Canoe Sprint should have been our final event, but the luck of the ticketing website draw meant we had another, athletics. An opportunity to be in the stadium, to see the giant torch, to watch people achieve astonishing things, and to be back at the Olympic park.
We took a half day holiday, and headed over, via the javelin train, for one final time. This time we had a list of things to do; to buy “venue collection” t-shirts and to visit the Cola beat-box. Between 3pm and 6pm the park was at its busiest and we had to queue extensively for each of them. Disappointingly, the t-shirts we wanted were out of stock, already snapped up by the hordes of sports fans.
On to the next queue, standing in the beautiful sunshine, waiting to enter a giant beat-box. Red, and white, with pads and panels, as you walked around you could touch the pads to create noises, samples from different sports combined to form a beat, of sorts. As you climbed the song grew, layered. It wasn’t too exciting, and I was rushing, eager to get out and over to the stadium.
But at the top there’s a lovely view and a chance to hold the Olympic torch, we obliged. Holding the golden torch, it was lighter than expected, and the emblasoned London 2012 logo looked great. We stood on the plinth, held the torch and had our photos snapped. At the bottom there was free Coke, and a cult-like sugar rush party. But alas, we had to run.
Skipping across the park, past the BBC TV studio, to the Stadium, in through entrance B and over the moat. We’re in the stadium! We smiled, this was so exciting, this felt like the Olympics more than anything else, and we were here, soaking it up, beneath the clear blue skies and gorgeous summer evening. And our seats were fantastic, just above the 200m start line, long jump to our left, high jump to our right and javelin diagonally across. We could see everything, and the crown like spikes of the stadium surrounded us.
With a tasty curry and some beer, we settled down for the sporting action. The Men’s decathlon high jump began at 18:00, and we cheered on Suarez, the cuban, who jumped 2.11m, much higher than anyone else. At 19:05 the javelin qualifying got underway, whilst the high jump continued. Any throw over 80m meant automatic qualification. The Czech Vesely threw a monster 88.34m, the longest throw this year, a personal best, and almost breaking the Olympic record. (This was actually 4m longer than the gold medal winning throw in the final).
Come 19:15 it’s the turn of the Men’s 110m hurdles semi finals. Three semi-finals, we cheered on Team GB’s Clarke in the first and Turner in the second. Watching the hurdles, live, side-on is incredible. The speed with which they cover 110m, and the fluency of each jump. Very exciting.
Marks. Set. FIRE! And the stadium erupts, cheering, louder and louder for Clarke. 13.31 seconds, a personal best. Third in his race, just missing out on the automatic qualification. We anxiously watched the next two races, hoping that 13.31 would be fast enough to qualify for the final. Semi final 2, Xie of China gets 13.34, but Turner of GB misses out with 13.42. Still in with a chance. Semi final 3, Fourie in third gets 13.28, but fourth place 13.35! Clarke makes it into the final, by the skin of his teeth. The stadium is buzzing.
The sun had dipped now, evening was closing in, and the sky and the stadium continued to look astonishing.
The Women’s 1500m semi finals now, 3.5 laps of the field, we had three GB hopefuls racing, with Weightman and Dobriskey making it to the final. As the women ran their laps, we watched the Women’s long jump warm up to our left, the decathlon high jump draw to a close, and the javelins continue to fly, with the occasional cheer for any that passed 80m.
At 20:10, the big event we’d all been waiting for. The 200m semi final, a race that would start right beneath us, and one that would feature the eponymous Usain Bolt, and the new star, Yohan Blake.
Yohan Blake was in the first semi. He warmed up beneath us, and wandered along the track waving to the crowds. Jamaican flags waved frantically. The cameras and announcer introduced each of the athletes, with Blake doing his “beast” routine to the screens.
They settled down and took their marks, the stadium hushed, silence, you could hear a pin drop. Set. FIRE! Blink and you’ll miss it, they leap from the starting blocks, and storm around the corner to our right. And now they were in the distance, crossing the finish line, 20.01s, Blake wins — just, 20.02, 20.03 second and third. A very fast, very close semi. And the speed of these guys, seeing it in the flesh, incredible.
Usain Bolt was in the second semi. Suddenly the stadium was glimmering, flashes flickering everywhere, everyone taking a picture, “I was there, I saw this man run”, us included. Bolt raised his arm in acknowledgement, and there were cheers. He casually prepared, not phased in any sense, high fiving the lucky volunteer behind him. When the announcer introduced him, the stadium went a little crazy.
Once more they settled down in their lanes. Checked their feet against the starting blocks, measured their fingers against the white lines and prepared to race, Bolt doing his usual hail Mary. Silence again, 80,000 people hushed, waiting. Marks. Set — body raised up. FIRE! And Bolt storms ahead, taking the corner, gaining momentum and creating a widening gap. Half way round he knows he’s winning, and winning by some distance, he slows down, and almost seems to jog the last 100m. He wins, 20.18s.
In the third and final semi, Christian Malcolm of Team GB took the stage, racing alongside another fast Jamaican, Warren Weir. And this race was not without its share of the drama. In lane two Mathieu from the Bahamas false-started, quite significantly. His race was over, disqualified. He stood beneath us, dressed in blue, looking dejected, not quite sure what he’d done, or why he’d set off so early. The race re-started, and Malcolm came third, 20.51, behind Weir at 20.28. Sadly not fast enough to qualify for the final.
Bolt went on to take the 200m gold medal, in 19.32s, his season’s best and completing his double-double, the first man ever to retain both the 100m and the 200m. Blake and Weir came in second and third to take a Jamaican clean sweep. Total domination.
And the evening was just getting started. To the big events of the night, firstly, the Women’s 400m Hurdles final, at 20:45. A vehicle and entourage drove around the track, perfectly placing hurdles every few metres, all very synchronised. Antyukh of Russia ran 52.70, a personal best, to take gold.
Next, another 200m race, this time the Women’s 200m final. We were excited to see Sanya Richards-Ross, an America that’d won the 400m, with her purple striped arm socks. Meanwhile we were rooting for the veteran Jamaican, Cambpell-Brown, her graceful interview after the semis warmed us to her. Once more the stadium hushed, the athletes took their marks and the race was started. Richards-Ross and Campbell-Brown fought it out, but only for 4th and 5th. Allyson Felix, a smaller woman with slick tied back hair, from the US, won gold, in 21.88s. She later went on to win gold in the Women’s 4x400m and 4x100m, in the latter smashing the long standing World record set way back in Munich.
The Women’s long jump was drawing to a close, British hopeful Proctor not happy with her jump, she went out in the early stages. Reese from the US went on to win, with a jump of 7.12m. From our angle, with the women jumping towards us, it was hard to see the length of the jumps. But we had a good idea whether a jump was a foul or not.
The last big event of the night was the Men’s 110m hurdles final, we’d seen the semis earlier, and cheered Clarke on, as he narrowly qualified in the last spot available. For one last time, we cheered and whooped for Team GB, the flags swung high, everyone shouted, and we watched Clarke come in fourth, mightily impressive after coming in as the eighth fastest. Merritt from the US won gold with a time of 12.92s.
The crowds started to disperse, but we hung around a little longer, watching the Men’s decathlon 400m and the Women’s 100m hurdles victory ceremony. We soaked up the last of the Olympic atmosphere, our live sporting events had come to a close. It’d been phenomenal. Such a perfect, warm summer’s evening to enjoy these athletics.
In the crowds, queueing for Stratford station we bumped into some friends. And then the mad dash race to Victoria, our own urban triathlon, traversing train, escalator, tube and station at high speed, to make our train to Brighton with three minutes to spare. A suitably sporty, sweaty and exhausting end to it all.
After nine years, all it took was a local Olympic games to get Samantha interested in sport. From no interest at all, not even able to feign some semblance of passion for any sporting event, she became a sports fanatic, almost overnight, shouting at the TV, cheering athletes on. It was excellent and I hope she doesn’t return to her old ways after this.