Let the Games Begin!

Well the XXX Olympiad has now officially begun, and I’ve gotten my first story out of the events of the first day. But that’s getting ahead of myself. I want to talk about the Opening Ceremony that took place on Friday night.

Along with three other students in my group, I spent most of the day hanging around the Olympic Park. We didn’t have tickets so we couldn’t actually go inside, but there were plenty of athletes and super-fans walking around, so we started poaching pictures with whoever looked interesting. We snagged snaps with Cameroonian soccer players, Colombian boxers, Nigerian basketball players and French shooters. We posed with policemen and proud fans from California decked out in red, white and blue. It was, for lack of a better word, awesome. You could feel the excitement in the air and actually witness the coming together of hundreds of nations to one spot, for one event. It’s not something you can feel watching the Olympics on television.

As the clock ticked closer to the Opening Ceremony, my comrades and I set out to find a public viewing screen. Thus began a 3-hour odyssey through London. We were told to go to Hackney Central to get to Victoria Park. Victoria Park was nowhere near Hackney.

Then we hopped on a bus to go to Hyde Park. There was no screen at Hyde Park. Then we walked to Trafalgar Square. No screen.  But we did get to see the countdown clock wind down to its last two hours. Finally, we got on the tube and found Sloan Square, where a screen was set up and thousands of people were trying to cram into the tiny open area. We were hemmed in on one side by a gaggle of Chinese teenagers and on the other by a large family from Barbados. There were people from Spain, France, Canada, Germany, the U.S., Australia and of course Great Britain, along with dozens of others.

It started to rain, but this is England. We came prepared with umbrellas. We saw the jets fly over, leaving their colored smoke streams behind them, and then we counted down in one voice, like it was New Year’s Eve, as the final 10 seconds played across the screen. Then it began.

I have to say I enjoyed the Opening Ceremony, I found the Rowan Atkinson and James Bond bits particularly funny. The Industrial Revolution transformation was a remarkable piece of engineering and showmanship. But the highlight was, of course, when the teams came marching out to the cheers of millions around the world. That’s what the Games are about, after all.  The athletes. This is their show, their time to shine.

After that spectacle, I wasn’t expecting much out of the men’s cycling road race event I went to on Saturday. I lined up along the road in Surrey, near Box Hill, and waited for the cyclists with thousands of others, mostly British fans waiting to catch a glimpse of Mark Cavendish. When the first group came flying by, the force of the gust of wind that they brought with them forced me to take several steps away from the road. They were a blur of colored jerseys. I admit, I was a little disappointed. I’d been standing there for a few hours just to watch a few seconds of bikers going by?

Then the second group, the peloton, came up.  They whizzed by like the first group had, but then a few hundred feet up the road, the cars following the cyclists with spare bikes and tires all stopped. As soon as we realized someone was down, my colleagues and I took off at a sprint. News story! Journalists assemble!

There had been a collision, several cyclists lay in the road, but most got back on their bikes and quickly took off to try to make up time. One Iranian cyclist, Amir Zargari, sat in the grass at the side of the road being helped by paramedics. They braced his left leg and took him away in an ambulance. We spoke to several people who had been nearby when the collision took place, including some bystanders who had been caught up in the crash. It was a pretty good story and a great start to the first day of the Olympics.  I hope the other events I go to will be just as unexpectedly exciting. I can’t wait to find out.

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