The Olympic Experience

Last Monday, I went to the Olympic Park and took part in the Olympic Experience. This is how I describe being in the Olympic Park all day and joining in with the activities and watching the event in the evening. I had a ticket to the evening session of Handball where I saw two quality matches between Croatia and Spain, and France and Sweden.

My event started at 7.30pm so I decided to get into the Park earlier on with my ticket and see what it was all about. The Park was crammed full of fans all excited to see their event and just take part in this special occasion.

I spent a few hours sitting on the grass at the ‘Park Live’ area. This was where the big screens were and where hundreds of fans watched live action at the Park. I saw Team GB win a gold medal at the Velodrome and also one in the Equestrian. During the medal ceremonies, the crowd all stood up and sang along to God Save The Queen!

Having spent too much money on over-priced food and queued for almost 20 minutes for some tap water, It was eventually time to enter the Copper Box Arena. This stadium has been nicknamed, ‘The box that rocks’ from its lively atmosphere. The enclosed venue was filled and although most of the fans were British watching a sport we suck at, the spectators were still enjoying the action and joining in with the chants. I supported ‘Les Bleus’ in the second game as their fans were loudest singing ‘Aller les bleus!’ and their team won comfortably.

 

Even though my ticket was the cheapest in the Arena, my seat was still great and I watched the action just above where all the athletes from the nations competing that night were sitting and supporting their team. I was pleasantly surprised to see how many Croatian athletes came out to cheer their team to victory. There were Olympic medallists in the corner and it really came across to me that the Croatian team spirit was far more apparent than other nations.

I left the Park at 11ish and cycled back home from Victoria Park where I could lock up my bike in the free space in the park and get a free service on my bike if I wanted. A great aspect of the Games for locals.

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Volunteers are the heart and soul of the Games

When I visited the Winter Paralympic Games back in 2010, one of the things that I remember most well was how friendly and helpful the volunteers were. I thought to myself at the time, ‘how will grumpy ol’ Londoners be in 2012?’

Image source: The Telegraph

But much to my pleasure, visiting the Park for the first time yesterday to watch Handball at the Copper Box Arena, I noticed how similarly friendly and excited our volunteers were all round the Park. They’re really showcasing Londoners in a fine manner and without them, the Games wouldn’t have been able to run, so I think they deserve a post dedicated to them on here!

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Olympic challenge in a day

Three other Headstarters and I were set a task to travel around London for the day while visiting as many Olympics countries’ houses as we could. We would see what the venues were like and try to establish which country best represented themselves here in London during the Games.

After visiting six countries’ houses from four different continents in seven hours, we feel we have travelled the world. We travelled to Switzerland, France, South Africa, Brazil, Qatar and finally Ireland. Each house had something unique to offer which included their culture, history and sport.

Our group concluded that the French house was the best sports fan experience for the nation. However we felt we were unwelcomed and isolated as Brits and as young journalists as we struggled to interview anyone.

South Africa presented a great display of national art, music and culture. The atmosphere was very quiet but the few people that were there were very proud of their nation. They failed to represent their sporting side though, with very few memorials or presentations displaying sporting values or history.

Brazil had the most spectacular display of culture and strongest sense of national identity, as well as attendance. Many people of a variety of ages indulged in what Casa Brasil had to offer.

We were then very pleasantly and unexpectedly surprised by Qatar’s relaxed and luxurious experience. On arrival we were treated to free drinks at the sports bar while watching live action from the Games. Here, we found out the building cost tens of millions of pounds to rent, renovate and show case to the public for free! Shahan Akkawi, Head of Media, very kindly gave us a private tour educating us on Qatar’s sporting history and the development of their sustainable infrastructure. We also went on the roof garden with the most amazing view of central London’s skyline. There was also a theatre and lots of other interesting stuff going on. This got me very excited for what could happen in Qatar’s 2022 World Cup.

Some nations avoided the stereotypes, however the Irish lived up to theirs, by setting up base in a pub. The Irish came out in full force to support their own though, and it was a warm and lively atmosphere as you would expect.

We were welcomed by the Swiss stereotypes of chocolate, cheese and an out door climbing wall. From an interview with a Swiss representative, we found out that the Swiss were trying to challenge the stereotype though with out door concerts, the gaming facilities as well as a late night club, all open to the public for free. We concluded that this House was the most fun, friendly and it’s free. They were also so co-operative and gave us a mini tour and let us into the closed bar to their director of house, Manuel Salchli. Here’s the interview:

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‘Carrying the torch means more to me than if I was an Olympic medallist’

I have known David Vellala, one of the 8,000 torch bearers for these Olympic Games, for several years now through some of the many sports programs he leads in my local area. He is what you call a ‘people person’, and the few times I have walked down the high street with him, he has bumped into someone he knows every two minutes and chats briefly with them. He also trained as a sprinter in his youth and so has a strong liking towards the Games and sports in general. He was nominated to run with the Olympic torch in the last couple days of its 8,000 mile journey across Britain. Today, I interviewed him about the activities he runs and his experience in the torch relay.

How did you get to run with the torch?

“I was nominated by somebody I used to coach, who nominated me mostly for the work I do in the community as a tennis coach. I also coach wheelchair tennis and now visually impaired tennis as well, so I’ve been involved with schools for special needs, so I think that was the main reason I was selected. With wheelchair tennis, we’re playing it inclusively which means that we’re playing it with able-footed players and people in chairs. But we’re also getting able-footed players into the chairs to see what it’s like, to be challenged. And because I work in schools a lot, so school children are having an opportunity to develop their understanding of what it’s like to be in a wheelchair. And it’s exciting, it’s fun, and that’s the main thing to get over the barriers that exist.”

What was it like carrying the Olympic torch and where did you run with it?

“Well I’m from Hackney, but I got selected to carry it in Harrow which I was quite pleased about ’cause Harrow is like what Hackney used to be like! It was very local, it was an amazing experience and it probably didn’t hit me ’till afterwards. But when I was there… I’m a bit of a show-man so I quite like a crowd, I’m not shy at all but I still found it overwhelming. The amount of children and families that wanted to touch the torch and be involved on the street was amazing. Not only did the line they climbed to see the torch and be part of it! I think the whole idea of the torch relay is help connect people and to feel part of something much bigger and not just simply a sporting event, it’s about community involvement.”

Did you enjoy the opening ceremony?

“I thought it was magical. I enjoyed all of it but especially the end where the older generation handed the flame off to the younger athletes to light the torch. As a teacher I’m all for that and also it was good ’cause it wasn’t about personalities, it was a symbol for how you can pass something on. And when the sculpture came together it was a living symbol, it was beautiful and truly a moving moment for me.”

When you were asked to carry it, did you want to?

“Originally, when I found out, I wasn’t going to go ahead with it because I just thought there were some amazing people out there who I thought deserved it more than me, you only have to look online to hear about their stories. But then I thought, I’ve been through some pretty hard stuff in my life, such as temporarily being in a wheelchair (which is one of the reasons I’m so passionate about wheelchair tennis) so I did eventually accept it. And actually the final confirmation came on my birthday so it sort of felt like it was right! And ever since the age of about eight I always wanted to carry the torch even though I trained as a track runner. And I’ve won some medals and minor stuff but I was always inspired but the spirit and ideals of the Olympics. So I thought the symbolism of the torch was something quite special so actually, it probably means more to me than if I was an Olympic medallist!”

Do you think there is enough done to fund the kind of activities and sport sessions that you run?

“It took me six years to get funding for the wheelchair tennis mainly because the focus on these types of things was poor until, the Paralympics were going to come to London. And the London Games should be incredible because it will make that whole community much more visible to the community and the world-wide audience. And also lately, the corporates, in my opinion, have been quite generous with their time and money, I was surprised so maybe that’s a way we should be looking.”

I was also inspired by the torch relay with how the message of the Olympics’ ideals and spirit is passed on through the symbolic flame. I think everyone around the country were also amazed by the lighting of the sculpture in the stadium on the night of the opening ceremony by the young generation. From all of the people I have spoken to, I have heard good things about the ceremony as well – completely summing up Britain through art, music, culture, dance, comedy and film, although I don’t think half the people watching around the world would have understood some of it though!

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Times Podcast Interview

Today, this podcast was published by the timesonline where I was interviewed by Chris Skinner talking about the Games and how I have been affected as a local and a young person. Have a listen!

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An artist’s impression of sponsors impact on the Olympics

 

(Image source: Occupy the London Stock Exchange)

Deemed as ‘offensive’ by Ealing Council, Mau Mau’s ‘Clown Town’ artwork was whitewashed over within 6 days.

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The World In London

The Photographers’ Gallery are putting on an exhibition called The World In London which celebrates the diversity of cultures in London. It will be on during the course of the Olympic Games and is part of the London 2012 Festival.

(Image source: Dennis Morris)

The portait exhibition brings together 204 specially commissioned photographic portaits of 204 Londoners, each originating from one of the 204 competing nations in the 2012 Games. The portraits will be shown as large-scale posters in Victoria Park, East London, and also in Soho opposite the gallery. It captures the unique and varied form of the human body and features. Each photo has been taken from emerging young Londoners too and so is contributing to encorporating Londoners in arts projects during the Games.

I’m looking forward to experiencing what should be a simple yet interesting portrait exhibition and one that portrays London as the uniquely diversified city it is. I’m also pleased to see that the Games has set up these kind of projects in the city.

(Image source: Max Hamilton)

The Photographers’ Gallery was set up in 1972 and is the largest public gallery in London dedicated to photography and they run free exhibitions regularly encorporating emerging, talented photographers. As a young, inspiring photographer I am thrilled to get some of my work exhibited at the FreeWord Centre as part of the Politics and Olympics Exhibition. This also relates to the Games this summer but is not directly part of the London 2012 Festival. Therefore, I will definitely visit The World In London exhibition and might contact Karen McQuaid, (Curator at The Photographers’ Gallery), in the future about my work.

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