My London Olympics in one afternoon. A taster of what is in store and a glimpse of the amazing Olympic Park
So that’s it, my Olympic experience over in one long afternoon and a wet evening. It wasn’t the real thing I know, but my trip to the Olympic Park for the hockey test event, (or the VISA International Invitational Hockey Tournament as it’s called officially), was as close as I’m likely to get to the London end of the Olympic Games. Not the real deal by a long chalk, but it was still superb.
Like millions of others I had failed in getting any tickets for anything in London, which is probably just as well as I will be in Weymouth for the duration of the sailing event. But having been to the two previous Olympics, Athens is etched in my mind as the most remarkable and spine tingling events I have ever been to and made me appreciate how spectacular the biggest sporting show on earth is when you see it for real. Watching on telly is one thing, but you only have to get close to the stadiums to feel the buzz. The atmosphere around the Games is electric and the event consumes a city for a fortnight like no other.
I know we’re still 85 days off, but I was desperate to walk around the 500 acre Olympic park, (the largest new park to have been built in Europe in the last 150 years), look at the buildings, soak up the early atmosphere and make a mental map of places I had stood or sat so that I can shout and point when I see the same position on the live TV coverage.
The only tickets I could get were for an international hockey friendly, two matches, India v Australia, Great Britain v Germany.
I have never played hockey, have never watched a match and had no apparent interest in a game that requires the kind of running that would win a medal on the track along with the eye/hand coordination of a world class snooker player. I have neither.
But I also had no idea just how exciting the game was.
Surrounded by thousands of amateur hockey players who provided a combination of banter and running commentary, I picked up the basic rules of the game in a few minutes and was hooked for the rest of the day.
But my London test event experience was more than a couple of thrilling hockey matches. The park itself is stunning. From the sweeping roofline of the Aquatics Centre to the giant Pringle crisp shape of the Velodrome, a walk around this spacious park is as an architectural exhibition in itself. The main stadium with its purposeful tensile structure top and the industrial looking 115m tall Orbit steel lattice work observation tower are further examples.
At the other end of the stadium scale there is the naked and clearly temporary scaffolding construction of the Riverbank Arena, a reminder that that the Olympics is for a fortnight and not for keeps.
Closer to home, Weymouth is becoming a sharper focus of attention for the sailors. For many, the next two events are the last two, Sail for Gold, held at the Olympic venue and then the big one, the Games themselves.
As I shuttle to and from the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy (WPNSA) on what is becoming a weekly basis it is clear that the tension is starting to build. Those teams that have still to announce their representatives are naturally among the most anxious. But even those that had their confirmation months ago, there is still a tension in and around Portland as the end of the build up and the start of the event draws nearer.
A visit to the Olympic Park in Stratford may not have been anything like the real deal, but it was a timely reminder as to what the big deal in Weymouth is really all about and why it matters so much to so many.