Something special is happening in London

So many thoughts come to mind when I think about my experience at the Olympic Opening Ceremonies. Memories of me as a child watching them with my grandmother come rushing to my head.

You see, when I was three years old (almost four), my Grandmother was selected to carry the Olympic torch through Cleveland for the 1996 Atlanta Games. I ran along her side with my parents carrying a paper mache torch. Since then, I have always watched the opening ceremonies with her. In my youth, the Olympics became a staple. This past Friday night, when the games kicked off and I watched the opening ceremonies in London with nearly a thousand people, it really hit me. I had come full circle.

Posing with a Nigerian basketball player before the Opening Ceremonies

It had always been my dream to go to the Olympics. It is still amazing that I am here, and it hasn’t all hit me yet as to exactly what I am experiencing. I am in awe of the sheer magnitude of the games. Watching the games on television does not even come close to doing them justice.

At the Olympic park, athletes freely walk with spectators. They are always available to take a picture or sign a quick autograph. There is no special high paid athlete status that holds these athletes back from their fans. The games have begun. The Olympics are truly here.

If there is one thing I have realize and will allude to in many other blogs, it is that the Olympics is what is right in sports. The Olympics epitomize sport.

The world is watching

It is the second full day of the Olympics, and I must say I love every minute of it. It is amazing how this event has literally brought the whole world together. Everyone is watching.

According to BBC, there were more than 27 million viewers in the United Kingdom watching the Opening Ceremonies, and according to NBC, there were more than 40.7 million viewers in the United States.

A Brazil super fan interviews with a Spanish television station. The Jesus figure on his head has a 2014 sash on it, representing the country’s hope for a World Cup win then.

Since the first day that we got here one week ago, it has been amazing to see how all of the different cultures have come together and blended for this competition. It is a time for everyone to set aside any differences that they have may for the love of the Games.

When we went to Olympic Park on the day of Opening Ceremonies, it was astonishing to see how many people were there. There were so many people from different walks of life. I actually did not see very many Americans present, maybe a handful, but I might have been looking right at them.

There were super fans from Mexico, Venezuela, Iran, Holland, Canada and one particular guy from Great Britain who was getting all the television interviews. There were news stations from all over the world as well, with hundreds of different languages flying in every direction. I wish I could say that I understood more of them, but aside from a few words of French that I could pick up, there wasn’t much that I could comprehend. I must admit that I have been living in somewhat of a bubble in Northeast Ohio, and then again in Athens. Besides Canada, I have not ventured outside of the U.S., so coming over here was a big culture shock for me.

This super fan from Great Britain was a favorite before Opening Ceremonies. He was the subject of many photo opportunities and television interviews.

I think that I am still trying to get over some of the fashion trends (or figure them out just in general), and I really don’t understand some of the foods (still can’t get over the not-free refills). Adding hundreds of other countries to the mix for this event – talk about a completely different experience.

The point I’m trying to get at is we all live in our own little worlds, and it’s very easy to get caught up in them, especially since the United States can be so isolated from the rest of the world (location-wise). An event like this is something indescribable, and it shows you that there is so much more out there and just how united a world can become through the love of a common denominator – sports.

That is a powerful thing.

Cause they’ve got one hand in my pocket

Ever since I knew I would be packing up my baseball hats and flip flops to go be THAT American in London and cover the Olympics, I have been looking forward to the opening ceremonies. With the mixing of different cultures, the excitement that overtakes the crowd and my brand new sequined American flag hat, nothing seemed more intriguing to me.

After four days of touring the U.K. my eagerness for the games to begin was growing. When the time came to take a train from our flat in Guildford to Trafalgar Square in London, it was all I could do to not run up and down the train aisle in a victory lap.

At the square, all I could see was a swarm of patriotic foreigners and in the distance two young men sitting with an American flag on top of a lion statue. Obviously I beelined for what I now saw was the U.S. Embassy, and as we all sang “God Bless America” to a crowd of around a thousand people I realized that every American is actually THAT American.

In the height of my patriotism I spotted an American flag shirt across the street that I thought would be perfect to wear later on to celebrate not only the opening ceremonies but also my birthday that began in T minus 3 hours. As I was about to make my purchase I reached into my satchel and found an empty pocket where my credit card and driver’s license were usually cozied up, and then it hit me: I was pickpocketed.

At first I thought I was going to pull out my inner Liam Neeson (as he is in the movie “Taken”) on whoever kidnapped my things, but the sad realization of my nonexistent FBI skills began to set in. After hyperventilating for a good three minutes, I looked on the ground where I was standing and frantically began to retrace my steps with my classmates in tow.

I ran back to the fellow Americans who, five minutes before were our friends, but were now all suspects on trial as I drilled them with accusations of pickpocketing me. Much to my dismay, all I got in return were chants of “U.S.A.” and “AMUURICA.”

My peers began to make a plan of attack to find my things and/or the culprit so we split up and covered every inch of the 100-yard radius we had been in. Finally, it sunk in that my ID and credit card were as gone as boy bands were after 2005. The next step was to call my dad who, when I explained the awful predicament, when I asked him what I should do said, “Get a job.”

After canceling my card that night, I decided that until my dad could wire me money all I could do was try to enjoy a broke birthday and be as nice as possible to my classmates who were now my walking bank until Tuesday when I would get my ATM card. By the end of the night however I was back in Guildford watching the opening ceremonies with birthday wishes bombarding my phone and a big smile on my face. It wasn’t your traditional first taste of the Olympics, but is anything good without a little bit of zest?

London: The new melting pot of the world

Photo by Kayla Hanley
Thousands of fans gather in Trafalgar Square to celebrate the start of the 2012 Olympic Opener

I never thought that experiencing an event like the Opening Ceremony in London would be such a life changing experience for me. I was not in the Olympic Stadium for the actual event itself, but I was able to be a part of the atmosphere in two places in West London.

Knowing the ceremony is such a worldwide event that has a significance for every country, I had to do a story on what was going on. My first stop was Hyde Park which was hosting a live ticketed concert for fans not attending the opening ceremony itself. Outside of the stage spectators gathered  wearing their country’s flags and chanting their nation’s anthems.

As we walked around the park, Katie and I tried to find where they were projecting the Ceremony for the fans to watch. We made our way to Trafalgar Square expecting to see multiple screens and people sitting in the lawn waiting for the event to start. That expectation was completely wrong once we arrived.

When we first arrived the one and only thing we saw was a large group of Americans singing “The Star Spangled Banner”. Among the chants, the square was filled with people standing and sitting on the large monuments of the lion statues and pillars on the buildings within the square. In the middle there was no room to walk whatsoever. Everyone was gathered around the clock to watch the countdown to the Olympic games.

It looked like just one big party, but what I was really amazed at was that people from one country interacted with people from another. They hugged each other, took pictures and exchanged flags and pin memorabilia. Complete strangers who have never met each other acted as if they were long-lasting friends. It was just amazing!

Everyone showed pride for their country by going back and forth singing the different anthems and songs, yet they were also showing respect for countries other than theirs. It was really bewildering to see how an event as large as the Olympics can bring together a broad group of people.

A girl named Chloe Martin who I spoke with traveled here from Orange County, Calif. and told me something about her experience. “Everybody is so unified and it shows that everyone is together like the world is finally as one,” she said.

Seeing how that park was filled with so many different customs and nationalities, I couldn’t agree more.

Let the Games begin

Nearly 1,000 people gather in Sloane Square to watch the opening ceremonies

Words cannot describe the amount of energy that is present in London right now. With the opening ceremonies now over, the city is in full swing and excited to see how each country will perform during the games.

As I was having a quick lunch at Westfield Mall by the Olympic park, I was amazed at how many languages I heard in the dining room that could  seat only about 100 people. From Jamaica to India I was surrounded by people from every almost every country in the world!

Afterwards my peers and I tried to make our way outside to sneak a peek at some of the Olympic venues. What was supposed to be a short trip down the escalators ended up taking us nearly an hour because of all of the stops we made to take pictures with the athletes and super fans that were passing through. People really go all out to support their countries, and they won’t hesitate to argue that their athletes are the best, despite a low medal count.

People from Spain dressed as matadors, and U.S.A  fans decked themselves out in red, white and blue from head to toe. It was like being at a huge party with people from all over the world, and I did not want to leave. The security guards herded crowds out of the area like cattle so we decided to move on and find a spot to watch the opening.

Olivia Arbogast, Jacob Corrigan, Holly Moody and Jillian Fellows pose with Nigerian basketball player Alade Aminu at Westfield Mall.

It took us nearly two hours to find Sloane Square where we sat in the rain with our eyes glued to one of the many screens that were showing the opening ceremonies throughout the city. The square was packed with nearly 1,000 people, and as it got closer to the start of the program more and more people kept trickling in and squeezing their way through crowd to find a spot to sit.
When the ceremonies started everyone cheered and clapped throughout the whole program, especially when the queen arrived.
As I looked around at the mass of people around me I sat and thought to myself I still can’t believe that I’m here. When this trip is over and I return to the states, it will probably still seem surreal to me that I was at the Olympic games. It feels good to be surrounded by people that are all in good spirits because of this single event. Everyone seems to be very welcoming and open. I’ve had conversations with complete strangers since I’ve been over here, and it did not seem the least bit awkward.
The Olympics creates a commonality between different cultures. Complete strangers suddenly have something to relate to. We are all here for the same reason, to support our teams, win or lose. The Olympics are definitely a conversation piece and that is the power of sports.

Bang for the Buck(ingham Palace): Olympics start in London with Opening Ceremonies

All eyes were on England last night as the Opening Ceremonies kicked off the 2012 Summer Olympics. Fans from all over the world gathered around the city to watch the ceremony, filling places from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park to Green Park.

In a small nook in the middle of London, more than 1,000 eager spectators watched the events unfold on a small projector in the Duke of York Square, by Sloan Square.

The countdown for the London Olympics began more than seven years ago when it was first announced that the city won the bid for the games. The sign in Trafalgar Square displayed the countdown until the final minutes.

“We run lots of events with the projection screen,” said Will Lewis, the manager of Duke of York Square. “We did throughout the summer … for a variety of events, including Wimbledon, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the English National Ballet.”

The spectators stayed actively involved throughout the ceremony, standing when “God Save the Queen” played and cheering for Mary Poppins when she defeated Lord Voldemort.

“I’m not going to lie, my expectations were very low for the opening ceremonies,” said Patrick White, of London. “But I was close to tears within the first five minutes of the ceremonies. It exceeded everything I thought it would be, and I loved how they highlighted the Industrial Revolution.”

Hadrian’s Wall native, Anna Roberts, agreed.

“Everything is usually underplayed in England,” she said. “Expectations are never built very high. It was interesting to see how they chose to represent the country – from an engineer to J.K. Rowling to a couple of different musicians.”

Not even rain could detour the audience as gray clouds threatened the event all evening and well into the night.

“We actually wanted it to rain a little more so people would leave,” Roberts said. Then, he said, there’d be better seating for them.

But seating was not in short supply, as Lewis brought in extra chairs for spectators, as well as extra security guards.

“This is a very unique occasion,” Lewis said. “It is always difficult to guess the crowd, but we figured that it was going to be big. We hired a bunch of extra security for this event in particular to watch for crowd control that sort of thing.”

Vendors from around the area set up tents to offer their services to the spectators.

“All of the vendors belong to the square – 35 all together,” Lewis said. “It is a prime local area, and this event helps them to get the word out about their services.”

In addition to the Opening Ceremony, Lewis said that the square would also be projecting the Games for nine more days.

“We will also be showing the 100-meter dash and the closing ceremonies, among other events,” he said.