After a late night, 1am, we were up early, 6am, to travel to the Olympic Park, my second time, but Sam’s first. It has such a different feel than Earl’s Court, more than just a sports arena, it oozed character and its welcoming, warm, joyful atmosphere was unprecedented.
From underground, to Kings Cross, the snake like queue and the well organised javelin train service to Stratford, we made our way to the park. But not before a food stop at Waitrose, and a coffee and croissant on some leather sofas to start the day.
We were heading to see Women’s basketball at the Basketball Arena. A large but temporary building, a tight white skin covered a protruding metal texture to create an almost organic look.
Rubbing the sleep out of our eyes, we focused on the court below, as the first match was about to begin. Croatia vs. Angola, two struggling teams at the foot of their group. Not the tightest of matches, both in score and skill, it felt like a warm up game. But the crowd emphatically cheered Croatia to victory 75-56, although we’d rooted for Angola.
The half time entertainment was a display of gymnastics and basketball prowess, as players jumped from trampolines, somersaulting, passing the ball and scoring impressive baskets by all manner of means.
AUS vs RUS was up next. We’d seen Australia batter Team GB on the TV, and were happy to recognise the players again, notably the tall bulky captain, Laura Jackson. After the first quarter Australia were up 21-15, despite not making any of their three point attempts. This proved costly and by half time Russia had brought it back to 32-30.
The second half time show showcased the talents of the local cheerleading squad, and we watched, bathed in pink light, as they tossed each other into the air. A momentary interlude, we switched our attention to my phone, where I streamed the rowing from the BBC olympics app, to see the women’s double sculls final and Team GB storm to victory.
Back to the match, and at the end of the third quarter it was 54-48 to AUS. To the final quarter, and Russia opened strongly, storming forward and scoring a rally of three pointers. With fifty seconds to go it was 68-66 to AUS, and Russia were giving it their all, coming forward once again, but missing that vital basket. Australia countered, and the stadium erupted with cheers as they made the two-point basket for a four-point advantage. And that’s how it ended, 70-66 to Australia, a thrilling match to watch, right to the end.
Despite going to just one event in the park, we wanted to hang around for the rest of the day. The forecast had said rain, but it never came, instead there were blue skies, fluffy white clouds and hot sunshine. Outside the arena we watched as giant basketball players signed autographs.
We explored the swooping wooden velodrome, a beautiful permanent structure. And stood on tiptoes to try and see the BMX park. Atop a small grassy hill stood the Olympic rings in all their glory, with a queue to have a photo taken beneath them. Of course we queued, and befriended those ahead and behind us. Eventually it was our turn, and we jumped and whooped, waving the union jack beneath the five rings. Snap, snap, snap.
We picnicked and slept on the grass of park live, watching Jessica Ennis begin her heptathlon campaign on the big screen, watching Ben Ainslie push The Great Dane in the sailing – slowing down and giving him dirty air, and Roger Federer struggling but eventually winning in the tennis semi final.
The day passed by, slowly and quietly, all rather lovely. In the evening we explored further, following the riverside walk, alongside the beautiful British flowers and Gloriana boat, as used to bring the torch to the stadium and to lead the jubilee flotilla. Then around the outside of the stadium (but not inside), sad to think, at the time, that we wouldn’t make it inside.
Penultimate stop, the London 2012 megastore, for some official olympic venue t-shirts and other paraphernalia we seemed happy to purchase. A key ring, a mug, and so on.
Before leaving we settled down with a large curry to share and watched Rebecca Addlington attempt to defend her Olympic 800m gold, streaming it again on my phone. Sat just metres away from the actual event, we cheered her on, and she won an excellent Bronze medal.
We bought a bottle of wine and relaxed on the train home from St Pancras. A fantastic day.