Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The greatest Paralympics yet?

Hands up who’s enjoying the Paralympics then? Actually, I have a confession. I didn’t volunteer during the Paralympics in Sydney. This was mainly due to funding and having to get on with my travels while I could. And partly a little ignorance maybe. And it’s taken me until now to realise.

Last week, I raised myself from my bed at 12.30am and went down to see the Paralympic torch pass the end of my road. It was a great moment and the lads and ladies running with the torch did us proud. They’d come a long way to participate in this special event and were part of a sports club I understand.

I heard a few people complaining about the long delays as the convoy was running around two hours late. May I direct them to twitter at this point. Or the Queen, who had to stand all day long on her jubilee. Either way, I was really proud of Team GB, their families, Stoke Mandeville, our police force, volunteers and spectators alike. It gives me goosebumps every time it's claimed London 2012 is shaping up to be the best ever Paralympics yet.

I returned to my bed in the small hours of the morning before having to get up an hour later to feed the baby. But it was well worth the ‘hangover’ feeling the next day!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The Paralympic Games are coming...

It's been emotional. So emotional, I haven't been able to type. Or think. In fact, there are times when it's hard to believe it ever happened. But the good news is, the road closure signs are up and the Paralympic Torch is on its way. I've been wondering where this torch comes from, seeing as Beckham and co. didn't appear to bring more than one from Greece.

Apparently, four sparks are created by Scouts rubbing flint together at the top of Scarfell Pike, Snowdon, Ben Nevis and Slieve Donard (Northern Ireland). They're then brought together to make the Paralympic flame at the home of the Paralympic movement, Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire. This will then embark on a 24-hour torch relay on Tuesday 28th August to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford.

It's passing through my town some time after midnight. I'm hoping to stay awake long enough to see it, but it might be tricky given baby has been so sleepless recently. Having said that, my Olympics void could well be filled by the excitement of this inspiring event. If you fancy getting into the Paralympic mood before then, there's always the Channel 4 advert here. Enjoy.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Athletics 8th August 2012

In the words of that Patrick Swayze film, I’ve quite literally had the time of my life. Because yesterday, I got to go to the Olympic Stadium to watch athletics featuring Mo Farah among others. Actually, I read a smart quote yesterday in the Evening Standard that getting tickets to London 2012 felt like getting a gold medal. I couldn’t agree more. So when I stepped on my podium and started climbing hundreds of steps into the gods carrying a 15lb baby on my chest, I had my Chris Hoy moment. There were tears in my eyes.

Naturally, people were giving me a wide berth. I felt I should explain myself, so I blurted out to a woman who let me pass that I was ‘just so happy to be here’. I must have looked like a mad woman. But childbirth is not an easy thing. Mine resulted in another emergency C-section unfortunately, so to be in the stadium yesterday felt like an absolute achievement on all levels. No wonder there were amateur dramatics.

And once we’d taken our seats, I could not believe my luck. For our seats cost £20 and gave us an incredible view of the stadium. I know how lucky I am. I feel so sorry the ticketing has been such a fiasco for these games, as every Londoner should have had their opportunity to experience this amazing time in our history. But some people did get tickets – I still have no idea how we managed to randomly get these after the three ballots had ended in June.

A Chinese lady next to us had travelled from Beijing. She and her partner left before the end to go on a day trip to Cambridge. I had mixed feelings about this. And for the English looking couple who arrived in the seats in front of us and then promptly left, two minutes later, never to return. Perhaps something happened...

We saw a British record in the women’s hammer by Sophie Hitchon. We saw Mo Farah in one of the fastest set of 1500m heats in Olympics history. It was faster than Mo wanted to run at this stage and he came in third. And we saw the other half of the Saudi Arabia women, Sarah Attar. She was half a lap or so behind the pack in the women’s 800m. I stood to clap her as she passed. What an incredible achievement to even be here. It really is the taking part that counts.

Here are some pics from the rest of the day.

Can I just add, the transport from Kings Cross was amazing and so well organised. As a former commuter of ten years, I was hugely surprised. In addition, I actually felt like a VIP with a pram in tow. Something I’ve never experienced as a parent before. We didn’t have to walk as far as other people, for whenever a shortcut was available, a helpful volunteer or staff member would send us that way. As I’m often up three or four times in the night and running on coffee these days, it was much appreciated. Thank you. And thanks to Lord Coe and his team for making the u-turn on babies. Ours slept soundly throughout the whole thing and without this decision, the day would not have been possible for us at all.

Hello train spotters! These two photos show you both ends of the wonderful Javelin trains, now ferrying passengers from Kings Cross to Stratford. They use the long platforms designed for the Euro Star trains, so sadly they won't be coming to a south-east station any time soon. However, it does highlight that Transport for London and Network Rail seriously need to think about transport for the future. Most trains are running beyond capacity at rush hour times these days. It's not safe and not sustainable. Answers on a postcard to Boris please.

Monday, 6 August 2012

A little bit of history

Bradley Wiggins, we salute you. If anyone missed our gold medalist in the Time Trial, our very first Tour de France winner sat on these golden thrones after an amazing medal ceremony, featuring the most beautiful building in England as the backdrop.

I am biased about this as I used to live very close to Hampton Court Palace. It holds some very special memories for me, so I was delighted to see it featuring so heavily in London 2012. We went back this weekend to see where it all happened earlier in the week.

We took a boat from Hampton Court to Kingston and back again. It was a great reminder that our country has some amazing heritage that we're not always proud enough of. Dare I go so far as to say this Olympics is teaching us to re-adjust our sense of national identity?

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Sisters are doing it!

Every Olympic Games has its legacy. And it’s already becoming clear what part London 2012 will play in history, if it wasn’t before now. For this year, for the first time, every country has had to field a team of male and female athletes.

The IOC has worked hard to make this happen, in particular, to bring female competitors from Bahrain and Qatar, as well as Saudi Arabia, where girls aren’t even allowed to do PE at school. And when sixteen-year-old Wojdan Shaherkani stepped out onto a judo mat yesterday, she was making history as a fighter in both senses of the word. I take my hat off to her. Let’s hope this is just the beginning of her Olympic career.

Women played an important part of the Opening Ceremony too. From the storytelling charms of JK Rowling which resulted in a flurry of dancing nurses and Mary Poppins characters falling from the sky, through to the actual relatives of British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst marching through our green and pleasant land – sisters were doing it big time.

And this week, Team GB's gold medal haul was kicked off by two female rowers – one of whom only started rowing four years ago after she responded to an ad by Sir Steve Redgrave looking for tall ladies, following our success in Beijing. And then there were more medals and more women on the podium. From judo to swimming, equestrian* to cycling, our girls have been on top.

And tonight, Jess Ennis has won gold in the heptathlon. UN-BE-LIEVE-ABLE. Only earlier this year we saying how much girls are put off PE at school. Well it’s a nonsense now. If we haven’t inspired a generation with these games, then we may as well pull down the bunting and pack up shop. It's no wonder the Spice Girls are rumoured to be performing at the Closing Ceremony. Go on ladies, let’s see what else we can do this week.

*minus one fella.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Beach Volleyball 28 July 2012

So far so AMAZING. With London 2012 getting off to a more than spectacular start – thanks to Danny Boyle and the hundreds of volunteers, performers and The Queen herself (!) – I can safely say that I’m in Olympic heaven. Danny is due to get his knighthood, as predicted, Sir Chris Hoy carried the flag for Team GB and Sir Steve Redgrave had his moment with the flame. We were right about youngsters lighting the cauldron, although who could have predicted it would be a group of them? Even the bookmakers William Hill has had to give punters their money back on that bet.

So after staying up waaaaay later than someone with a newborn baby and toddler should ever dare contemplate, we roused ourselves early the next day and headed into town to watch Beach Volleyball at Horse Guards Parade. The location was amazing – totally blew Bondi Beach out of the water, sorry Australia – I could see the London Eye, Whitehall buildings above Winston Churchill’s bunker, the Shard and Big Ben. Buckingham Palace was just behind us and The Mall looked absolutely stunning dressed in Olympic ring flags and Union Jacks.

Benny Hill music blared during intervals of raking, dancers wiggled their beautiful backsides and a couple of funnymen chased each other around the arena for our entertainment. ‘I wanna see you dance!’ shouted the compere. I was up in a flash. Our Olympic baby took it all in his stride and didn’t peep once. (So Katie Hopkins can stick that in her anti-women pipe). At this point, I’d like to thank Lord Coe for his u-turn on babes in arms.

Meanwhile, the city looked wonderful and eerily quiet with hardly any cars flying around the edge of Trafalgar Square. We had a marvelous lunch in a fairly peaceful Soho, and Oxford Street was empty compared with a regular Saturday

John Lewis will be having fun though. The Official London 2012 shop on their flagship store’s 5th floor was heaving with accredited Olympics visitors. They seemed to be spending nicely with baskets of Olympics merchandise filled to bursting. Let’s hope they keep it up!

Now we just have to hope Team GB begin to pull in some medals. So far it’s been our lovely ladies in the cycling and swimming who have come up trumps. That and filling up the seats that the greedy corporates have shamefully wasted. Once that’s happening, we won’t know ourselves as we’ll have nothing to complain about… surely not?!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

London's got its swag on

We’re a heartbeat away from the greatest show on earth. So what’s it like to be in London right now? I sent my roving reporter to investigate. The banners are up, a buzz is in the air, and the countries of the world have started to arrive.

John Lewis’s advertising agency has done it again with a fantastic building wrap on its flagship store on Oxford Street.

Check these banners out… glorious Regents Street has been kitted out with flags from all over the world.

What else? Well, there’s the dulcet sounds of Boris Johnson’s voice which have, until now, been pumped around the underground, advising commuters to ‘be prepared!’ But as roving reporter says, ‘We haven’t had an event in London like this ever before, so even Boris can’t know what town is going to be like. It’s a case of think the worst and hope for the best’. To date, in true Brit style, the glass half empty approach has been prevalent. But this isn’t unique to London 2012.

It’s almost laughable now, but Sydneysiders were adamant their transport system would fail in the run up to Sydney 2000. It didn’t, and their games were heralded as possibly the most successful of all time. Barcelona was the same, Athens was apparently doomed, and who can forget the baggage Beijing came with (human rights, smog, etc)?

So it’s with a surge of pride that I’m delighted the media is reporting record crowds turning out in London today to see the penultimate day of the torch relay. A BBC programme last night called Britain’s Olympic Torch Story told the tales of courage and dedication from ordinary people around the country. (I may have shed a tear or two!) A plethora of similar programmes have started to be shown this week, at last.

It seems the temperature is rising, literally and generally in the city. So I’ve got a good feeling that we might be able to improve upon Sydney 2000. Just a bit.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

River boat to Greenwich, 6 days to go

We took our two children into London on Saturday to see how the atmosphere was building with only one week to go until the 2012 Games officially begin. We enjoyed a boat from Westminster to Greenwich which is one of the best ways to see the city. The Olympic Torch was in Greenwich that morning, so the atmosphere there was even better there than the centre. Having said that, Saturdays in town are always lots of fun.

It was really exciting to see the Olympic rings on Tower Bridge. In Sydney 2000, they were also displayed on a bridge – the wonderful Harbour Bridge.

The signage was a little understated, but you can't miss it, I'll give them that. Not sure I'll be shimmying up a lamppost to nick it at the end of the Games though like a couple of lads I spotted in Sydney 2000 after one too many stubbies.

Elsewhere in Trafalgar Square, I got goosebumps thinking that one of the last times I was here was for the celebrations in 2005 when the Games bid was announced. The clock said just 6 days to go.

We enjoyed some amazing free music as part of the BT River of Music Festival, six stages set up at iconic venues across London, representing the different continents of the world. It's all a part of the Cultural Olympiad which you can read more about here.

Greenwich Old Naval College looked absolutely spotless and you could see the equestrian event all set up in the background, framed by the famous spires. Breathtaking. A cracking day all round. Don’t listen to Boris, try and get into town peops – this shouldn’t be just for tourists and the Brangelina set. C'mon!

Friday, 20 July 2012

London 2012 pin badges

I want to get some Olympic pin badges to add to my Sydney 2000 collection. They’re a pricey £6 on the official shop website. I never bought any in Sydney, the idea being that you get given them by other people and swap the ones you have. If you’re wondering what the big deal is with little bits of overpriced metal, they’re more than just a collectable bit of Olympic history. They’re a talking point (so to speak) for visitors to the games, guests and visitors alike, which is brilliant when you don’t actually speak the same language.

I remember the Icelandic official and the Brazilian athlete I helped whilst working in the Sydney 2000 Olympic village. The pin badges they gave me remind me of the friendships we made and the smiles between strangers – ultimately, an important part of the Olympic values, respect and friendship.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Olympics? What Olympics?

‘So are you excited about the Olympics then?’ It's a question I ask everyone I know. The response always focuses on a lack of ticket availability along with a criticism of the entire games as a result. I do understand these frustrations. I really do. But I also feel there should be more focus on our athletes generally, and what it means to host an Olympics in your own country. So I look for answers elsewhere – the media, for example.

Now, most people who aren’t on twitter or obsessed with sport won’t necessarily hunt out news about London 2012. They will see a myriad of Olympic designs on everything from biscuit tins to t-shirts down at Next or M&S. They will hear a bit about the torch if it’s on the local news. It’s very possible they will read the Daily Mail or The Sun and see only vitriol about ‘fiascos’ and sponsorship rules and regulations. They may see the odd athlete’s face plastered around town and on television ads. And of course, if this is your experience, it is likely to all revolve around money rather than the Olympic values of friendship, respect and excellence.

So what I’d like to know is, why isn’t there an Olympics channel on freeview? Or at least an evening magazine programme, much in the vein of the One Show, broadcast for a few hours each evening on a channel like BBC3 for example. In Sydney 2000, you could follow the Olympic Torch and see individual runners on national television. It seemed to be on all the time. Don’t tell me to press the red button or go online. My mum can’t do that, so I’m guessing not all of the nation can either. It needs to be more in your face than that; much more of a celebration.

If the Queen can be on telly pretty much for four whole days, I don’t see why we can’t have more Olympics coverage in the run up. Tell me about the community hero running with the torch through Bournemouth. Show the first welcoming ceremony in the Olympic Village of the British Virgin Islands. Interview Lord Coe every other day. Show him doing something other than fighting fire – hell, people might even warm to him a bit, understand what it means to host the biggest sporting spectacle in the world. Get a profile up of each team and let’s hear from them what London2012 actually means.

I don’t want to just happen upon a semi-naked athlete in a lifestyle magazine, just because they said they’d get their kit off. I want to celebrate them with their clothes on too. It would just be nice to be a bit positive about what is a very, very special event. It’s an honour to host the Olympics in this country, I just wish the media would do more to reflect it.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Bradley Wiggins. A Tribute.

Cycling. Whether it’s a rain-soaked commute to work or the thousands spent on Boris bikes in a quest to make us more Dutch, cycling is often an important part of water cooler conversation these days. My last two Art Director colleagues both took a tumble on their way to work, prompting at least a week’s worth of ‘I’ll show you mine (bruises), if you show me yours’ type discussions.

But this is all set to change – and next time we’re embarrassing ourselves on two wheels, we can hold our heads up high whilst we’re doing it. The days of the Penny Farthing are more than over. Because we have the Wiggmeister. He is the original wheels of steel – and his team of course, Team Sky.

Just watch Brad pedal up a mountain and think about that slope that makes your eyes water on the way to work/home/weekend recreational fun and you can’t help but be impressed. Then think about doing it every day for 21 days. Incredibly, to coincide with a year of amazing sporting achievement across the board, this weekend could deliver Britain’s first ever Tour de France winner in its 109 year history. UN-BEL-IEVE-AB-LE.

And once he has finished eating all the baguettes he can handle, Bradley Wiggins, like Mark Cavendish, is coming to the Olympics. So all ye who have tickets to see this man, believe. You’re about to see one of our greatest ever athletes in action. Just don’t blink.


Bradley Wiggins says you have to ‘keep the chimp in the cage’, in reference to building mental strength and holding it all together while your body aches like it just rolled over a bunch of tacks in the road. Andy Murray, please note, it’s time to get with the chimp.

He's been quoted as saying, ‘You need to be a ruthless robot or you’ll choke’.

On tour, Bradley burns about 8,000 calories a day.

His dad was a successful Australian sportsman, six-day cyclist Gary Wiggins.

Brad is a Londoner. Boom!

The French have nicknamed him the ‘Golden Heron’ for his bird-like physique and yellow back.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Rain, go away...

If Beijing 2008 was all about smog and firing canons into the sky to control the weather, London 2012 is all about rain. It's OUT OF CONTROL. I'm telling you now, our country has never seen a washout of a summer like this before. Or at least one that I can remember, for what it's worth. Thank goodness Wimbledon now has a roof on centre court, or Andy Murray and Federer would still be hanging out in SW19. They'd probably have tossed a coin for the championship by now. Victorian fog and Mary Poppins dancin' on chimneys it ain't. Her umbrella would've come in handy though.

Boris Johnson, London Mayor extraordinaire, has our back however. Ponchos have been ordered in their thousands. Plus most events are under cover, especially if you're in the cheap seats at the athletics like we will be. I believe it's only beach volleyball, most equestrian events, BMX, triathlon, hockey and rowing/canoeing that are exposed to the elements.

However...my roving reporter on the ground says the weather will suddenly clear and London will bask in glorious sunshine for two weeks. Given that he's a designer and not a meteorologist in real life, I'm not sure what basis he has to believe this. I'm thinking it's the pure disbelief that having come this far, a bit of rain could scupper what should rightly be an amazing games at the final furlong. I mean, it's only rain for blimmin' sake, right?

Simply put, I have to trust he is going to be right, the sun WILL shine and all will be well in the world. Right now though, the official stance is bring a mac, you're going to get wet. Usain Bolt better not use 'rain' as an excuse for not giving us a 100m final to boast about for years to come. That would be like blaming leaves for a late running train in the morning...oh. One thing I do know though, if the sun does grace us with its presence, it'll be the most supercalifragilistic Olympics ever. And it's only days away.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Where will you watch the Opening Ceremony?

It’s July and that can only mean one thing. The surreal prospect of a home games is very nearly here. And like the mind-bending feeling of carrying a baby in your tummy one day and then holding the very same baby in your arms the next, I just can’t get my head around that fact. In just a few weeks, I’ll be sitting in my living room getting goose bumps like I always do on any Opening Ceremony night. Only this time, the goose bumps will have goose bumps.

The excitement I always feel since experiencing Sydney 2000 at firsthand comes rushing back to me. But this time, it will be special again. This time will be just as important to me as being on the ground surrounded by world-class athletes, watched by the eyes of the world. My sense of national pride and achievement will be off the podium. I expect my other half may decide to hide in another room.

So what I’d like to know from others is how you’ll be watching the Opening Ceremony? Now that Eurovision parties and Big Brother parties have become the norm, I wonder if Brits will embrace the London 2012 Opening Ceremony in the same way they braved the grim Diamond Jubilee weather back in early June. And will they make fancy dress compulsory? Will the streets of London be witness to gaggles of ‘sporting stars’ spilling out of Fitzrovia and Soho pubs long into the night? I like to think so.

Most people I know have very young children and babies these days, so I expect the event will be low key for them. I personally plan to buy a sofa picnic made up of all my favourite food and drink from around the world. Then I’ll have my union jack at the ready (recycled from Queenie’s street party) and a big box of tissues on hand to cope with the only house guests I’ll be having that evening: a grand mix of nostalgia, excitement and hormones. Bring it on!

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Girl power from Team GB

It’s a month to go until the Olympics begin and the Spice Girls have been in town to promote their new musical. I say ‘their’ but it’s actually the brainchild of comedian Jennifer Saunders. A great day for inspirational women then?

Well I don’t know entirely about that, but I have been finding out a bit more about Team GB’s athletes to watch at this summer’s games. I’m glad to say, many of them are women and they really, really want gold. I don’t know why I’m so glad, except maybe it was after all the reporting earlier this year about girls being put off sport at school. That or I'm just fed up with all the gloom that's out there right now. So here we are, two inspirational ladies heading to London 2012.

Beth Tweddle – Gymnastics
Now forgive me, but gymnastics is a sport I’m largely ignorant about. My knowledge began at school with a terrifying ordeal involving a so-called ‘horse’ which wasn’t vaguely fluffy or friendly and some enormous ropes that dangled from great heights. That and navy blue knickers.

However, those in the know will consider 27-year-old Beth Tweddle to be Team GB’s most successful gymnast ever. She is three times world champion and our first ever individual medallist at this level. Beth’s event is the uneven bars and she finished 4th in Beijing. She just won gold at an Olympic test event recently, so so could very well be a contender for our first gymnastics gold this summer. And if she is, I’ll be doing a little living room gymnastics myself (minus the navy blue knickers).

Keri-Anne Payne – Open Water Swimming
You may remember this talented swimmer as the first person to qualify for Team GB last year. She was also a silver medallist in the 10k marathon swim in Beijing and a competitor in the 200 and 400 metre individual medley events in the pool. Keri-Anne was also crowned world champion in marathon swimming in 2009 and 2011.

Sadly, a shoulder injury meant she had to pull out of this spring’s European Championships. However, she’s apparently firing on all cylinders now and is a hot favourite for this year’s event in Hyde Park’s Serpentine. I expect we’ll be seeing a lot more of this lovely lady from now on, in and out of the water.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Ones to watch at London 2012

Now I know what you’re thinking. Here’s a post about heptathlete Jessica Ennis, whose dominating image greets Heathrow’s arrivals before they’ve even left the sky. Or I could be about to launch into a spin about the incredible achievements of Mark Cavendish, as he takes on the double feat of the Tour de France and the Men’s Road Race at London 2012.

In fact, there are dozens of deserving athletes from Team GB heading to this year’s games; I bet the panel choosing the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award are going to be in a right pickle come December. It’s a great feeling as the first Olympics etched in my mind were Seoul and Barcelona where Team GB picked up five gold medals respectively. This dropped to just one at Atlanta in 1996. It’s probably fair to say that for many years Sally Gunnell and Linford Christie were the only athletes most of us could name.

So here’s the first part of my list of 'lesser-known' GB champions* with grand designs on the medal podium this summer (i.e. they aren’t in every single advert on telly).

Sarah Stevenson – Taekwondo
Sarah, the current taekwondo world champion, won bronze in Beijing and has been to every Olympics since Sydney 2000 where she was just 17 years old. Incredibly, she lost both of her parents to illness just last year but she still managed to be crowned world champion in spite of everything. Unfortunately, Sarah is recovering from a cruciate injury but with her recent selection for Team GB, we still expect great things from this remarkable lady.

The Brownlee Brothers – Triathlon
If you haven’t seen the Proctor & Gamble advertising campaign featuring mothers of Olympians, then it’s well worth a nosey. It puts you in the shoes of an athlete’s mum. So just imagine how Mrs Brownlee, mum of Alaistair and Jonathan (Team GB triathletes) will be feeling this summer. They’re expected to pick up gold and silver respectively, in spite of Alastair’s achille’s injury earlier this year. Needless to say, it would be more than a major achievement if they do the double, so keep your eyes peeled as they dive into Hyde Park’s Serpentine this summer.

[*I mean no disrespect by using the term 'lesser-known' and hope this is not a patronising term to those following their progress. It's just that many people may not be as familiar with their achievements compared with the likes of Jess Ennis and Sir Christopher Hoy.]

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

What’s on Danny Boyle’s iTunes?

A list of 86 tracks have been announced for the Opening Ceremony playlist. As you can imagine, this has got music lovers’ tongues wagging as people debate which tracks they would have included. The list includes God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols, the Eastenders theme tune, Wonderwall by Oasis, Dambusters, Adele’s Rolling in the Deep and Underworld’s Born Slippy, to name a few.

Last week, Danny Boyle gave a press conference releasing details of his vision for the opening moments of the ceremony. It will be an ‘anarchic pastoral scene’ with real animals, depicting England as a green and pleasant land. He says he will be try to capture the humanity and warmth of Sydney 2000’s ceremony using wit and inventiveness, rather than sheer expense as was the case in Beijing.

Just don’t mention plans to add a new airport to London’s next-to-bursting sprawl or the HS2 high-speed rail link destined to cut across precious greenbelt land as it connects London to Birmingham. (They’re already linked). I joke, but actually, judging Danny Boyle and his Musical Directors Underworld at this stage would be like hopping in a time machine and telling Van Gogh his sketches of some sunflowers were a bit ropey. Either way, on the night of 27th July, I’m sure Danny Boyle will be added to the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List. Arise Sir Danny!

Monday, 11 June 2012

"When you're tired of London, you're tired of life..."

A strange thing happened to me last week. I’m still coming to terms with it. There I am, breastfeeding a two week old baby and I decide to log on to the London 2012 ticket site. Just to see. Because LOCOG suddenly announced they were releasing more athletics, boxing, swimming, table tennis, volleyball and football tickets. Just like that. JUST LIKE THAT.

Apparently they were ‘contingency’ Olympics tickets that became available as organisers worked out how many seats were needed for the media and spectators. That and the fact Thomas Cook haven’t been able to shift around 75,000 tickets they were allocated. I don’t know if this is a sign of excellent organisational skills as the ‘experts’ would have you believe or a right royal stuff up.

So there I am, telling my other half that only the really expensive seats would be left. And I click on the £20 athletics tickets. And before I know it, I have passed the point of no return. The screen refreshed once, twice and three times. The message was good. The message told me the tickets were mine. MINE! I had major surgery just two weeks ago but I ran around the bedroom squealing with delight – nay, ecstasy! No wonder I am in pain again today.

I have spent hours and hours on the Tickmaster site before now. My hopes, like many others, have been raised, only to be dashed half an hour later during each of the previous rounds. Now I hear there are several still available? I’m confused and battered by the process. So like a lamb to the slaughter, I went back for another go. What’s so astonishing is that I nearly didn’t. Then I read a tweet from Daley Thompson… DALEY THOMPSON! He can’t get London 2012 tickets. I feel so bad that I have them and he does not. He must be best mates with Lord Coe, but even he hasn’t been lucky in the Ticketmaster lottery.

It’s such a shame, because whether the experts are right or not (see article here), news items entitled ‘Ticket fatigue’ have started appearing in the press. This Olympics did not need any help in presenting itself in a negative light to the general public, so I can’t help but feel this is incompetence on a grand scale. But of course, I’ll be the first to admit, I’m no expert.

Thanks to Samuel Johnson.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

The Olympic Torch goes to Ireland

“There’s no divisions when it comes to the Olympics” local, Newry.

I’ve been quiet while the Olympic Torch has been busy this past month. My Olympic baby is now two weeks old, born at Stoke Mandeville, home of the Paralympic Games (and a rather outstanding NHS hospital). It’s also home to one of the largest specialist spinal units in the world. Jimmy Saville was a big champion of the hospital and many’s the time we’ve enjoyed a cuppa in the large café name after him.

Anyway, I digress. If you also missed the past few weeks of Torch action, it’s travelled to all sorts of wonderful places including underground and to the tip of the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. I think it got lucky that day as the sun was actually shining which is more than can be said for when we visited a couple of years ago. You couldn’t see the Causeway for thick grey cloud.

Most excitingly perhaps, was its journey to the only city outside of Greece and the UK when it crossed the Northern Irish border and arrived into Dublin. This was a brilliant moment for the north and the south – and once again, a sharp reminder of how sport and significantly, the Olympics, brings people together from all different walks of life.

And there in Dublin, another first: only two-time Eurovision entrants Jedward, could get away with running as a pair. I wondered if someone would try to take them out as they jogged along O’Connell Street, but I needn’t have worried. Although their hair looked pretty flammable as it had been moulded into a similar flame look, the event passed off safely. Nicely organised Ireland and Locog.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Torch Relay runs into controversy

‘It’s about ordinary people who’ve done extraordinary things.’
Paul Deighton LOCOG on The Torch Relay.

Now something that really is extraordinary is the fact that a genuine Olympic Torch is for sale on eBay and just went for over £100,000. There are more on there now in case you’re feeling flush. LOCOG charged Olympic Torch bearers around £200 to purchase their individual torches. This was a first or so I believe, for an organising committee to profit from the torches.

Rightly or wrongly, it’s not the greatest example to set for the so-called inspirational people Paul Deighton describes. But if you’re going to make £100,000 from your little piece of history and pay off your mortgage in austere times, maybe you really are inspirational. You’re certainly entrepreneurial. One torch on there appears to be raising money for a cancer charity. Another torch is just a picture of a torch ¬and doesn’t exist at all. Be careful what you bid for, and all that. I just hope the communities who nominated the runners don't mind...

There will be more press about this issue, I’m sure – check out the Independent for more information. All that keeps springing to my mind are the Olympic values: Excellence, Friendship and Respect. Pierre de Coubertin would be spinning in his grave.

Tickets, PLEASE!

So every day at 11am last week, I’ve imagined hundreds of people asking their bosses if they can ‘nip out’ for an early lunch/meeting/phone call while they spend the next hour desperately trying to navigate the ever confusing Ticketmaster website to purchase last chance Olympics tickets. I sincerely hope that if this is you, you got what you wanted.

I had the added complication of having my ‘due date’ thrown in to the mix. Would I be up to my eyeballs on gas and air shouting, ‘But I haven’t logged on yet to get my rowing tickets!’ or would I have to just take what I could get on day one? I decided with the latter as the disappointment would likely have matched the pain of delivery. (I know, I’m crazy).

So I still haven’t given birth to my Olympic baby (due to be born at Stoke Mandeville – the name of one of the funny looking Olympic mascots in case you didn’t know). But I did press the panic button early and bought Beach Volleyball Tickets on day two of the re-sale. I read a tweet that described the ticket sale as a mass free-for-all. You literally didn’t know if you would get anything in your basket after frantically trying to work out what was still available. (Apparently, everything was that was showing on the site – except, boo! It wasn’t…)

Obviously I’m chuffed I can go – admittedly, it was something I always took for granted when the London Olympics were announced. Am also delighted I can take my Olympic baby in arms – thanks for the u-turn there Lord Coe (see earlier post). Now I can put my feet up and think of Team GB in relative peace..!

The last of the tickets will be on sale this week – Paralympic sales Monday 21st and the rest of the Olympics Wednesday 23rd, first come, first served.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Who's got the matches?

The Olympic Torch has finally arrived from Athens and burns bright on British soil. A contingency including Beckham, the Princess Royal and Wiff Waff (Boris Johnson) have made us proud tonight. Its arrival has prompted tweets suggesting Beckham will not be the one to light the Olympic Cauldron at the Opening Ceremony. I never thought he would – I mean, he's not exactly an Olympic athlete, is he? A great ambassador and an Olympic money earner, that’s for sure. To quote Obama: ‘It’s a rare man who can be that tough on the field and also have his own line of underwear.’

So it’s been suggested Sir Steve Redgrave must be the one to light the cauldron. Or will it be someone more senior, such as the legendary Roger Bannister, the first man to run the mile in under 4 minutes. He ran at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games but didn’t win a medal. I’m trying to think of a female athlete to add to the mix – Sally Gunnell or Kelly Holmes perhaps? Someone suggested the Queen, but I think she’s in the Beckham category. Sorry m’aam.

My money is also on sailor Ben Ainslie to carry the Team GB flag into the stadium at the Opening Ceremony – although I hear he has a back injury and is to be the first person to carry the Olympic Torch in the UK. So perhaps Sir Chris Hoy will be the one to lift the Union Jack?

Whatever happens, I feel very proud this evening to have marked the Olympic Torch’s arrival on British soil. Good luck to all those who are running with the flame over the coming weeks (8,000 people in total). I hope to get a glimpse at Stoke Mandeville when it passes through.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Diary post from Sydney 2000 Olympic Village

There are lots of interesting characters dropping in and out of the Religious Services Centre throughout the day. I had a relaxing chat to an Irish Boxing Coach of Cuban origin today; he’s a tall Afro-Caribbean guy who is a Buddhist, working for the Irish Amateur Boxing Association. And when he doesn’t do that, he's working in prisons teaching inmates Spanish and Than-Phong – a martial art like tai chi.

I also met Maria Mutola, fresh from winning gold in the 800m. She had come to thank Phra Mana and his team for their support. She is, I believe, the first ever gold medalist for Mozambique and has appeared at an amazing six Olympic Games – which only four other track and field athletes have achieved. And considering that was over a 21-year career, I feel very privileged to have met her. Brits might remember Maria as Dame Kelly Holmes’ training partner who was thought to have assisted Holmes’ win at the 2003 World Championships in Paris.

At lunchtime I sat in awe of the massive queue of athletes for McDonalds meals in the Olympic Village dining hall. My meals are free, so I always make sure I eat lots – easy, as the food is delicious. I take advantage of the amazing salad dishes from around the world – particularly as fruit and vegetables are so dear here in Australia, and on my backpacker budget, quite a luxury. My college friend Anna Hemmings joined me today. She's canoeing for Team GB and she gave me a guided tour of the athletes’ accommodation. I got to see all the physios at work and where her teammates hang out when they’re not competing, sightseeing, chasing autographs or generally having a whale of a time!

After lunch, I headed back to work and saw Gomez playing in the International zone. There must have been 3-40 people watching at any one time, mainly Brits working in the village and a few Team GB athletes. The lead singer was saying how surreal it all was as they usually play to packed venues. Once again I had to pinch myself that I was hanging out at an Olympic Village, nevermind having another amazing free experience as a volunteer. My only complaint was that Nelson Mandela didn’t pop in to see us, but by all accounts he was hanging out with his national team so we let him off….

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The great ticket scramble continues...

The London 2012 ticket saga continues this weekend. As someone who failed to get tickets in both rounds, but whose application didn’t go through in the second round, I have also missed out on the ‘golden’ window that began on Friday and ends at 6pm today (Saturday 12th May). During this period, further athletics and ceremonies tickets (around 928,000 seats as reported in Evening Standard, although news reports differ) were made available to a lucky 20,000 people. I should have been one of them. I have had endless problems with the Ticketmaster website. I feel so bitterly disappointed, but I have to be pleased for those who did achieve success yesterday…sort of!

I now have a chance to take a pick of what’s left of the tickets over the next 5 days. I can only apply for one event and up to four tickets. Not all events are for sale every day, so again, a game of tactics. Do you apply for a sport you’re not as keen on that may have more availability, or do you hold off until the last day if you like rowing the best? It’s a minefield of disappointment waiting to happen, as there is only a one in four chance for people like me to buy tickets.

I’m remaining optimistic, but I can’t help feeling that the tickets should have been available in the beginning. And with more and more being advertised in marketing promotions (yes, I admit, I am a hypocrite and am desperately entering these competitions!), I feel even harder done by. Ok, will stop moaning now.

I just have to feel blessed I was able to have my chance on the other side of the world. So far, London 2012 cannot match up to Sydney 2000 in this respect, but then, the internet is king now and with these being hailed as the ‘social media’ games, how can we expect life to go back to being as simple as turning up at a kiosk and buying tickets in person?

Friday, 11 May 2012

Who will be the 2012 legend?

I watched a television programme about 1972 last week. The BBC or ‘auntie’ as it is affectionately known, is also suffering in the recession it seems. It’s cheaper to make programmes powered by the public (think talent shows like the Voice UK or ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent) or to dig out footage from the archives, thereby cutting out expensive actors, sets and film crews. It’s a shame to have to rely on the USA for high quality dramas like Mad Men and Homeland, but there you go.

Anyway, I digress. So I spent the evening in question reading up about Mark Spitz’s achievements at the Munich Olympic Games. He is considered to be one of the most successful athletes of all time, winning seven Olympic gold medals in the pool in 1972. This was surpassed at Beijing 2008 when fellow US athlete Michael Phelps won eight golds in the pool, bringing his personal haul to 16 Olympic medals .

It got me wondering if there will be one stand out athlete at London 2012. Sure, Michael Phelps is back for his last Olympics, but he won’t be competing in as many events as he did in Beijing. Sadly, Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe didn’t qualify in his comeback attempt and won’t be appearing. But this isn’t just the swimming Olympics, right?

There are so many outstanding athletes hoping to build on past successes – it's enough to make your head spin. I think the most recognised name will be Usain Bolt, who is hoping to smash his Beijing performance having run the fastest 100m time this year last weekend. Apparently, the only thing that can stop him this summer is the UK weather. I know the feeling Usain!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Alight here for London 2012

It seems to be a changeable season – I can’t say I’ve ever had to have my heating on in the month of May before. Ever since the UK announced a drought warning, it has tipped it down cats and dogs. But the good thing is, this will surely mean July and August are sunnier than usual. So pack your Bermuda shorts people, I predict London will be the hottest spot in Europe this summer.

It’s true it’s been an eventful week – England’s football manager has just been replaced with only a month or so to go before the Euro Championships. Roy Hodgson has been chosen to take on the (some might say, poisoned) chalice.

The good news is, London has kept its Mayor for another term. A little bit of consistency should be welcomed with open arms at this late stage before the Olympic games begin. Congratulations to Boris Johnson. Not sure the same will be said of our Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport Secretary (the dude in government who is officially responsible for looking after the Olympics). Jeremy Hunt’s position is looking increasingly unsustainable due to allegations of corruption and backhanders.

And finally, the Olympic Torch is about to set off from Olympia in Greece. It starts its journey on 10th May and somehow gets to Lands End in Cornwall, South West England, in time to set off on 19th May. Let’s hope it has a smooth and successful journey over the next few weeks. Here’s a nice little video about the Coventry factory that created the Olympic torch. (Yes, it’s UK made!! Unlike our sports kit and a few other bits and bobs…)

Monday, 30 April 2012

Diary entry from Sydney 2000 Village

So I’m one week into my stint at the Sydney Olympics and I’m absolutely shattered. I get to the village at 8am so up at 6am. Now the competition has started it’s far more interesting. Britain has a gold for cycling and shooting so far. Ian Thorpe broke the World Record for 400m freestyle and then went on to help win the relay with his team and the Aussies are going crazy over him. He has size 18 feet (Aussie size, so probably a UK 14 or something) – practically flippers instead of feet. Chelsea Clinton is here, along with Nelson Mandela, Mohammed Ali, Princess Anne etc.

Anyway, I got given two free judo tickets from Father Vladimir Makeev, the Russian Orthodox Archpriest. He was given them by Team Uzbekistan. So in the evening, Steph and I went to Darling Harbour’s Exhibition Hall to see what it was all about. We got caught up in the atmosphere and bought Union Jacks. A Spanish girl won Gold, an Aussie got Bronze and an Italian man won Gold. He didn’t stop crying the whole time once he’d won! It was ace to see people win medals – a first and a last for me. When we got home, we headed to the Coogee Bay Hotel to join our housemates. It was packed and a great atmosphere.

The next day, I took the train to the Olympic Stadium where I went to see some athletics with friends. I saw Denise Lewis in the long jump. She won gold in the heptathlon in the end, and I saw a bit of it!!! We also saw the 110m hurdles heats with Colin Jackson who ended up 5th in the final. Tony Jarrett was disqualified in his heat – very sad. It was a great privilege to see some athletics at all to be honest – all of the volunteers were given a ticket each and we were able to get hold of additional tickets a few weeks before, would you believe. So I went twice in the end.

We spent the rest of the afternoon sat in Olympic Park, lounging in the afternoon sun and chatting to Aussies. Steph and I went on to watch Team GB play Canada in the hockey. It belted down with rain and we huddled under our Union Jack. The teams were playing for 5th and 6th position, and it ended up being a draw. It was good to see a sport I wouldn’t normally watch ¬– Steph used to play religiously at home near sunny Croydon. We legged it home afterwards, chuffed with our day out as supporters of Team GB.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Mad dogs, Englishmen, women and children

It’s good to see it’s not just me with the crazy hormones coursing round my body at the moment. It seems that towns and villages across the UK are gearing up for their very own Torch Relays, in protest that the real thing won’t be visiting them. They clearly used to watch a lot of Blue Peter as their torch designs are inspired.

The other curious news is that Stuart Pearce, Team GB’s football coach is heading the LA to check out Beckham’s fitness for selection to the Olympic team. He could save a bob or two by listening to ex-England forward Gary Lineker on the subject. After all, he’s the Simon Cowell of football. If he doesn’t know talent when he sees it, I’m a twelve year old girl singing about getting my swag on.

On another note, it was great to see the capital showcased for the London Marathon on Sunday. Well done to all those who’ve worked so hard to get us looking our best. Sydney was gleaming in the months leading up to the 2000 games. Upon my return in 2006 however, shops were empty, buildings gone and you could no longer see your face in the pavements. Make the most of it London, now’s the time to see your city as never before.

And if you’ve been too busy celebrating the amazing fact that Chelsea got through to the Champions League Final with just ten men (breathe), the 30-year-old woman, Claire Squires, who collapsed and died during the London Marathon, has now posthumously raised over half a million pounds for The Samaritans. Our thoughts are with her family – may they be comforted by this amazing tribute. See more here.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

100 days until the London Olympics

It’s all too much. I’m so excited by the prospect of the London Olympic Games that I think I’m going to give birth. Oh yes, I am! I’m due in a matter of weeks and this can only mean one of a few things:

1. I’m considering calling the baby Seb.
2. I’m in for a marathon not a sprint.
3. I’m not going to get to the Olympics.

Well, one of the above is definitely true. And although a new baby didn’t make any difference to my prospects of tickets, it does mean I may have more trouble getting to some of the other wonderful things going on in and around London.

So if you’re still in the camp that this headline is aimed at (London Evening Standard, yesterday), I beseech thee to wake up and smell the elixir of fun.

I know it’s not a natural thing to do. I know you have concerns. But come on people, this is the sparkle that makes life good – the times you look back on and think, bloomin’ heck that was great! Times like when you queued forever to see your first gig at Wembley Old Stadium. You got sun burnt, your bag got nicked and you missed the last train home. But you were only two people away from Prince (insert relevant idol of youth)!

Hopefully, you’ll look back on this in years to come and forget about the money stuff and remember with fond happiness the way Team GB picked up medals like they were hot cakes. And in the same way we lament the passing of 1966 in world cup football trophy terms, it’s likely to be a moment in history that doesn’t come around again any time soon. This is our greatest chance to get behind our athletes and embrace what lies ahead. C’mon!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

God Save The Queen – here's something we can do well!

There are a few things that might get you in really hot water in some countries around the world. Like refusing to play for your national football team when you’re actually a star player. You might refuse because of, say, a political stance for example. And then you might have to get on a plane out of there. Not in the UK. Last year, ‘professional’ England footballer Wayne Bridge refused to play at the World Cup because his teammate John Terry had been carrying on with his wife. Just imagine if we all brought our personal lives to work.

So anyway, it must be a huge honour to be asked to attend a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ event as a representative of your country. However, this week, John Lydon of Sex Pistols/Punk movement fame, revealed he had turned down a request to appear at the Closing Ceremony of the London Olympics. I believe and hope this is due to his ideological stance rather than the fact that performers don’t get paid as this Telegraph article suggests.

It got me thinking that there must be umpteen famous Londoners, nevermind countrymen, who could easily represent the cultural achievements of the UK. Now I don’t know that I could say the same for many other places in the world. Obviously, I’m biased, but although I don’t know any famous Qatari singers or Brazilian film stars, it’s a good feeling to think that here is one area that Great Britain can excel at globally. Even the naysayers can’t doom this, surely?! After all, it’s already been reported that rock legend Keith Richards of Rolling Stones fame has hinted of their involvement in the Ceremony.

It’s also no wonder that Daniel Craig has already been signed up to appear as James Bond at the Opening Ceremony. And although he might feel a little silly in his penguin suit, doing laps of the stadium in an Aston Martin or flying in on a high wire, I’m sure the spectacle of the event will keep him going just fine. And if that doesn’t, Craig must spare a thought for Kylie Minogue in pink sequins at Sydney 2000, being wielded by scantily clad Adonises on a giant flipflop. We can only imagine what may have been in store for Lydon.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Trenton, the oxymoron

I had an interesting conversation with my dad this weekend. He lives in Australia’s Perth, the most remote city on Earth I believe it’s called. He hadn’t yet heard about the ‘Trenton!’ incident that took place this weekend on the River Thames. It’s a stretch of the river we used to live near. I’ve never rowed it as I don’t have a death wish, but I did feel privileged (and not elitist at all) to live around there. The only thing I know is that no one goes swimming in the Thames because it is so dangerous. Just ask the London whale that ended up in Battersea that time when he took a wrong turn by Graves End.

So it was a no-brainer that the guy in a wetsuit swimming in the middle of the river as Oxford and Cambridge’s boats came through was clearly unhinged and/or a protester of sorts. I don’t want to name him as he’s had his five minutes of fame, but it does seem he has created more anxiety about protesters turning up to the Olympics and putting an end to years of preparation and desire in the blink of an eye. He was protesting about ‘elitism’ – although it probably came across as more of a dislike of Oxbridge and ‘posh’ people. Which is curious, not least because there is no money in rowing, unlike football for example. See more >

Anyway, so turns out, ‘big T’ as I shall call him, is in fact a privately educated chappie from Sydney, who has swapped ‘classless’ Australia for ye olde England. An oxymoron if ever there was one. The Cambridge captain was interviewed about their ‘win’ and he was also Australian. Apparently the crew included oarsmen of six different nationalities in total. I’m not sure who else was English, apart from the umpire maybe, who, in my humble opinion, should have stopped the race when an Oxford rower’s oar broke and made the race unfair, resulting in an ambulance being called for one of the team at the finish line. Dr Woods is now thankfully out of the woods – hope you’re feeling better.

It was the most eventful boat races in years, but with one eye on the Olympics, I think we should all be thankful no one ended up like that poor whale.

See also Trenton/Fenton mash-up as reported in Australia.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Diary entry from Sydney 2000 Opening Ceremony

Well, from where we were in the Olympic stadium, we could see a giant TV screen (Pete from Aylesbury, my housemate, actually helped to install them as part of his job). So we saw all the action, from Olivia John and John Barnes singing, Tina Arena with ‘The Flame’ song and Amorosis ‘Heroes Live Forever’, which is the bit when a giant white sheet dropped over the south stand and covered the audience, making its way to the field of play and images were projected over on to it, including athletes’ images and the dove of peace. Everyone was excited by this point to see who was going to carry the flame. The torchbearers are always kept top secret so no one knows who is going to do the biggie of lighting the cauldron until the last possible moment.

By this time, we found it hard to keep the athletes contained in their ‘pen’, with lots wanting to get out and go off to the loo. It was a long time for them to wait, some 2.5 hours on their feet and they did get restless. Then the moment came when Herb Elliott ran the torch to the stadium and five of the Aussie great athletes took turns to run it on its final lap of glory. These were all women and mainly swimmers, including Betty Cuthbert and Dawn Fraser. This was because it was 100 years of women at the games. Go girls!

And then the moment of moments came… and there was Cathy Freeman standing in a white flame resistant bodysuit – she appeared as if by magic holding the torch and she took it up to the steps of the cauldron and stood in the middle of a circle of water. I watched her live, over the athletes’ heads and my God. You could see the emotion surging over her face on the screens. Anyone who was not affected by that is not alive, but having been here since April 2000 and followed the news, politics etc, the march for reconciliation etc, I think I appreciated it all the more. For this was a statement about Australians for Australians. It will have gone over a lot of viewers’ heads. ‘Who is Cathy Freeman?’ ‘Only a silver medalist’ etc etc. Simon, a lad I work with in the Athletes’ village, said the only reason she did it was because she was Aboriginee. I said, ‘And?’ Australian politics have come a long way in just one year; people’s attitudes are changing and they need to. The backlash with the press at home (in the UK) is that the whole Opening Ceremony was more about political correctness than anything; no kangaroos on bicycles like at the handover at Atlanta which caused an uproar.

At the end I had my photo taken in the stadium and I hope they came out OK. I got separated from the girls I was stood with and ended up walking out behind Matt Shrivington (Aussie athletics hopeful), the Aussie team and then past the US Dream Team (Basketball) who were signing autographs. Apparently they are very famous! I couldn’t help thinking, is some of this wasted on me?! Anyway, I was buzzing, and got home and had to go to the pub/beach to celebrate. Didn’t get home til 6am in the morning. Who could sleep after that?! What a fantastic day!

Note from blogger:
(I should note the rest of these diary entries are recorded further back in this blog, and written by my eager 21 year old self. I’m not sure what you’ll make of it, but there’s nothing like the enthusiasm of youth, that's for sure.)

Friday, 30 March 2012

The week we won the Games

This week, I saw a striking headline in the Tring Gazette outlining that Martine Wiltshire, a victim of the 2005 London bombings, will be competing at the Paralympic Games. Martine will compete as part of Team GB’s sitting volleyball team. I have to say, her story is just an amazing example of how to turn a truly horrendous experience into something positive or in her own words, ‘how to create new dreams out of something so negative.’

Martine had been out celebrating the fact that London had been awarded the Olympics in that fateful July. I too had been down at Trafalgar Square that lunch time – I remember my colleagues and I were asked to discretely finish up our beers by a couple of bobbies as there’s a no drinking policy under Nelson’s shadow. (Although I swear it was always the place to gather for New Year’s Eve drinkies). So Martine took a later train to work the next day and found herself sitting just 4ft away from a suicide bomber.

At around a similar time, I was evacuated from Westminster Tube Station just yards from the Houses of Parliament. The escalators weren’t working and I remember that my boyfriend and I were moaning about having to walk up so many flights of stairs. We then jumped on the nearest bus (like everyone else) before reports started coming through about a blast in Aldgate, where Martine must have been.

Everyone had a story to tell about that day. Later in the year, I was catching up with an old colleague when the conversation turned to this day and she told me her cousin had been killed in Tavistock Square. So I always felt that it could have been any of us that morning in 2005 and I’m still so sorry for all the victims and their families; it was such a bitter blow after one of the most incredible days in our history. But to read Martine’s story lifts my heart; I’ll certainly be following her every move this summer, willing her to gold in the very city where her life changed forever. Go Martine and team!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Getting into the spirit of the Olympics

It’s a fact of life that some things are more ‘newsworthy’ than others. No one really wants to know what you had for breakfast or whether your child just did their first poo in a potty on Facebook. They’re just being polite.

So when I heard about a massive Catholic youth event celebrating faith and the Olympics at Wembley Arena this weekend, it was hardly surprising (although a shame) that I had difficulty finding news about it on Google. Turns out Sebastian Coe gave a video address to nearly 10,000 teenagers about sport and the commitment of the Olympic values: friendship, respect and excellence. He joked that this was the only time in his life that he’d be asked to be the Pope’s warm up act.

It sounded like a highly successful day with Jason Gardener (not the Dancing On Ice judge – the Olympic sprinter) addressing the crowd, along with Stef Reid, pin up girl of the Paralympics, a speed skating nun and other Olympic and Paralympic medal winners.

I have to say, I was taken by the idea of so many young people listening and reflecting quietly on the meaning of the Olympics, the links between sport and faith and what it is to be self-motivated in 2012. And given that so much attention is focused on the logistics of London 2012 at the moment, it was a great reminder that actually, the Olympics are about much more than just Big Macs and lycra.

See more on Twitter #flame2012

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Smells like the Olympics

It’s all go on the London 2012 Olympics news front as we get enticingly nearer to the UK's BIGGEST SUMMER OF SPORT EVER. In case you’ve been too busy being bombarded by Usain Bolt ads or recovering from Sunday's early start to watch the Melbourne Grand Prix (Well done Jenson), here’s a round up of all the big Olympic stories:

1. The volunteers uniform has just been revealed, with the Mayor of London ‘apologising’ for the uniform. If you’re not a UK resident, you might not be familiar with our self-deprecating sense of humour. Right Boris?!

2. The exact times and locations of the Olympic Torch have just been revealed. I’m secretly a bit gutted as I’d booked a cottage at Land’s End the day the Torch was due to set off. But then it turned out I’d potentially be in labour that day, so that cancelled that out. Who knew the title the Mummy Olympics would actually be so apt?

3. You can see the athletes’ apartments online now. I like the fact the beds are extendable for particularly ‘long’ athletes like basketball players. I wonder if the Cubans are annoyed at being called the noisy party team whom no one wants to stay next to?

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Madeline Manning Mims

While I was working at the religious centre in the Olympic Village in Sydney, I was lucky enough to meet some very interesting people. None more so than Madeline Manning Mims. When I first met her, also dressed in the ‘lovely’ volunteers uniform, she came and sat down in reception and we began to chat. She told me she was a gold and silver track medalist back in the day (800m gold medalist at Mexico City no less). She explained her role as a minister for athletes, having founded the United States Council for Sports Chaplaincy. And then she told me about Munich.

I was astonished by my ignorance, for this was before Stephen Spielberg had done his ‘let’s educate the next generation about history’ thing. Madeline had seen the Palestinian terrorists shortly before they killed their first Israeli athlete. The US quarters were in proximity to the Israeli rooms, and she and her teammates witnessed one of the terrorists firing his gun before they all turned and fled. Talking to Madeline, you could see the experience still had an effect on her. After all, she felt she had been staring death in the face that day.

So I often think about my time spent hanging out with Madeline. I expect she will travel to London this summer and be sat talking with another young volunteer in the Olympic Village in Stratford. I wonder what she will make of it all? It must be strange to have travelled to so many Olympic Games. I wonder if you ever become blazé to it all? And do some years stand out over others? It would be great to know. Madeline, if you’re reading this, we’d love to hear from you!

More about Madeline

Friday, 9 March 2012

A week of Olympic news

Here’s a cracking blog I was directed to by the Today programme on Radio 4 this week. It’s all about the Olympic legacy and makes some fascinating comparisons between Sydney 2000 and London 2012. The question is, will we be in for a white elephant or not?

We really are a nation of batty eccentrics at times. Someone, anonymous, has spent an inordinate amount of time knitting a 150ft Olympics scarf. Yes, a scarf. But instead of wrapping it around say, the neck of statue, they’ve attached it to a Victorian pier in North Yorkshire. Go figure. Well done whoever you are. I'd love to know how long you've been knitting it for...

It’s been a week of aquatic highs for Team GB at the British Gas Swimming Championships 2012. Ellie Simmonds became the first person to break a world record at the London 2012 pool. Fran Hansell set the fastest 100m freestyle time of the year and is set to reach number one in the world. Oh you know, I could go on.

The only downer was the news that Australian swimming legend Ian Thorpe was downplaying his chances of being at London 2012. Tactics or defeated already? Either way, didn’t sound like the champ we knew and loved at Sydney 2000. Come on Thorpedo, London is really looking forward to welcoming you!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The Sydney Olympic Village

Seeing as I’m in reminiscing mode, I thought I’d dig up some memories of my time in the religious centre at the Olympic Village in Sydney. As this was 12 years ago now, I find myself wishing I could remember more details. I also wish I could find my photos.

Here is an extract from my diary at the time – it’s quite factual, but I have other more pertinent memories to blog about another day. It does however make you wonder how village life will compare in 2012. No ‘discotheque’ I’m guessing!

‘6th Sept 2000. Village people!! Started working in the Olympic Village yesterday. It’s shift work but my hours are usually 8am to 6pm. So I was up at 5am to get the bus to Central, then the train to Lidcombe where shuttle buses run to the athletes village in the newly created suburb of Newington. There are 10,000 athletes and 5,000 officials going to be living there once it starts. Some have already arrived. Security is tight and there are hundreds of people, around 25,000 in total maybe?

I am in the International Zone where all the amenities are, like a discotheque serving no alcohol, a huge internet café (the aptly named ‘Surf Shack’, always chocka with athletes), shops selling souvenirs, Kodak, tickets etc, and a huge games hall with around 800 arcade machines and games. There’s also a cinema, admin blocks and of course, us, the religious services. The five main world faiths are represented, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity and Hindus – and there are representatives from each faith always on call.

I am on reception. The coolest people I met the first day were Phra Mana, a Buddhist monk from Thailand, and his colleague from Laos (forget his name, very difficult words to remember), whom I chatted with for ages. They have a real aura and I could sit and listen to them for ages. No one is allowed to force their beliefs on to anyone and no one tries to. It is fascinating to learn firsthand from people, to understand what they’re all about. Actually, I think it is amazing they can all get along under one roof – what the spirit of the games is all about, I guess. I felt privileged to have all these holy men and women around me, from all over the world.’

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Sex, religion & village people

Working in the athlete’s village was an eye opener to my 22-year-old self. It was one big party for all the countries of the world to attend. Sure, there was real blood, sweat and tears in terms of sporting angst going on, but there were also other blood, sweat and tears being shed elsewhere. At night, you could see the cherries of cigarettes as the village bus propelled you to your relevant destination (mine was the religious centre, randomly. I was answering the phones there. These calls usually involved answering questions like what time is Mass/Morning Prayer or do you have any Bibles or Polish Priests available?).

I also learned about the massive trade in condoms on site. That’s right. When athletes and their physios/coaches/officials rest, they like to do it with other athletes, apparently*. So when I saw this ad on the Chip Shop Awards website this week, it made me smile for this and other reasons. I should warn you, it’s in very bad taste (contains swear words kids), so probably won’t appeal to everyone. I wonder how many condoms will be ordered for this summer’s fun and games? Here's the link to 'Life in the Olympic Village 2012'.

*I expect this is an overclaim on my part, and only applies to single, available athletes, right? I personally never got to find out, seeing as volunteers have their own section of the dining room to eat in. The closest I got to an athlete in the village was on the bus when it resembled the tube and a bunch of male Tunisian athletes were enjoying the proximity to random young women. Actually, this isn’t true either. I was invited into the Team GB quarters by a friend who was canoeing. But that is another story.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Yes! I'm a loser!

Well if this weekend's sporting action didn't make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and have you leaping from the sofa, punching the air shouting, 'BY GOD I WILL BE AT THAT OLYMPIC STADIUM THIS SUMMER, EVEN IF I HAVE TO GET NAKED AND ARRESTED IN THE PROCESS...' then you have no business here. Book your trip abroad now and get ye gone from the country's over-burdened transport system.

So joyous was I to watch an afternoon of sheer sporting excellence (marred only by Arsenal's dismal FA Cup kicking), that I couldn't help feeling uplifted and inspired by these impressive athletes. Well done to all the competitors and thank you for providing so much entertainment: Mo Farah, Jess Ennis, Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Joanna Rowsell, Jess Varnish, Shara Proctor, Robbie Grabarz, Hannah England, Holly Bleasdale and more – not to mention all the outstanding international athletes from around the world. I recommend YouTube-ing Tianna Madison's 60m run – she is outstanding.

And just as I thought things couldn't get better: yesterday's Evening Standard headline. Yes, I thought! I am a loser!!! Maybe I will go to the ball, cinders. Yet, upon reading the article, I am still as baffled as ever by the twists and turns taken by the ticketing professionals. Can't I just ring up and ask for the ones I want? No? Oh technology, you're sooo clever. Lord Coe says I could still be there. But I have to pick the tickets with the least demand or be incredibly clever. And that's if the website doesn't crash. So it seems that once again, we're subjected to the forces of nature and I'll have as much chance of winning this weekend's lottery by all accounts. If only I worked in local government methinks. But it's too late for that.

So you with tickets out there; you lucky, lucky people. Enjoy every minute. I beseech thee.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

It's a Doozy

Baroness Doocey has an amazing name. I don’t mean reputation – I don’t know enough about that I’m afraid, but I will be researching her a little bit more, if only to find out how I can get such a cool title. All I know is that she is lobbying LOCOG to find out exactly how many Olympics tickets have been sold and at what price.

The sale of Olympics tickets is up there with the other great state secrets of our time – we’ll probably find out in years to come that a time capsule has been buried at great expense to the public, with all the answers she is looking for. Not to be opened until 3012. Or we might just find out later this week…

I was less sure of the recent Dispatches programme on Channel 4 this week, looking at whether dodgy dealings were afoot handling Olympics hospitality contracts. I felt the programme didn’t come to any real conclusions (Baroness D was on this as well), and simply left a negative feeling towards the Olympics that no one could quite put their finger on. ‘We think it’s all dodgy, so it probably is…’. But maybe I just wasn’t paying careful enough attention. The newspapers didn’t run with anything, so I assume everyone agreed with this prognosis. My other half says, ‘Well, she is a Lib Dem, so she’s going to be negative about the Olympics, isn’t she?’

My point? Rumour, scaremongering and negativity are rife just 200 days before the Olympics begin. It’s a hard tide to swim against.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Lord Coe, you were a baby once too!

Right, well I can’t believe I’ve overlooked this but it’s time I mixed my messages I’m afraid. So a couple of weeks ago, there was a huge outcry over whether babies who had been conceived once their parents had successfully applied last year for Olympics tickets, should be able to attend events with their parents. I am due to give birth this summer, so you might think I’m naturally biased about this. However, I don’t have tickets, so it isn’t an issue for me.

But I have found that many people – albeit often our parents’ generation, – do not realise how difficult it is for working parents with small children financially and logistically. And can I add, mentally? Because the former definitely have an effect on the latter. It’s just not spoken about. You might see it manifest itself in the divorce rate of course. But many families have no option but to make ends meet. After all, their children come first. However, I do know someone (my parents’ age) who was at the Priory after a mental breakdown and she was shocked to see how many working mothers were there. They’d literally had their BlackBerries prised from their hands upon entry in the wake of a ‘but I can juggle everything!’ meltdown.

Just last week I attended a two year old’s birthday party and his grandmother was shocked when I explained that, even as a self-employed person, if I don’t work, I still have to pay for childcare. She was even more taken aback when I explained that if your child is sick and needs a week off, you still have to pay. Or if you go on holiday, yes, you guessed it.

My monthly childcare is more than my mortgage. This is not for a full-time week either. I do not live in a suburb of London. Many people turn to grandparents to help with this issue. Not everyone can. And few grandparents would be happy looking after a breastfeeding baby. Not to mention how the mother might feel about having to leave their child so they can attend an Olympic event. It just wouldn’t be an option (probably – obviously I can't speak for everyone!).

Actually, I bridled when I saw ‘expert’ Katie ‘I was on the Apprentice once’ Hopkins, talking about how parents should have to leave their babies behind on BBC Breakfast. How lovely to be so cold about this issue. Or sad. Many parents would put their child ahead of an afternoon of sporting entertainment – even if it is the greatest sporting event in the world coming to our country for a once-in-a-generation opportunity. But isn’t that very sad too? In fact, that’s exactly what it is; a sad indictment of our times. The thought that ‘if you have children, it’s your fault’, seems to be prevalent in society these days. Nevermind the fact that we’re bringing the next tax-paying generation into the world. The next generation of sportsmen and women.

All I know is, in an ideal world, I’d have tickets and I’d take my baby with me. And if they cried or became a nuisance (as Katie H suggested), I’d leave until I’d settled them again. Unless of course, it was rowing or canoeing, because when I attended that in Sydney, it was a big cheering mass of happy people bonding from all over the world – young and old. No Katie Hopkins there.