Monday, August 13, 2012

My Olympic Experience

The Olympics is over. In spite of the seemingly outrageous magenta/purple color scheme, very un-British sunny summer weather, and even more un-British like "aMoozing" success of team-GB, this was an out and out British games.

And I never thought I would say this (after all we are programed from childhood to hate anything English), but this is perhaps the first time I enjoyed all of that Britishness, and loved that I could be a part of the games. I dont know how many times in my lifetime I will be residing in a host country - never before I even was in in the timezone of one. That brought its own benefits, getting tickets was possible, and I could follow all the events via BBC webcast and extremely efficient games website, where the results were being updated realtime.

All I wanted to watch live was NBA stars in action - and after getting a ticket of US against Argentina game, I shopped around for some "minor" events during that weekend, and ended up with "cheap" women's volleyball and boxing tickets. Little did I know that the volleyball session would feature the US team against Turkey, and the boxing would have India's own Mary Kom winning her quarter-final bout to assure herself of her eventual bronze. They did not sell Indian flags or shirts, but how I wished I had one!

But the Olympic games is barely about just the results. Defying all the dooms-day predictions, London lived up to its role of the host city magnificently. As the city was over-run with thousand of athletes, and many more non-athletes, there was not even a hint of chaos anywhere, rather the festive spirit was all-pervasive. The arrangements to avoid crowd congestion at all venues (like staggered starting times of events at the gigantic ExCel arena, which hosted a multitude of indoor events, different entry and exit routes) worked brilliantly, and even though a lot of planning went into it, obviously they could not have held a stage-rehearsal. There were Wenlock statues in every corner for people to pose and take pictures, and public viewing arenas with large screens. I was at the one just under the tower bridge, and British athletes captured three golds on that magical Saturday evening, the crowd roared and screamed, and the tower bridge was lit up first in UK colors, then in stunning golden hue.

The tube ran frequently, till very late. Droves of volunteers in their bright garbs were everywhere to politely but firmly point people to the right directions. Sure, there were queues at security checkpoints, food-stalls in the venues but none seemed overwhelming. When the major complain of the people were unavailability of tickets online, driven by an order of magnitude more demand than supply, Lord Coe and co. undoubtably will feel great.

The spread-out Olympic park, which contained the main stadium apart from the aquatic center, waterpolo stadium, hockey stadium, cycling arenas, basketball venue, and the ugly but adorable orbit, was like the cauldron of Olympic experience. The athletes, officials and the spectators from different countries milled freely - and the folks with badges hanging around their necks were having as much fun soaking in the ambience. Thats what makes the olympics unique - the athletes from nondescript countries can share the same stage with the superstars, basking in the collective glory.

The olympic is overtly commercialized - it seemed like trademark mafia will pounce on anyone saying London and 2012 in the same sentence. The beeb was irritatingly patriotic - hailing the great performance of team-GB was fine and expected, but often focussed on the 5th place British athlete while the battle for the gold was fought upfront. Apparently central London turned into a ghost-town devoid of usual tourists in the first few days, but normalcy was restored soon. These minor distractions seemed irrelevant when so many folks could enjoy the games up, close and personal. Luckily I could be one of them.

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