra energy she spent doing things like signing autographs and talking to people wherever she went. This sounds simple, but actually, for a focused athlete, it must be trying at times. All in all, Suzie’s interview outlines just how precious the chance to compete at an Olympics is for athletes. And while the rest of us can only begin to imagine what they go through to get there, it’s often what happens afterwards that gives us their full story.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Diary entry from Sydney 2000 Opening Ceremony

Well, the crowd was huge: 100,000 people and 3.7 billion watching on TV. The biggest peacetime event. But in our little corner, you only saw the media boxes and VIP bit in front of us and it was easy to relax and it wasn’t until you looked over your shoulder that you realised what was behind; a sea of people, torches glowing. And when they cheered, you couldn’t help but be affected. The defining moment for me was when Australia came on: the roar from the crowd pricked your senses, you watched and admired the huge team as they took in the view walking past you. I could smell the athletes they were so close; body cologne and aftershaves from all around the world. Wow. Not to mention the third time I’ve seen Pat Rafter this week – I swear he’s stalking me! (Sorry, got distracted, a couple of Coogee lifeguards just walked past…!)

Anyway, when Team GB walked past, I don’t think I recognised one of them! The track and field team weren’t there and it was kind of disappointing. They were all dressed in tracksuit tops; men in blue, women in white, and all mashed in together. Not particularly eye catching at all. Not smart and chic like some of the other teams. Notably, Italy in navy blue blazers and each athlete had a different colour of trousers on – red, yellow, green and blue – it was great. The Dutch looked good too in their orange blazers and so did the African countries. Swaziland was cool as they did an African dance on their way round. Mongolia had what looked like a sumo wrestler carrying their flag and he was dressed like one too! Japan was wearing coloured kite/cape type things on their backs. Canada looked good in their beach hats. Yep, it was lovely. So then India and Italy were behind us and the atmosphere was wicked. Golly, my hand is hurting from writing; I’ve got to stop for a bit!!! All too exciting for words.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Ambassador Becks

Just seen this headline on The Telegraph website: David Beckham says winning Olympic gold would be 'ultimate achivement'. Apart from the glaring spelling mistake, I thought it would be the perfect antidote for my previous doom and gloom post. You can always rely on the man who has everything to put a positive spin on just about anything. But it’s good to hear he’s praising the Olympics this week when much of the coverage by journalists is so flat right now. Could they be in the midst of choosing who’s going to light the Olympic cauldron I wonder?

Difficult days ahead

I’m finding it hard to be inspired about life in London at the moment. The news is increasingly depressing about the economic situation. Right now there are sit in protesters in London’s banking district, camped up outside the London Stock Exchange. The Evening Standard led with the headline ‘Biggest inflation rise for 20 years’ last night. Today, radio 4 was talking about the shortage of affordable homes and older people having to downsize and move out of their properties to ‘free up space’. Not exactly a chipper way to start the day. Should have listened to my daughter’s Black Lace album instead. It seems the Daily Mail headlines are everywhere.

It couldn’t be further from the heady days of 2000. We didn’t know it at the time when John Major was talking about Back to Basics, but the 1990s were bliss by comparison with today. And when I worked at the Sydney Olympics, it was pre 9/11. I had no qualms about stepping inside a massive aeroplane every few weeks when I was travelling.

So I just wonder how the London Olympics are going to be received next year? Hopefully it means lots of cash will be spent – although hard to imagine and not exactly what the Games are supposed to be about – and everyone will soak up the goodwill and high spirits that existed in Sydney. There, people stopped in the street when Grant Hackett won swimming gold. Cars would honk their horns and everything just stopped for sporting victories. When Cathy Freeman was due to race, everyone came together in parks and public spaces to be a part of racing history. A Somali resident proposed to my friend Steph that night, I seem to remember. Everyone was just so happy. Can London achieve the same incredible atmosphere, I wonder?

Of course, I imagine that if you’re not in London or in places where other events are taking place, this could pass you by. But when a Football World or European Cup takes place, there’s always a unique buzz when you’re out and about, wherever you are. It helps when the sun shines, naturally, but everyone remembers where they are when England wins an important match/goes out in a big competition.

I just hope that the London Olympics can ride the storm that’s brewing.