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.”

The Olympics are more than the games

When I tell people that I went to the Olympics, they instantly get supremely excited and start some version of 20 questions.  How was it?  What was it like?  Were you at opening/closing ceremonies?  My answers are usually generic to a tune of something like this: “It was really cool. I had so much fun.  It was a once in a lifetime experience.”  But the one answer that I give that throws some people off is to the question, “what was your favorite part?”

Teams from Germany and Brazil prepare to face-off in the Round of 16. (Photo by Colin Brown)

The majority of people would think that my favorite part would have something to do with the Olympics.  Possibly watching the United States women’s soccer team at Old Trafford, attending beach volleyball matches or getting the chance to interview both the men’s and women’s USA basketball teams.  Nope.  Not my favorite part.  Don’t get me wrong, those experiences were unbelievable, but they weren’t NO. 1 on my list.

My favorite thing about my trip to London was meeting new friends from a wide variety of countries.  If you know me personally, you know that I am an incredibly sociable and outgoing guy. With that said, it was easy for me to talk to random people that I found myself surrounded with.

Italians, Irish, Greeks, Aussies, Germans, Brazilians and of course, Brits — I met a wide variety of people in London. Learning about our differences in cultures and how to say small phrases in my new friend’s native language are memories that I will never forget.

My Italian friend taught me that “fettuccine alfredo” does not exist in Italy; rather it is called something completely different.  My German friends answered my question that had long been on my mind: do Germans pronounce the social media site, tVeeter?  (They pronounced it tweeter, and had no idea what I was talking about when I said that they pronounce their W’s as V’s, such as bratVurst.)  My English friends taught me about “slimin’ a bird,” which you’ll have to go to England and figure out the meaning for yourself.

One of my favorite experiences (even though it lasted under a minute) was speaking French to the woman standing behind me in line at a haunted house that we went to. I jokingly asked her if she was scared, but she didn’t understand me. I asked her if she spoke English, and she muttered that she did not know what I was saying. I had heard her daughter speaking a few minutes prior and recognized the language since I have taken French classes throughout high school and a bit at university (that’s what the Brits call college!)  In French, I asked the woman again if she was scared and proceeded on with the conversation for about a minute or so.  I have always wanted to speak French with a native of the land, so for me that was an awesome experience.

I could go on for days about all of the international cultural details that I learned while in London, but that’s for another day.  In short, the Olympics were awesome, but it is the people that you meet that make the experience exceptional.

Goosebumps: Looking back at London

Scott Hutchinson and Jenna Stenger of the Scripps London team hear from USA basketball star LeBron James.

Having been back in the States for three days now, I’m finally getting a chance to sit down and reflect upon everything I experienced over the past three weeks.

While I had an incredible time in London, I think the reality of what my classmates and I really got to take part in is just now beginning to hit me.

Going in, I knew that covering the games would be a valuable opportunity, but if someone had told me four weeks ago today that I’d be sitting front row at Olympic Stadium as the U.S. women made 4×100 history, or interviewing LeBron James and Kevin Durant the day before they took home basketball gold, I wouldn’t have believed it.

In fact … it’s still hard to believe.

Looking back, this entire trip could be described of “goosebump” moments:

Standing just feet from NBA icons. Seeing the Olympic Torch in person. Hearing our National Anthem as wrestler Jacob Varner had a gold medal strewn over his neck.

Sure there were plenty of frustrations over the past three weeks, but as both a lifelong sports fan and —let’s face it— a bit of a journalism nerd, London was unforgettable.

The London Lowdown: Series Finale

London Lowdown-The End

As the Olympics end, Tim and Scotty host the final London Lowdown podcast from the UK. The boys attended the U.S. men’s basketball team practice prior to their gold medal game and interviewed multiple players about what winning the gold would mean to them.

 

Thanks for the memories

As I sit here in my flat at the University of Surrey, I’m struggling to wrap my head around the fact that today is really August 13.

For the past several months all I could think about was London: what I was going to pack, where I wanted to visit, and what types of stories I was hoping to pursue. Now, though, it’s over and in just two hours I’ll be turning in my key, hopping on a plane and flying out of the UK for what could very well be the last time.

Scott Hutchinson and Chris Longo take in track and field action at the Olympic Stadium.

Fortunately, I’ll have some incredible memories to take back with me.

We had our ups and downs out here in London, sure, but it’s the ups that I’m always going to remember:

Interviewing NBA superstars. “USA” chants at Olympic Stadium. Wetherspoon’s. Turning 15 strangers into 15 friends.

I could sit here all day and list the issues we encountered, the plans that could have run smoother and the mistakes we made along the way, but when I’m 90 years old reflecting on this trip, those things won’t even cross my mind.

Instead, I’ll be thinking about Trafalgar Square at the opening ceremonies, the late night train rides back to Guildford, and the awesome people I was lucky enough to enjoy this amazing experience with.

Thanks for the memories, everyone.

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.”

 

 

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.

Team Handball: The middle child of the sports world

Jerome Fernandez of France catches a perfectly placed no-look pass and squares up to his defender. He gives a strong head fake right, then dribbles left to the top of the key. Fernandez winds up and fires a screaming shot to the upper 90 of the goal. Croatian goalkeeper, Venio Losert, launches his entire body to the right as the ball soars past his extended arms.

What sport did I just describe? Basketball? Soccer? None of the above?

For a sport as intense and pleasing to the eyes as it is, team handball does not get the credit it deserves. We all probably remember playing some form of it in 7th grade and thinking, “I don’t know what that was, but it was kind of cool.” Handball combines some of the best elements of soccer, basketball, and one of my personal favorites, dodgeball, to create a sport that is as or more explosive than any of the three. Watch 10 minutes of team handball in the 2012 Olympics, and you will know exactly what I’m talking about. Diving shots, behind the back passes, absolutely insane saves; there isn’t a dull moment.

The team handball players aren’t just failed athletes at other sports, either. These are men. Fernandez, who I mentioned above, is a whopping 6′ 6″ and 234 pounds. Another Croatian, Mirko Alilovic, is an even bigger 6′ 7”, 243 pound brick wall. Dirk Nowitzki, former NBA MVP, was dominant in handball before he ever touched a basketball. They’re not jumping out of the gym any time soon, but hurling a ball at blinding speeds while your body is parallel to the ground still gets my blood pumping. But don’t take my word for it, turn on an Olympic match and just watch these guys.

The USA does not have a team competing in the 2012 Olympics, and this does not really come as a surprise. When was the last time you heard of the USHA, or the U.S. Handball Association? Never? Yeah, me too. I do, however, believe that handball in America could have a future.

How many wannabe basketball players does a randomly selected college rec center have? Trust me, if their were college dodgeball teams, I would be the first one at tryouts. All they need is a couple lucrative sponsorships and a TV deal with ESPN and we’ve got a blossoming new American pastime. Someone give the Donald a call. I’m sure he’d be gung-ho about investing in another sports league.

Until that materializes, we’ve got a once every four years look at a game that amazes and captivates unlike any other sport. Next time the guide on the T.V. says “team handball,” stop for a second and just watch a few minutes. Trust me, the six weeks in gym class did not do this sport justice.

The day I shot Lebron

When I went to USA Men’s Basketball practice on Thursday, Aug. 9, I did what every Clevelander has wanted to do for years. I shot LeBron James.

Well, sort of.

Let’s rewind to the lobby before practice. Tim, Chris and I were sitting at a table making a game plan as reporters from ESPN and NBC stood around us. While they were calm and collected, I sat at the table with Tim’s words ringing in my ears. “Kerry, these are arguably the most famous athletes in the world.” Thanks Tim.

We decided that I would take pictures during the practice while the two boys went out and got quotes. Some people might have been mad that they were not going to be talking to players, but I knew this was the best choice for me. There are few places that I am more comfortable than behind a camera, and the nerves before the practice made it clear that I would not be able to make an audible sentence.

After two hours of waiting, the media was let into the practice. When we walked through the doors, I froze. All I saw was camera crews and reporters surrounding chairs that I could only assume were occupied by athletes. I took a deep breath, and dove into the swarm. That was the first time I shot Lebron. He sat there with his Beats on, microphones just inches away from his mouth as he talked in a low voice. I got some good pictures and went to find Tim and Chris.

The two had asked me to make sure I got pictures of them interviewing athletes. They said it was for their stories, but I know they really just wanted a new Facebook profile picture. After a few shots of them, I was drawn to Kobe. He sat in a chair with media surrounding him as well, but he was much more receptive to the attention. His face was so expressive, and his personality really reflected in the pictures.

I then recognized Coach K, a man that my older sister is a huge fan of. I went to take a picture of him for her, when he was suddenly swarmed with reporters too! It was as if everybody noticed his presence, and then he was the only one in the room. Chris went over to interview him, and when I got in to take pictures, an ESPN photographer shoved me. After throwing a dirty look and an “Excuse me, I’m not moving,” he rolled his eyes and called me sassy. I think that I was made for this industry.

A few minutes later, LeBron started shooting free throws for photographers. I got on the key to get some pictures, when one of the shots rebounded off of the rim and towards my head. I caught the ball and went to throw it back to the superstar, but I froze when he put his hands out to catch it. My jaw dropped and he laughed at me, along with a number of other reporters.

We were shooed out of the gym and back into the lobby, where Chris, Tim and myself had a giddy moment of excitement before heading back to the train. Having the opportunity to shoot some of the biggest athletes at the age of 18 is something that I will always remember, and am extremely grateful for.

A walk in the (Hyde)Park

To be quite honest, I doubled over laughing after I heard speed walking is an Olympic event. This is half because I immediately pictured a herd of middle-aged women clad in sweatbands and spandex pumping their arms and swiveling their hips, and half because, well, just about anyone can do it. I mean, really, how much blood, sweat or tears does it take to become a world-class speed-walker? By now, I’m probably a seasoned pro considering the amount of times I’ve rolled out of bed just minutes before class starts and hauled halfway across OU’s campus. Most of the time, I don’t even break a sweat, but you don’t see me competing on the big stage.

Speed walker making his way towards Buckingham Palace during the men’s race walk Aug. 4. Photo by Kaitlynn Grady

So, of course, I had to see it for myself. I hoped on a train and headed to Hyde Park. The walkers strolled past Constitution Hill, Buckingham Palace and the Queen Victoria Monument—a magnificently historic setting for such a minor event, I thought. The first to complete 25 laps would win the title of champion speed walker. Now that’s one to put at the top of a resume.

It all seemed so ridiculous and outlandish until I stepped out of the station. The park was jam-packed, more animated than I had ever seen during my three-week stint in London. There was an unmistakable air of enthusiasm and anticipation surrounding the park and infecting its visitors, the kind also palpable at some of the most popular Olympic sporting events. Even though I had shown up 30 minutes before the race started, I would clearly be hard-pressed to find somewhere to stand. Maybe I mixed up the time. Maybe tonight was the women’s triathlon and I had completely missed the race walk this morning. All these people standing on railings, climbing up lampposts, holding flags and screaming at the top of their lungs couldn’t possibly be here to see these men stroll by Buckingham Palace, could they? A police officer smiled at me and said, “You bet.”

There were, in fact, a couple men in sweatbands, but the competitors were far more intense than the moms I had previously pictured.  The athletes were fierce and focused, flying by me so quickly that I hardly had time to snap pictures.  Even those trailing behind the pack could most likely walk faster than I can run.

Talking to the people around me, I felt a little guilty about not giving the athletes much credit. The hip-swinging sport was foreign to me, but to some nations, it was just as near and dear as football in the U.S. One woman traveled from Ireland to see her favorite walker compete and a group of Chinese waved their flags wildly in support of their defending champion. Some were just there to cheer on all the athletes, to be a small part of something larger than life.

I probably won’t ever be a fast enough walker (or runner, in my case) to qualify for the Olympics, but I did gain some perspective that day. Whether you run to the finish line or walk through it, somehow, you made it there.

Editor’s Note: Sergey Kirdyapkin, Russia, won the event setting an Olympic record with a time of 3:35:59. Australia’s Jared Tallent won the silver, while Tianfeng Si of China took the bronze. Ireland’s Robert Heffernan placed fourth.