Waking up at 5 o’clock on a Saturday morning may not be the most exciting start to a weekend, but of course last weekend was no normal weekend. It marked the start of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, and I was lucky enough to get tickets to the first two matches of the women’s basketball!
Now, while this may not be one of the more celebrated Olympic sports, buying tickets for basketball was one of the more affordable options, while the early start and the fact I was watching a preliminary round meant the tickets were even cheaper. And with the basketball arena being on the Olympic Park, I was able to take a look around other arenas, such as the Olympic stadium, the Velodrome and the Aquatics Centre.
Arriving at the park at around half past 7, I was greeted with a vibrant atmosphere. While it was not particularly busy due to the time, stadia proudly rose out of the ground like monuments, with walkways and paths beautifully presented. The impressive main Olympic Stadium towered over all, while at the other side the Velodrome stood majestically. The amount of volunteers in the park were available to help me out and answer any questions I had, and each one’s enthusiasm created a very pleasant atmosphere.
The basketball was pretty special too. I personally have never watched the sport, and have only played it occasionally, but the whole experience very entertaining. The arena itself was a lot bigger than I thought it would be, packed full of fans from all over the world. As preparations for both matches got underway, a compere entered the arena and got the crowd involved, getting each stand to sing along to a different song (me and my stand sang our hearts out to ‘Satisfaction’ by the Rolling Stones!), and involving us in fast and slow Mexican Waves aplenty! With the amount of pauses during the matches, his enthusiasm was much appreciated! Entertainment was also provided in between the two matches, including a routine by Britain’s Got Talent dance troupe Twist and Pulse, giving more to the paying customers other than just watching sport.
The matches were equally as exciting. First up was China against Czech Republic. Now I am no expert on basketball, but I was not under the impression these two countries were really the heavyweights of the basketball world (basically, in my eyes, if they are not America, they are no good), but both countries cooked up a competitive match. The speed of the running, shooting and passing was something I had never seen before, and after it had taken me some time to get used to the rules and the scoring, I was cheering on both teams! The atmosphere in the crowd was good-natured and everyone was in good spirits, with a surprising amount of fans from both countries. China eventually won a closely fought encounter.
However, the more exciting match involved Russia and Canada. A much more physical game, both countries were scoring equally until Canada opened up a ten point lead with five minutes to go. It looked as if the match was out of sight, until the extreme height of the Russian women started to wear the Canadians down, and they eventually won the match by eight points. Pulsating stuff! After the match I managed to track down one of the Russian players (whose name I later found out to be the famous player Nadezhda Grishaeva) and got a photo with her. She made me look like a small child standing next to her!
So, the morning of basketball was over, but my ticket did entitle me to spend the rest of the day at the Park, which I decided to make the most of. After seeing the Olympic Stadium, Aquatics Centre and Riverbank Arena, I decided to have a sit down with many fellow fans on a stretch of grass and watch one of the big screens showing the men’s road relay cycling race. Again, there was a great atmosphere in this area, with a vast mixture of nationalities cheering on their countries.
However, I was somewhat disappointed with a few things in the Olympic Park. There was not an awful lot to do if there was not anything to watch. People who just buy tickets to get into the park and nothing else would feel somewhat cheated, in my opinion. I was expecting lots of things to do, lots of activities, maybe even a few shows or presentations of some kind. All there really was to do was watch the big screen, which in my opinion, can only be entertaining for a certain amount of time. I would have also liked the opportunity to have a look in stadiums that were not being used when I was there, such as the Olympic Stadium and the Velodrome. Prices were also extortionate, for food and gifts.
Yet in response to some of the current controversies the games did not seem to concern me. Empty seats were scarce during the basketball the emptiest area being the press seats. Getting to the park was easy, using a park and ride service which started near my house!
I would urge anyone to go and look around the village, as there is a lot to see, and it is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I had a great day, and the whole experience has made me feel proud to be British!