Anthony Joshua caps off British Excellence in the Olympics

After Freddie Evans was embarrassed at the hands of Serik Sapiyev by a score of 17-9, in the Welterweight Final at the Excel Center on Aug. 12, it looked as though the British faithful were going to go home disappointed.

“He just beat the piss out of Freddie,” Adrian Downing said of Sapiyev as the Gold medalist made his victory lap around the ring.

Freddie Evans and Serik Sapiyev minutes before the start of the match. (Photo by Chris Longo)

“You’d think with how loud this place was for him (Freddie), he could have at least put on some kind of a show,” Downing’s brother Tom added.

Downtrodden, the British faithful had almost forgotten the mountain of a man who was fighting in the last match of the night, the Super Heavyweight final.

Standing 6′ 6″ with biceps that look as if they had been sculpted by the Italian sculptor Michaelangelo is Anthony Joshua. In his way was athe defending Olympic champion and two-time world champion Robert Cammarelle.

Early on, Cammarelle showed everything that made him a heavy favorite. Dipping and ducking, while throwing occasional jabs Cammarelle dominated despite Joshua’s huge size advantage. Joshua looked clumsy and oafish as Camarelle went up 13-10 after 2 rounds.

The final round started with much of the same, before Joshua went into desperation mode as the crowd willed him on with chants of “Joshua! Joshua! Joshua!” Despite the dominating round, nearly everyone in the arena — including the Italian coach who began celebrating and pumping up the crowd during deliberation, thought Cammarelle had won.

Shockingly, the judges made their decision as an 18-18 split decision to much murmuring from the crowd. That murmur became an absolute roar when three judges awarded the match to Joshua.

Lennox Lewis, Britain’s greatest Super heavyweight attended the match as did current World Heavyweight Champion Wladimir Klitschko.

British boxing fan Tony Williams could not help but look at Joshua’s victory as a passing of the torch.

“With Lennox here, and the Ukranian here, it’s big. When Joshua turns pro, he’s going to make us proud,” Williams said.

 

 

Olympic support, success for Great Britain at all-time high

The bell sounded the end of the third round and both fighters took to their corners. The audience was noticeably nervous to hear the judges announce the final result, but still bellowed with the support of a home crowd.

“And the winner, with a judges score of 14-11, is Luke Campbell of Great Britain!”

The crowd erupted in elation. Campbell threw his arms in the air, returning the crowd’s love. His job was complete;  he knew he had made his country proud.

Photo by Tim Dix
Photo by Tim Dix

This was the scene last Saturday at Excel Arena, where Campbell became one of Great Britain’s 29 gold medalists. In a Summer Olympics where hosting the games seemed exciting enough for many supporters of Team GB, they have managed to have their most successful Olympics in history.

“Really quite nothing like it in recent memory. Not football, not the Tour (de France); this has got to be the greatest moment in Britain’s athletic history,” said Oliver Perkins, of London, who had just returned from watching some of the Olympic events with his mates.

After winning the Tour de France in mid July, Bradley Wiggins, affectionately known as “Wiggo,” kicked off the games by winning gold in the cycling time trial. While supporters of Team GB were ecstatic with Wiggo’s gold, they had no idea of the dominance the game’s host country would display during the rest of the Olympics.

“I never thought it would go this well for Team GB, but I must say it is brilliant we’re doing so well,” said Tom Bellack, a gamesmaker. “It really has added to the all-around success of the games.”

Talk of Wiggins being knighted by Her Royal Majesty was rumored when Scotsman, Andy Murray, won gold against arguably the greatest tennis player of all-time, Roger Federer, in the men’s tennis singles final. After Murray’s redemption of his Wimbledon final against Federer, the dominoes began to fall.

Jessica Ennis won gold in the heptathlon, Zara Phillips (granddaughter of the Queen of England) won silver in equestrian, and then Team GB’s dominance of the Velodrome began. Winning 7 gold medals in just 10 events in the Velodrome, the results had other countries in bewilderment of how strong the British performances were. Isabella Gautheron, France’s cycling chief, even went as far to suggest they were using dirty tactics and “magic” wheels.

“They hide their wheels a lot. The ones for the bikes they race on are put in wheel covers at the finish,”  said Gautheron to French newspaper L’Equipe.

Photo by Scott Hutchinson

While some countries have questioned how they are doing it, Great Britain’s overall success cannot be denied. Team GB finished third in the final medal count, amassing 29 gold medals and 65 medals overall, making this statistically the greatest Olympics in their history. Team GB finished fourth in medal count at the Beijing Olympics, but that has not compared to the national pride felt from winning in these 2012 games, according to David Ackley, a fan of Great Britain and the Olympics. Being the host of the games as well as one of the top medal winners has support of Team GB at an all-time high.

“Having them do so well has really sparked Londoners interest in the games,” Ackley said. “I’ve never seen the city bursting with so much pride for our athletes.”

While larger countries like America and China dominated the overall medal count, Great Britain’s success has made the people of the UK proud, Ackley said.

“Hosting the games and competing like we have, has really made us all proud.”

Games Makers: Volunteers making the games possible

The 2012 London Olympic Games have given Britons much more than a unique opportunity to play host to the world’s largest sporting event. More than 70,000 volunteers have been enlisted to assist with the games, giving the International Olympic Committee and the British Olympic Committee help from all over the United Kingdom.

As venues like BT London Live at Hyde Park attracted excited fans by the thousands, volunteers like Mark Fuller of Bexley were there to help with any request, sporting a smile.

“I think it’s fantastic that London has got the games,” he said. “I think the last time was in 1948, but I also really want to help visitors.”

Fuller, who was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, but moved to the UK when he was four, volunteered to be a Games Maker as soon as he became aware of the opportunity. A Games Maker is an Olympic volunteer that can assist the games in any way from welcoming visitors to transporting athletes. Venues with higher attendance require more volunteers, and BT London Live, where Fuller is positioned, sees in excess of 50,000 visitors on certain days.

“It gives people who [don’t have] a ticket, a chance to see [an event] and enjoy the atmosphere,” he said. “Inside and out, it’s a great atmosphere.”

Another volunteer, Fred Moore of Norfolk, had been asked to control and direct the crowds. As thousands of people flow into different venues, Games Makers are there at every turn, Moore said. Becoming a Games Maker was something he felt would give him the opportunity to get involved and being that the Olympics has only come to London twice in the last 64 years, he said he wanted to take advantage.

“It was going to be a once in a lifetime sort of experience for me; I’ll never get to do it again. You know, I just wanted to be part of it,” Moore said. “I’m just glad that it’s going brilliantly, not just for the athletes, but for the spectators as well.”

Moore has been working as a volunteer since the beginning of the games and explained that while there have been problems with tickets at certain events, most of the Londoners he has assisted have been very enthused about the games. Told by his supervisors that the top priority was public safety, Moore couldn’t be happier with with the ways the games have gone.

In Dorking, nearly 30 miles away from London, the presence of Olympic Games Makers can still be felt. Earlier in the games, the men’s and women’s cycling road race ran through a multitude of cities. One Games Maker from Dorking, Piers Vaughn, described the effect that the games can have on a community.

“It’s a beautiful area and having an event such as this brings everyone out,” he said. “It’s really great to get everyone out to support all the competitors.”

 

 

Olympic Village provides a safe haven for athletes

For three weeks during the summer games, more than 16,000 athletes from around the world call the Olympic Village their home away from home.

Olympic Village in East Stratford, London. Photo Credit: Holly Moody

“The village is a sanctuary that allows piece of mind and allows these guys to do what they do in the most extraordinary ways,” said Sebastian Coe, President of the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic games.

Whether it’s coming back from a competition or a hard day at practice, for centuries the Olympic village has provided many athletes with a place to unwind and relax their bodies.

This year the LOCOG took the planning and construction of the Olympic Village to the next level to ensure that the competing athletes are not only comfortable but have everything that they need and want at their fingertips.

The village in East Stratford, London alongside the Olympic park not only features everything from a hair salon and grocery store, but also the largest dining hall in the world seating 5,000 athletes and athletic staff. From protein drinks to made to order burgers, the culinary staff at the village is prepared to cater to a variety of tastes providing cuisines from various countries.

‘The Olympic village is amazing,” said U.S. gymnast and gold medalist Gabrielle Douglas. “They have great food and different varieties to pick from.”

Serving more than 60,000 meals daily the staff keeps busy planning a new menu every day for each meal.

Athlete have their own dorm style space complete with bedding and furnishings. It provides them with some privacy and a place to relax away from the excitement of the games.

“The dorm rooms are really nice a decent size and you get to kind of have your own space,” Douglas said. “I think that they are comfortable, and I love the sheeting so that’s always a good thing.”

Despite speculation about what goes on behind the scenes in the Olympic Village the athletes find it to be a hangout for them to mix and mingle with one another. There are many spaces for them to kick back and have fun including a game room and lounge.

“We’ve gotten to meet a lot of great athletes,” said Douglas. “It’s like were getting to hang out with the popular kids and we try to learn each others sports.”

Some heads of National Olympic Committee’s including Gunilla Lindberg, Secretary-General of the Swedish Olympic Committee have also made the Olympic Village their home.

“LOCOG you will have problems with us moving out because it is a very nice place to live,” said Lindberg. “I would say that they Olympic village is the heart of the Olympic games,” said Lindberg.

[View the story “Chatter Box” on Storify]

Pub Culture: One last cheers to the Olympics

Everyone knows that when the lights dim and the music heightens at 9 p.m. in the pub, socializing and laughter begins. The beers and ciders flow around a bar lined with youth.

Photo by Megan Hickok
Lincoln Arm opens at 10 a.m. for customers to come watch the day’s events.

Ever since London welcomed the entire world and its Olympic games, however, this party starts much earlier and lasts all day and night, said Hillary Barkwith, bartender at the Lincoln Arms.

“This place is drawing in way more people who want to watch Team GB with their friends,” said Barkwith. “It won’t be empty all day.”

Television screens throughout the Lincoln Arm captured customers’ undivided attention as the 1500-meter race finished. For most, their eyes focused on Great Britain’s runner.

“You should be here when our country wins a medal,” said Barkwith. “This place is packed and people start cheering, hugging and ordering more drinks.”

Pubs provide an opportunity for strangers to become fans together.

Joe Ashwitz, 32 of London, walked around the Lincoln Arm igniting energy and cheers for Great Britain.

“I see it as I live in London, why watch it from home?,” said Ashwitz. “The pubs are fun and you know they have the games on all day long.”

British people are known for enjoying a casual pint, said Barkwith. The difference, however, is the energy and community a pub forms during the day.

“Before the Olympics, people would sit around at their tables or stools and chat,” said Barkwith. “Now people are all cheering together and talking about the games.”

Walking into the Lincoln Arm, customers felt the unique Olympic atmosphere.

“Everyone comes out here when there is a big event on for Great Britain,” said Ashwitz. “If you aren’t going to watch, don’t come.”

Photo by Megan Hickok
Even early in the afternoon, customers enjoy chatting with strangers and drinking.

With the Olympics winding down and Heathrow Airport preparing for madness, Barkwith said she thinks the pub atmosphere will return to normal.

“I’ve enjoyed celebrating with people all day long,” she said. “I usually only see the bar this packed at night. I’m going to miss it.”

Olympic fans raising their pints one last time for their country during tonight’s closing ceremony will send the games off with one word.

Cheers.

That’s the spirit

I’ve learned that cultures are different, but people are really the same. No matter what skin color or accent or mannerisms a person has, we’re actually not that different. Men and women are all looking for their mates, their careers and their desires.

But I’ve noticed that it’s in the children here where you truly see the basis of our humanity. Children are going to laugh when you tickle them, cry when they fall, or smile when they are hugged because those are purely human feelings, stripped of cultures and backgrounds.

The Olympics makes us these children again, and that, in itself, is what I’ve learned most here. It’s not the volleyball match or basketball game that makes it such a memorable event. It’s the people and communities formed.

It takes me back to being a kid when it didn’t matter where you are from or what you look like because I’m going to ask you to play anyways. We reconnect with the youthful innocence we lose in the judgments we pick up and carry throughout the years.

These judgments are lost when you’re sitting in one of the arenas with four different cultures surrounding your seat, and you realize you are all there for the same thing: the experience, the atmosphere, the “just so I can say I did it”.  What people don’t see, however, is through our playful country loyalties and appreciation of other cultures at these events, we create our Olympics.

This atmosphere isn’t planned out by an administration. It happens when you see someone waving an American flag and another person three seats down waving a Pakistani flag, and it doesn’t bother you in the slightest.

I now realize how some things can truly transcend cultural differences or political strife. The Olympics isn’t a time to find out who the No. 1 athletes are in the world but instead to celebrate our youth, each other and the human race.

 

Wetherspoon: cheap food or obsession?

Many people know, I am an avid lover of food. It is one of the main priorities in my life, and I’m also quite a picky eater. As you can imagine, I was nervous about the idea of coming to London, where the only food that I had heard about were pasties. Honestly, those don’t sound appealing to me.

Fish and chips has been my favorite meal of the trip, but making the trek out to Brighton every day is a bit unrealistic. However, our group has found a yummy and cheap alternative, Wetherspoon.

Wetherspoon, which would soon be known to the group as “Spoons,” is a chain restaurant in the London area that holds the vibe of a classic pub. They have pub food, but also cater to the needs of vegetarians and the calorie conscious. The biggest appeal to us are their reasonable prices. A burger, or chicken sandwich, and “chips” are only 3.99. If that isn’t a bargain in the city of London, then I don’t know what is.

After making an appearance in the Guildford Spoons twice a day, on average, we were soon on a first name basis with the waiters, managers and bartenders. The boys became a fan of Charlie, a blonde gypsy who worked at Spoons during our first week in town. Sadly, she had to go home for the remainder of our trip. Josh, one of the waiters, always makes an effort to say, “Hi!” to us as well.

I’m not sure why we’ve become so infatuated with the restaurant, but we have yet to stray away from Wetherspoon. Some say that it might be comparable to a T.G.I Friday’s in the states, but I will go to the grave saying that it is comparable to heaven. I’d recommend it to anyone touring the area, and I plan on enjoying my chicken burger and salad courtesy of Spoon’s tonight!

The people you meet along the way

Twenty days in the rear view mirror as I woke up to the 48-hour countdown on my time left in London. I don’t want to leave.

Not because I want to attend one last Team USA event or come across one more story to tell at the Olympics. I love the fish and chips, but I could fry them up back home. The train and Underground were never really nice to me, and I could certainly go without paying for drink refills ever again.

Yet I don’t want to leave, at all.

When it comes to memories in my life, it’s not about what I did, but rather whom I was with. I may forget all of the small details of an experience in my life, maybe even London one day, but I will never forget the people who shared these days with me.

Photo by Megan Hickok
Megan Hickok and Colin Brown sight see London on the Big Bus Tour.

Andy, security cop at the Tesco Market.

Better known as Miami Vice, Andy and I talk on a daily basis. He works as the security cop at the grocery in Guildford. On my third day here, while searching through Tesco, trying to deal with my culture shock about food, Andy helped me find the peanut butter. Ever since that day, he always welcomes me with a smile when I come through the doors.

He told me about his trip to Miami and how he bought a pink shirt and white pants last minute to fit in. He didn’t believe me when I said only people in Miami dress like that. I update him on my experiences reporting and socializing in London, and he continues to share his outlook on the world with me.

Tyler and Jacob, football’s biggest fans.

These two popped up during my instant rush to meet a million new people the first couple of days on my trip. After the introductions, they went right back into their heated argument about Arsenal football. I nodded my head along, acting like I knew anything about what they were saying.

Then, I did the unthinkable. I said the forbidden word ‘soccer.’ They looked at me blankly for what felt like a long five seconds, then proceeded to tell me I was going to make no friends in London because I said that. After apologizing 20 times in 35 seconds, they laughed and told me that I could still be their friend. They spent the next 20 minutes teaching me everything there was to know about European football.

Photo by Megan Hickok
A group of Scripps students pose with local police after chatting about their unique helmets and duties during the Olympic games.

French fry guy on the train.

It was a late night catching the trains back from London and I was with a few of our friends. As we walked down the aisles, I noticed everyone indulging in late night McDonalds. I instantly became severely hungry, remembering I still had a 35-minute train ride to sit through before I could eat.

Then, he sat down. French fry guy instantly talked to us about Guildford and all of the London suburbs we pass through on a daily basis. He too was headed home after a day out in London. He munched on his fries, sharing his opinions on everything from football to Americans. Then, as if fate sat him next to me on this train in my time of need, he offered me his extra fries. The fries were exactly what I needed as my stomach growls subsided, but his stories and friendly face are what got me through that late night train ride.

Josh, the waiter at Wetherspoons.

He has seen how far this American has come over the last three weeks. The first time he noticed me, I was sitting at the bar stressing as I counted out my pounds and pence. The money thing over has been a struggle for me. Josh came over and collected the right change out of my big pile of coins sitting across the table. Since then, he checks in with me between my food or drink orders to see how I’m getting along in London. My accent still makes him laugh along with my million questions about unusual drinks and food in Europe. He, along with many others at Wetherspoons, has become a friend of mine.

The names, faces and stories are turning into memories as I start collecting my thoughts and belongings to say goodbye to this place I’ve called home lately. I am so fortunate to have sat 10 rows back from a men’s beach volleyball game. I had to pinch myself as I chatted with Candace Parker about London. I snapped a thousand pictures of the London Bridge and Big Ben. However, these aren’t even the experiences impacting me the most.

Photo by Megan Hickok
Megan Hickok and Danny Medlock pose with the official 2012 Olympic mascot.

As I reflect, I realize all of the people who became friends of mine over the last three weeks made this trip for me. Those long chats were invaluable. I met real people who could share the culture and personalities of London. I taught them everything I could about back home, and they unknowingly opened my eyes to a new outlook on life.

I can say goodbye to Buckingham Palace and even the Olympic Park, but it hit me this morning, I’m not ready to end the conversations.

London is no different than any other journey in my life. It really is about the people you meet along the way.

Scripps finds out Diana Taurasi and Sylvia Fowles’ likes and dislikes

Team USA women’s basketball is known for its unrelenting ability to be No. 1 in the world for four Olympics in a row now.

The players are known for their dominating talent on the court and also for their ability to play as a team as if they had been one for years. What most people don’t know, however, is the more personal side of the players, their likes and dislikes.

Three time Olympic gold medalist Diana Taurasi and 2008 Beijing gold medalist Sylvia Fowles discuss their favorite meals, music, movies and more after their practice at the University of East London.

A British haircut

The first week of this trip was a series of multi-hour bus rides, seeing buildings, finding lunch and then taking that same long

Myself, in desperate need of a haircut. (Photo by Hans Meyer)

bus ride back. The situation was akin to going on vacation, checking into a hotel, ordering yourself some room service and then checking out. While it was nice to see the area, it would have been nice to be able to stay for the continental breakfast as well.

Our first trip was a visit to Brighton, a seaside hamlet notorious for its Royal Pavillion, shopping centres, fish and chips, and gay community. Personally, it reminded me a lot of Provincetown, Mass., a town near my beach house on Cape Cod that I have been visiting my whole life. Both towns are gay communities on the beach, with museums, shopping, art galleries and great food. The familiarity of the place might be why Brighton was hands down my favorite stop on this tour.

As a group we toured the Royal Pavillion, a British palace with incredible Japanese influence. Then some of us drank champagne in the beautiful weather adjacent to the palace. The group then met up for the always delicious fish n’ chips at the Brighton Pier (I got calamari) and even met a Chinese doctor who claimed to be able to cure premature ejaculation.

However, hands down the best part of the trip was my decision to get a haircut.

I desperately needed a haircut but ran out of time to get one in the states, so when I saw haircuts for £6, I was all in. (Note: Haircuts cost me $22 at my local barber.) My immediate thought was to ask him to make me look as British as possible. Should I ask for the Beckham? Of the One Direction band members, which mane would look the best on me? I mean, for sure Zayn, but could I really pull off that much product?

TIm Jennings attempting to make me look “smashing.” (Photo by Hans Meyer)

As I flirted with these questions and many others, I made the decision to give the barber, Tim Jennings, creative license in my British transformation.

Tim and I talked about the hypocrisy that is Disney World (paying adult price for 12-year-old admission?) and the hilarity of the American television show Swamp People. He told us boys to always check page two of The Sun.

Jennings also shared some sad news: he is receiving a kidney transplant from his wife and has a 1 in 150,000 chance of it being successful.

I want to wish Tim the best, and thank him for my new awesome British haircut.