I used to live in London what seems several lifetimes ago. I was lucky. I lived a 10 minute walk from Oxford Street and I had a decently well paying part time job. I may have had lectures for 30 hours a week and work for 20 plus extraneous studying and being stuck in underground trains and all that, but it wasn’t as hard as it can be for, e.g., anyone trying to exist in London on minimum wage. I got to go to the theatre now and again and I fell in love with the British Museum. But not with London. It always struck me as a city with too little time and too little care for the people in it. Also a bit fragmented.
I don’t often go there now. But I was there about 10 days ago to go to an Olympic final. I have some issues with the Olympics as big business but I did also feel that to go to an Olympic final would be a bucket list kind of thing and when I discovered I could get my hands on a ticket for the canoe C1 final, I decided to ignore the issues I have with Olympic Business and go and deal with Olympic Sport. London was a revelation. My London was a revelation because needless to mention, not everyone has the same experience. I found it a city transformed.
My hero of the Olympics wasn’t a sports star. He was a London Underground employee at Paddington Rail Station who provided useful advice on how to get to Liverpool Street Station after the ticket machines at the Hammersmith & City Underground Station decided they didn’t want my money without me having to walk the length of Paddington Rail Station between the two Paddington Underground stations more than once. This makes a difference really because London involves one thing and that’s walking.
There were Gamesmakers everywhere. You fell over them at all the railway stations, telling you where to go and how to get there. You fell over them at the venues. Unfailingly they smiled, and unfailingly, they were happy to be there, happy to be a part of the Olympics. Happy to show their city off the world. This is London we are talking. London is already a world city in the way that Dublin, for example, will never be. This is London whose position in the world has been assured for 200 years or more. And this is London who wanted you to see its heart, the people that make it, and not the people in the newspapers. I had a long haul from Heathrow Airport to Lee Valley White Water Centre which is way on the other side of the city, to the northeast so I met quite a lot of Gamesmakers on my way. Every single one of them made my day a little brighter, a little happier and I was already in a good mood anyway.
The world would be so much a better place if everyone was like that all the time.
Lee Valley White Water Centre was custom built for the Olympics I believe. I wasn’t aware that people built centres like this (because most of the white water sports I see/have participated in involve rivers and real rocks and stuff) but they’ve done a superb job. The British Army were handling security. They were fast, efficient and friendly and without exception, smiling. I can’t fault them. I didn’t spend much time in a queue at any stage.
The atmosphere was fantastic. I was there for the C1 Mens final and the weather stayed dry from the slalom which was very, very exciting to watch even if you don’t know a whole lot about it. There were a lot of Slovakians there, and especially a lot of French; I guess because those two nations are right up there with the slalom racing. We don’t hear much about it here although we are good enough in that sport to send people to some of the disciplines in it. Sometimes I wish our media would lose its narrowmindedness in terms of how it covers sports.
Tony Estanguet won the gold medal for France. It was pretty obvious on his second run that he was going to – he was noticeably more confident around the gates and down the river than his closest rivals. The place erupted for him – like I said, a lot of French. It poured rain for fifteen minutes while we waited for the Olympic medal ceremony I can’t see myself going to Rio in 4 years’ time, so if this is the last chance I get to see one, I don’t think I’ll shelter from the rain.
So I didn’t.