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.

 

Triathlon spectators hold their ground in crowds

LONDON — The men’s Triathlon on Tuesday, Aug. .7 drew large crowds specifically for the cycling segment of the race outside of Buckingham Palace. Some spectators went to great lengths to secure their sights on the cyclists.

Cycling Leg
Competitors in the triathlon event on Tuesday raced around Hyde Park during the cycling leg of the race.
Photo by Jillian Felllows

Perry and Jackie Griffis of Peterborough came prepared with a cardboard periscope in an effort to see the event from above the ground level.

“We got this device at the Jubilee,” Perry said. “They were just giving them out for free.”

The two also came prepared with a backup plan.

“There’s the big screen in Hyde Park, so we could just go there and enjoy the atmosphere,” said Jackie.

Others sat on top of the brick barriers surrounding the event. Maria Higginson from Stafford and her two boys ate lunch and watched the cyclists.

“We got up here by pure luck,” said Higginson. “There was a bit of a gap and we climbed up.”

The family arrived at the park during swimming, the first segment of the triathlon.

“It was all very busy still when we got here, but it’s a great showcase for Britain,” she said.

While the Higginsons said they got lucky finding seats, Owen Williams and his family from Wales credited patience.

“We got here about half past 9, ten o’clock to make sure we get a good speck,” said Williams. The family watched from the side of the race closest to Buckingham Palace directly against the barriers, giving them a front row view of the athletes.

The family successfully kept their spot throughout the whole event, but not without tactics.

“I recommend getting there nice and early,” said Williams. “Hold your space, don’t let anybody push you around.”

USA pride whether in London or on the couch

LONDON, England — Moments after Ashley Richardson came through the terminal at Heathrow Airport, she realized her Midwestern accent and Indiana University apparel made her distinctive in the convenience store line, a realization that she said bothered her. However, just days later, as Richardson and her family painted their faces and dressed in bright blues and reds in preparation for their first Olympic outing, she was proud to be an American.

photo by Megan Hickok
College students show their American spirit by dressing up in red, white and blue. Spectators at the Olympic events dress up to support their countries.

The typical American buzzing about the Olympics, is not like the Richardson family, however. Team USA’s greatest moments such as Phelps’ swim to his final career gold or Carmelo Anthony leading the men’s basketball team to shatter records, were all seen from the comfort of their couch.

Jay Dailey of Chillicothe, Ohio, never booked a flight to London, but said he still follows the Olympics and Team USA to his best ability.

“I try to watch as much as I can,” said Dailey. “NBC has events on four different channels on my cable subscriber so there is really never a lack of coverage.”

NBC earned the rights to broadcast the games in the United States, a country five hours behind London time. After years of strategizing, NBC decided to delay footage to coincide with America’s prime time television hours. For those back home, the decision became controversial. Twitter users even created the #NBCFail hashtag.

“With social media being the way it is today, it’s way too easy to see who won all of the prime time events before they come on here,” said Dailey. “It’s frustrating because I love the dramatics of the Olympics. It kind of takes the fun out of it.”

To limit the spoiler alerts, Dailey avoids online sites such as NBC, Yahoo! and ESPN, but finds this inconvenient when needing baseball updates or general news.

screen shot by Megan Hickok
Twitter users share frustration through the #NBCfail hashtag.

Richardson, venturing through Olympic Village and various London pubs, hears, watches and cheers in live time. Her Twitter followers and Facebook friends, however, do not appreciate that, she said.

“I’ve ruined a few moments I’m sure,” said Richardson. “I just forget they can’t see it yet and I get excited about the event. I can’t help wanting to tweet about Lochte and Phelps winning.”

Richardson, constantly surrounded by flags and colors from 213 other countries that are not always her own, uses social media to connect and share pride with fellow Team USA fans.

“Sometimes I wish I ran into more American fans,” she said.

As for Team USA’s homeland, Olympic pride and gear appears everywhere, Dailey said.

“Everywhere I go, there is always someone talking about the Olympics,” said Dailey. “It’s pretty cool to see everyone have common ground to carry on conversations, even total strangers.”

NBC broadcasting back home focuses on Team USA, said Dailey.

Richardson, who has access only to the BBC stations, watches more Great Britain matches than she expected to.

“We are staying in a hotel so we only have so many channels to begin with,” said Richardson. “BBC obviously wants to show the teams around here.”

American basketball surely does not reign over British sailing for airtime. To deal with this, Richardson said her family tries to get to a number of events and explore London.

“You go to the Olympics to explore a new place,” she said. “I’m here for London too.”

photo by Megan Hickok
The city welcomes visitors for the Olympics with their London Bridge decorations. David Beckham road on a speed boat under this bridge while holding the torch during the Opening Ceremony.

Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and London Bridge fill up Richardson’s time outside of events, along with running into athletes here and there. The atmosphere makes the trip, she said.

For most Americans, a trip to the Olympics would be the preferable place to cheer on their team, but sometimes time and money present obstacles.

“I would have loved to go to London,” said Dailey. “I wasn’t going to be able to afford the trip or get the time off. “

 

Olympic travel commotion calmer than previously projected

Months of planning have paid off for London as the city expected hours of travel delay with the surplus of visitors for the Olympics, and residents are seeing very little delay.

According to the Transport for London website, it is estimated that 12 million people use the London public transportation per day, with an additional one million during the Games.

“It is estimated that 80 percent of spectators attending the Greater London venues will travel by rail, including the Tube,” said a TFL spokesperson. “On a network of this size and scale, issues will arise, but we are confident that we will get everyone to and from their Games events and keep London moving.”

In fact, many companies have told their employees not to even bother coming into the city to work during the week – telling them to opt to work from home instead until the Games are over, said Susannah Kyte, a tour guide of Proscenium Tours.

“If it (is) possible for people to work from home, then they have been encouraged to do so,” she said. “And it seems to be working because there is no one in London now.”

Kyte added that people are making such an effort to avoid all traffic in London that numbers are actually below what the city projected for public transportation usage.

Some people have opted for more extreme measures to avoid the mayhem from the Olympics.

“I used to work in Central London until December last year, and one of the reasons I left my job (is that) I just didn’t want to commute into London during the Olympics,” said Susannah Salling of Dorking. “So I just changed jobs and moved right down the road.”

Salling, whose husband works from home, said that the travel around her house hasn’t been bad, but that it was backed up for a few days when the city was making repairs to the road for the men’s cycling road race.

“There have been so many temporary traffic lights, which has sort of slowed down the traffic, and you get sort of stuck in traffic on your way to work and from work and that,” she said. The road were completely shut down on July 26 because of a course test run.

“It hasn’t been too bad because the cyclists go on weekends,” Salling said. “But with millions of extra people in London, I couldn’t bear the thought of travelling into the city – so I really can’t complain.”

But other Londoners have not seen any difference in their commutes, such as Richard Martinez, who is a manager at YO! Sushi near Waterloo Station. His general commute to work has probably been extended by perhaps an extra 20 to 30 minutes.

“It’s not necessarily because it’s busier, but it’s because of the way that they changed the exits and entrances – it adds another 10 or 15 minutes of walking time,” he said.

The city of London created a website to help those living in the area “Get Ahead of the Games” by offering interactive maps with suggested times of travel and alternate routes to take.

Travelers can expect trains to run later than usual for the Games, up to 1 a.m., according to the website. In addition, the website also offers advice to business owners about deliveries, customers and getting their employees into the city.

“We were all advised from our head office which days were going to be the busiest days and which events were going to take place near our places of work,” Martinez said. “We were given advice to go to the government website for transport so we can plan our journeys to work and make sure that we are going to work on time.”

 

It’s a celebration of humanity in London during 2012 Olympics, locals say

Seven year old, Jessica Pace shows her pride for Team GB at the Men’s Gymnastics Individual Medal Round on Wednesday.

The London 2012 Olympics is something that residents all over the U.K. have been preparing for a long time.

The expected congestion and mounds of tourists that would flood the city caused some to flee for the 16 days of Games.

“It’s a combination of not being fundamentally interested, thinking that I could probably see a lot of it on television at home and just simply having not enough will power to face the crowds,” Matthew Lacey from Surrey said.

On the other hand, some locals are pleased to have the most popular sporting event in history and all of the outsiders that flock to their city.

“Everyone who is in this place just seems cheery and happy to be here so its not so much tourists, its just like a big world family in one place,” Anna Hallissay said.

Although Lacey is not a fan of crowds of tourists, he agrees with Hallissay that the Games are ultimately good for the city.

“I think that it’s a fantastic opportunity to advertise Britain,” he said. “I think that it is a wonderful fact that they are here and I just hope that we do the Olympics that everyone visits, proud.”

Even the competition between the countries has been fairly friendly thus far. Hallissay said the atmosphere at the Men’s Gymnastics Individual Medal Round on Wednesday was congenial.

“Everyone’s team has done so well that to think it’s kind of an appreciation for what is being performed that just brings everyone together rather than like a football match, everyone is so opposed,” she said. “Its just a celebration of humanity, really.”

Michelle Bradley, coach of male gymnast Kristian Thomas who represented Great Britain in the Individual Medal Round said  the crowds have been fantastic.

“I mean the crowd has gone behind everyone — not just the GB lads — but behind everyone so I just think its been a really good atmosphere in the arena,” she said after the Individual Medal Round Wednesday at North Greenwich Arena.

The sportsmanship of the diverse crowd was even noticed by British seven year old Jessica Pace who was rooting for Kristian Thomas.

“I think everybody likes Kristian a lot. They’re all cheering and he makes everyone happy,” she said.

Lacey said it’s not just about Team Great Britain though, but instead about the Olympics and athletes as a whole.

“But in the end, I just hope that whoever wins does so spectacularly and whoever doesn’t win still feels they’ve achieved something,” he said.

Olympics: Transcending Global Conflict or Highlighting it?

Watching the action between the U.S. and North Korean women’s soccer teams led many fans to contemplate the effects of the Olympics on global affairs.

The match on Tuesday night at Old Trafford in Manchester ended with the U.S. women emerging victorious in the 1-0 game, Abby Wambach’s 25th minute goal being the deciding point, but fans in the stands, such as Jennifer McPartlin, had other questions than the final score.

U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe makes a move along the sideline against DPR Korea’s Choe Yong Sim during Tuesday’s game in Manchester, U.K.
Photo by Jillian Fellows

McPartlin and her boyfriend, who traveled from New Jersey to watch the games, had a political debate prior to the match. Knowing the histories of the other competing countries is important for spectators, she said.

“I just think you need to know the back story of North Korea and if you don’t know it, then you’re an idiot,” McPartlin said.  “We came in here and he had a lot of questions, like is it a dictator(ship), but they call it a republic.”

Other fans saw the game as an opportunity to put aside whatever diplomatic tensions exist between the two nations outside of the Olympics and focus on the match.

“I think it’s a great game (because) it brings countries together and we can just enjoy being together as a world and put all the political things aside,” said Krista Coupe of Colorado.

Sneha Reddy from Connecticut, who watched the match with her two children, enjoyed the presence of the Olympic spirit.  She said she thought  the Olympics transcend global conflict.

Sneha Reddy and her son, Krishna, cheer on the U.S. team during the game against North Korea on Tuesday night in Manchester, U.K.
Photo by Holly Moody

“I think it’s bringing people together,” Reddy said.  “I think it’s important. Games like this is one of the few ways we can bring people together.  It’s definitely sending the whole world a message.”

Could Tweets be standing between athletes and their medals?

Despite Twitter’s March announcement that users were tweeting 340 million times a day, Twitter is still young. The Olympic games certainly reminded us of this reality.

This summer, Twitter is going out on its third date with the Olympics. The two are beginning to form a relationship, but certainly learning the dos and don’ts of collaborating.

Sure, twitter handled many NBA Playoffs, MLB World Series and Super Bowls in its short life, but none of those are anything like the Olympics.

Twitter’s great power and reach is what makes it unique. An Olympic Competition with its high emotions and mix of cultures, who may or may not get along, is what makes it unique. The two together, however, are almost bound to go wrong.

Before the fight for the medals began, the Opening Ceremony ignited 9.66 million tweets, most full of excitement for the greatest sporting event in the world to officially begin.

However, as the athletes began to see failure or victory, emotions followed. Feuds emerged. Let’s take a look at the Twitter mishaps so far in the Summer Games.

  1. Switzerland banned soccer player Michel Morganella, 23, after his racist comments following their South Korean loss.
  2. Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou was expelled from the games for a racist tweet.
  3. American hurdler Lolo Jones, 29, tweeted about guns in America, which many followers found “insensitive” following the recent Colorado shooting.
  4. A teenager from the U.K. was arrested for his malicious tweets and harassment toward British diver Tom Daley.
  5. USA Soccer’s goalie Hope Solo ranted on Twitter about former USA soccer player Brandi Chastain sparking controversy among USA Soccer fans.

As more and more athletes tweet, you wonder who will be next to type those lethal 140 characters that may end their journey. Maybe even ask yourself whether these Olympians are better off simply taking a hiatus from Twitter during the games.

You should note that other than during these 16 days of competition, most of these athletes are not center stage, under high scrutiny and lead normal lives. Not all are used to every single tweet being scrutinized by the media.

In my opinion, athletes should stay on Twitter to connect and interact with fans. What a handful of them seem to lack, however, is celebrity Twitter etiquette. Being a public relations major myself, I cringe at some tweets and shake my head as I see PR nightmares unfold. “If only someone would have warned them,” I say to myself. I believe I could design the perfect tutorial class on how athletes should be tweeting during the Olympics.

So, Olympic Committee… I graduate in the spring and need a job. Your athletes clearly need a PR lesson with Twitter. Sounds like a win-win to me! I’ll pack my bags!

Security stretch: outside companies, volunteers help at Olympic cycling races

Surrey Ambassador Alan Beaver helps a spectator navigate the course of the Women’s Road Race Final passing through Dorking.

DORKING, ENGLAND— The smiling faces of the Surrey Ambassadors, provided a sharp contrast to the scowling security guards from Trojan Security that slowly walked up and down the sides of the street at the women’s cycling road race Sunday.

This contrast, however, is symbolic of how each group was asked to serve.

Volunteers from the Surrey area and England as a whole were ready to get involved, said Amanda Gilhooley of Newcastle, a team leader for the volunteers.

“We’ve known that we were going to be volunteering here for at least 9 months, maybe even a year,” she said.

Alan Beaver, one of the 400 Surrey residents that applied to be an ambassador, has taken an optimistic outlook on the G4S situation.

“They probably overstretched themselves and made promises they couldn’t keep, but I think they always planned that the army would be there as a reserve anyways,” he said. “While the G4S situation is unfortunate, we were always meant to be the smiling happy faces of Surrey.”

G4S was hired to provide full Olympic security, but outside security companies such as Trojan and the British Army were called in last minute to assist G4S.

“A lot of people are not happy with G4S,” said Robert Morris of Portsmouth and Trojan employee. “They’re the big one that let the Olympics down which is why we had to be brought in.”

Those called in to back up security question how the misunderstanding with G4S could have happened.

“They’re quite a well known company. I’ve got friends that work for them, and they’ve had how many months, years, to plan this? We’ve all had to give our weekends and come in because G4S couldn’t do their job,” said Morris.