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Old 07-13-2012, 02:10 AM   #1
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A real Olympic 40th birthday present – our London 2012 adventure COMPLETE AGAIN 8/3

A real Olympic birthday present – our London 2012 adventure

Pre-trip report – part one: let’s go back, way back in time!

Dates:Friday 20 – Saturday 21 and Saturday 28 – Sunday 29 July, Friday 3 August and Monday 6 – Tuesday 7 August 2012
Adventurers: Me, Cheryl and DH Mark
Destinations: The London 2012 Olympics!
Resorts: our house
Celebration: finally getting to see an Olympics for myself – a lifelong ambition!

I wasn’t going to do a pre-trip report for this, but then the more I thought about it, the more I realised that this trip would lend itself to one perfectly. I will apologise now for how much I’ve written. I think it’s fair to say that this pre-trip report spiralled a little bit out of control... ahem! I certainly never intended it to have as many instalments as it now does...

Before I begin, let me just say that I am primarily a summer Olympics fan and that’s what I’m going to concentrate on, although I’ve enjoyed watching Torvill and Dean’s historic perfect marks in the ice skating in Sarajevo in 1984 and the last winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler were fascinating. Of course, there was a lot of interest because we’d be sailing on the Wonder from Vancouver a few months later... but equally we discovered so many new, amazing sports, so maybe in the future, I will be more of a fan...

I will also say that, understandably, a lot of what I’m going to talk about will focus on Team GB, as that’s what I remember. Hopefully though it will also be useful for you guys if you plan on watching London 2012, as I strongly suspect that a lot of the names I’m going to mention will crop up in the opening ceremony, as they take the Olympic torch round its final journey of the Olympic stadium. Usually, each country saves this honour for its best athletes and I hope we follow suit. If we do, with any luck, a lot of th names I refer to will be seen with that torch on the night of Friday 27 July.

Anyway, I’m going to start at the beginning, where all good stories start, but to get there, we need to go back, way back in time...

My first Olympics memory dates as far back to 1980 and that really doesn’t seem like 32 years ago. I was only seven (I have no problem giving my age away, as heck I’m going to be having a heck of a Disney celebration for my 40th in December... ) but even so, I clearly remember being disappointed when I discovered that the American team wouldn’t be going to Moscow. Of course, this was the days of the cold war and mistrust of anything behind the Iron Curtain. In hindsight, you could see that there were always going to be problems giving the Games to Moscow under such political tension.

I don’t remember much more than that, although I have a vague recollection of the opening ceremony showcasing what was then the Soviet Union’s military might, but I could be confusing that with other scenes we saw of demonstrations of their power in the 1980s.

The one thing I do clearly remember from those Olympics was the epic battle between Sebastian Coe (now Lord Coe and one of the key movers in bringing the Olympics to London this summer) and Steve Ovett over the middle distance 800m and 1500m. Wow, those were the gold old days when Britain ruled these events. It was an amazing showdown, with Ovett winning the 800m and Coe taking the 1500m. I still remember the family celebrations at the latter, because he was always the favourite in our house.

It wasn’t a good time for the Olympics and I remember as a child fearing for its future, particularly when the World Athletics Championships began in 1983, with the first held in Helsinki. I watched with fascination, as it genuinely was a world competition, with no major boycotts, which was something I’d never seen before in my young life.

It’s worth saying at this point that, back then, the Olympics to me was athletics, or as you guys apparently call it “track and field”. I had yet to discover the joys of watching other sports on the TV.

Fast forward to 1984 and the Olympics moved across the Atlantic to Los Angeles. I think everyone saw what came next years before the Olympics took place. It was no huge surprise to anyone when the Soviet Union declared that they would be boycotting these Olympics. It was patently revenge for what had happened four years earlier. Having enjoyed the World Athletics Championships with everyone competing, I was gutted. Somehow, just like Moscow, it would be an artificial competition. I don’t know how the athletes taking part felt, but I certainly felt cheated. Surely anyone who took a gold medal at both Olympics, while still an amazing achievement, must have felt the same to a certain extent?

For me, this was the Olympics with the spaceman with a jetpack at the opening ceremony. In fact, only a few weeks ago, they interviewed the guy in the space suit and it was fascinating to hear him talk about the experience.

It was also the Olympics with the infamous Mary Decker/Zola Budd incident in the women’s 3000 metres final, with Budd tripping Decker, who was sent crashing to the floor with the famous scene of her sitting on the ground sobbing. Decker was obviously the golden girl for the States and understandably I remember the condemnation at the time for Zola Budd. I have to be honest, in our family we weren’t convinced she should ever have been running for Britain. Zola Budd was a South African and, of course, at that time, due to apartheid, they were banned from competing in international sport. I don’t remember all the details, but someone in her family was British, so she could claim British citizenship. That was rushed through, so she could compete for us in Los Angeles. Somehow that just never felt fair – after all, how many others would’ve loved to have had that privilege?

Fortunately, four years later, political boycotts were a thing of the past. The world had begun to move on significantly, with the first moves towards what would eventually see the complete breakdown of the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe. Even apartheid was starting to come to an end in South Africa by this time.

I was intrigued by the fact that the 1988 Olympics were taking place in Seoul in South Korea. It was somewhere I’d never heard of and it sounded very exotic. After all, it was almost halfway around the world, so it must be exotic, surely? That presented a number of problems for those of us who loved our sport and wanted to watch it. We were able to see the evening sessions live, as that was usually morning or early afternoon for us. Fortunately, I was only 15 and on holiday from school, so I could sit and watch as many of those sessions as I liked, which was very nice...

If you wanted to see the morning sessions though, that was more problematic, with them all showing in the early hours of the morning. The one I really wanted to see was Steve Redgrave (as he was then, now Sir Steve ) in the rowing to see if he could win his second gold medal for Britain. I remember clearly saying that I was going to set my alarm for about 2am or 3am in the morning and my dad said he would as well.

I did exactly what I promised and, although groggy when the alarm went off, I immediately realised what it meant – the chance to witness hopefully an amazing victory from the other side of the world. I watched anxiously, trying not to cheer too loudly, as Redgrave did indeed clinch that second gold at a second Olympics.

When I saw my dad in the morning, I asked him what he thought of Redgrave’s performance and he sheepishly admitted he’d slept through his alarm call. Neither of my parents could believe their teenage daughter had actually got up to watch the Olympics. I think that’s probably when they realised that they had an Olympics fan on their hands!

Of course, sadly the other thing that the Seoul Olympics would be remembered for was the men’s 100 metres, won by Ben Johnson from Canada, only to be revealed as having drugs in his system afterwards, leading to him being stripped of his gold medal.

It was at the same Olympics that the famous Flo-Jo also took the women’s double of the 100 metre and 200 metres and, although nothing was ever proved, the suspicion of drug use always hung over her. But, as an impressionable teenager, I will admit I was more fascinated by her amazing fingernails. I couldn’t help but wonder how on earth she ran with them, but she managed it. For a while, I wanted fingernails that long and almost managed to grow them that long too..

I was greatly saddened to discover only a few months ago that Flo-Jo died in 1998 at the age of 38. How sad, especially learning that she had a young daughter.

Next: enjoying an international competition on home soil!
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Old 07-13-2012, 05:11 AM   #2
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How exciting! Loved the history of how you've come to be a fan of the Olympics.

I avoided the Los Angeles Olympics due to crowd concerns, living only 50 miles away. Have always regretted the decision, especially since crowd control turned out to be good.

This will be fun for all of us, having an at-the-scenes reporter!
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Old 07-13-2012, 08:38 AM   #3
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I'm really enjoying your personal Olympic history. I agree that the 1980 and 1984 Olympics didn't seem like the real thing without the USSR. Watching the competitions, which were still exciting, you'd keep thinking "but what if...". I wasn't at all interested in any sports when I was a kid, but started watching the Olympics in 1960 and got hooked on the personal stories. A few years later I briefly dated an athlete who won ad bronze and a silver in the summer 1960 and 1964 games. Since then I've really enjoyed watching both the summer and winter games and am sorry I didn't take the games into account when planning my vacation this summer! I sort of wish they'd kept the system of having the winter and summer games in the same "Olympic Year".
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Old 07-13-2012, 10:17 AM   #4
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I love the Olympics!

My Mom and I drug the rest of the family to the Games in Atlanta in 1996. It was a long-time dream fulfilled! I hope you have a wonderful time! And can't wait to read all about it!

How exciting!
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Old 07-13-2012, 11:01 AM   #5
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Great start Cheryl!
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Old 07-13-2012, 02:53 PM   #6
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Great Start! Like the background stories!
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Old 07-13-2012, 03:51 PM   #7
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Great start! I toured the Olympic velodrome in Moscow inn about 1994, I think, and just recall thinking again how sad those years of politics getting in the mix were. Especially for the athletes who may have missed their one chance to compete.
Looking forward to the first hand reports. Attending the Olympics (winter or summer) are a bucket list item for me.
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Old 07-13-2012, 05:56 PM   #8
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Great start Cheryl. I always find that I watch more winter olympics than summer. Warm weather always seems so fleeting here and I try to be outside as much as possible.
I was gutted when Ben Johnson was stripped of his medal. Canada had felt such pride at winning gold in such a high profile event. I also remember the Zola Budd/ Decker incident. That fall our school had it's annual road race of 1.5 kilometers and I forgot my running shoes at home. I was required to do the run as a member of the cross country team. So I decided to be like Zola Budd and ran it in barefeet .

It does give a feeling of pride when your country hosts the olympics. Vancouver did a great job & made people proud to be Canadian . A great display of patriotism that I 've never seen before.

Looking forward to your adventures
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Old 07-13-2012, 07:58 PM   #9
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Great Start!!! I love how you included a history of becoming an Olympic fan. I'm very much looking forward to hearing all about your experience at the Olympics!!!
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Old 07-15-2012, 03:40 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by shazza View Post
How exciting! Loved the history of how you've come to be a fan of the Olympics.

I avoided the Los Angeles Olympics due to crowd concerns, living only 50 miles away. Have always regretted the decision, especially since crowd control turned out to be good.

This will be fun for all of us, having an at-the-scenes reporter!
Oh - I bet you kick yourself over that. I am concerned about the crowds, but having said that, I'll deal with them for a once in a lifetime opportunity.
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Old 07-15-2012, 03:43 AM   #11
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A few years later I briefly dated an athlete who won ad bronze and a silver in the summer 1960 and 1964 games. Since then I've really enjoyed watching both the summer and winter games and am sorry I didn't take the games into account when planning my vacation this summer! I sort of wish they'd kept the system of having the winter and summer games in the same "Olympic Year".
Oh wow - how cool is that!

I wish they'd kept both Olympics in the same year too - I find it a bit weird now.
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Old 07-15-2012, 03:44 AM   #12
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Great start! I toured the Olympic velodrome in Moscow inn about 1994, I think, and just recall thinking again how sad those years of politics getting in the mix were. Especially for the athletes who may have missed their one chance to compete.
Looking forward to the first hand reports. Attending the Olympics (winter or summer) are a bucket list item for me.
I bet that was fascinating to see the site of the Moscow one. We've visited Barcelona and that brought back great memories.
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Old 07-15-2012, 03:45 AM   #13
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I also remember the Zola Budd/ Decker incident. That fall our school had it's annual road race of 1.5 kilometers and I forgot my running shoes at home. I was required to do the run as a member of the cross country team. So I decided to be like Zola Budd and ran it in barefeet .
I love your style!
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Old 07-15-2012, 03:46 AM   #14
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Pre-trip report – part two: enjoying an international competition on home soil!

Fast forward on another four years and there was no problem with time differences for these Olympics, as they moved to Barcelona. I will be honest here, these Olympics feel like a bit of a blur. I really don’t remember much about them at all or any amazing performances. Of course, Sir Steve Redgrave went on to get his third gold medal at a third consecutive Olympics. I’m sure it was amazing, but there are just no amazing memories for me.

Another four years in the future takes us to Atlanta, where the overwhelming memory I have is that it was the worst Olympics for the British team for many, many years. As far as I recall, we won one gold medal and that was in the rowing, with Sir Steve again part of the team. For those keeping counting, you would be right, four golds now at four consecutive Olympics. Impressive, huh? Sadly, he then declared his retirement, famously saying in an interview straight after his win “anybody who sees me in a boat has my permission to shoot me.”

Sorry guys, but I don’t remember the opening ceremony for Atlanta and really the only other memories I have of the event are bad ones.

I clearly remember the news about the bomb attack that killed one person I think. I also remember the collapse of our golden girl Sally Gunnell, who had won gold in the Barcelona Olympics in the 400 metres hurdles, who pulled up injured in one of her races. It’s funny how things like that stay in your head. I can still clearly remember exactly where I was when that happened.

I also remember a lot of people asking how it could be fair that America got to stage the Olympics again just 12 years after the last time and I have to be honest, I was wondering too. I’ve always thought that perhaps it would be more sensible to rotate it between continents, with maybe Europe having one, the Far East and Australia having the next and then the Americas having the one after that. At least then you’d always be guaranteed to have an Olympics on a regular basis in or around your time zone.

By now, I was also desperate to see an Olympics myself. The next one wasn’t to be a goer, because it was on the other side of the world... and from here on in, my Olympics memories once again become much more vivid. 2000 saw the start of a new Millennium and the arrival of the Sydney Olympics, with Vanessa Amorosi‘s memorable anthem “Everybody”, which has to be the most catchy theme ever.

Finally, all the additional investment that the British had put in, including some proceeds from our National Lottery sales, after the disaster that was Atlanta paid off and we walked away with many more – 11 golds in total, which put us in 10th place out of all the countries competing (not bad for a little island really... ), but of course the most stunning one has to belong to....


Oh come on, you must’ve worked it out by now...


.... you don’t become a Sir over here for nothing....


Sir Steve Redgrave only stuck to his vow to retire from rowing for a few months, before he took up the sport again and he then took his fifth gold medal at a fifth consecutive Olympics. It was just unbelievable to have been at the absolute peak of your sport for 16 years straight. Sure, those athletes who win amazing amounts of gold at one Olympics have a truly staggering achievement (Michael Phelps step forward....), but to be able to do that every four years is really quite something. After this Olympics, he did finally retire. If he’s not one of those carrying the Olympic torch in the opening ceremony, then I will be staggered, as he is truly our most amazing Olympian. I personally think he should be the one to light the cauldron and I really hope he is.

This was the first Olympics I remember thinking what a difference it makes to be competing on your home ground. The Australians were always strong in swimming, but I remember then having even more success than usual and wiping out the competition. They were just unstoppable, with success stories including swimmer Ian Thorpe with his three gold medals and two silvers. Wow, I thought that was good until a certain Michael Phelps came along...

By now, well and truly bitten by the sports watching bug, when I heard that Manchester, around 30 miles from my parents, was to play host to the Commonwealth Games in 2002, I knew that I wanted to go. For those of you who don’t know, the Commonwealth Games is open to all countries in the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth essentially grew out of what used to be the British Empire. Countries taking part include England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Island, along with some of our islands, such as the Isle of Man and Channel Islands (we’re all separate for this event), Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Jamaic, the Bahamas, India, Kenya and South Africa.So while the big names such as the States and Russia may not be taking part, it’s still no walk in the park.

My parents live about 30 miles south of Manchester, so I knew that we’d have a place to stay if we went to the Games. I also knew that they’d be fine with that and would want to join us, as they’re also great fans of athletics. I guess maybe that’s where my love affair with it started.

It’s terrible, but 10 years on, I really don’t remember if we went for two or three evening sessions of the athletics. I do clearly remember that we were there for the last night of the athletics action, because after the last event, the English team and quite a few others I think, decided to come out and do a lap of the track to thank the crowd. This must’ve gone up for 20 minutes or so. We all absolutely loved it and, best of all, when we got home, we checked the BBC, as we’d recorded the event, and none of that was shown on TV. They stopped coverage after the last event, so it really was an extra exclusive event just for us – now how cool is that?

I do also clearly remember that the England team (we’re all separate countries in the Commonwealth Games) had a superb night. I know that Ashia Hansen won the triple jump and I know that because, for my mum’s Christmas present, we sent her ticket away to a company that then frames it with a photo of a memory from the competition. That’s hanging above their stairs and every time we stay with them and I see it, I smile and remember that night. I also know that the English team won both the relays and I know that I shouted them on to victory – of course, it was all down to me!

All in all, it was an amazing time and just whetted my appetite to see even more action in person.

It couldn’t have been more different to Sydney as we headed into the 2004 Olympics in Athens. A huge deal was made about the fact that the Olympics were returning to the place where this great event had started all those thousands of years ago. However, in the British papers, there were horror stories as we approached the event of unfinished venues, lack of money, poor facilities for athletes. Now, as I write this, there seems to be some irony around that, given the financial situation the country now finds itself in. As I think about it, I can’t help but wonder now whether some of those problems even date back to staging this event.

That’s probably what put me off travelling there, plus the fact that I knew, as it was being held in the middle of the summer, it would be scorching out there, and neither of us do well in the exceptionally hot weather. It just wasn’t to be for another Olympics.

Despite the scare stories in the media, it was still a great Olympics, with none of the forecast problems fortunately rearing their head. Once again, it was a superb success for the British team, even without Sir Steve. There were other new heroes and heroines to be crowned.

The one I remember in particular was Dame Kelly Holmes. She’s from Kent, so to us she was always the local girl. She was also the one who never quite delivered when it came to the major events, so I think it’s fair to say that not much was expected from her as we went into the Olympics. So, when she won both the women’s 800 metres and the women’s 1,500 metres, there were huge celebrations as she finally came good. It’s one of those moments I’ll always remember.

Sadly, the British team didn’t do quite as well as four years earlier. We were still 10th in the medal table, but this time with nine gold medals, two less than we’d left with in Sydney. Again though, the Greeks were exceptionally strong and performed so much better than they usually did, highlighting the difference that it can make to be competing on home soil.

Another Olympian who deserves a mention for his performance at Athens was Michael Phelps. If I’d thought Ian Thorpe had done well four years earlier, I certainly hadn’t seen anything yet. He ended up with six gold medals and two silvers, going on to then net eight gold medals in Beijing. This may be unfair comment, but I do remember friends saying that this amazing feat really wasn’t covered perhaps that well in the States. In particular, one person said to me they wanted to watch his finals and couldn’t find them being shown and I also remember Phelps talking about the amazing reception he’d had in London and how much the British public appreciated him. As I say, perhaps unfair, but I’m just glad we’ll see him back and competing on British soil.

Next: no tickets ... now what?
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Old 07-15-2012, 04:16 AM   #15
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This is a great lead-up to the games themselves. Love your wrap-up of a lifetime of Olympics!
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