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.

World shows its colors and pride in Olympic Opener

Photo By Kayla Hanley
Thousands of people gather at Trafalger Square during the Olympic Opening Ceremony this past Friday.

The Opening Ceremony of the 30th Olympic Games wasn’t limited to Olympic Stadium in Stratford, England.

As the countdown to the start of the games came to an end Friday, people celebrated throughout the city, showing pride for their respective countries.

Fans wore the vibrant colors of every country. All the colors of the rainbow were on display as flags waved and painted bodies roamed the streets of London.

“Up until about a day ago I was not thrilled about the Olympics because it was making me late for work but after being here and seeing the buzz it is getting me quite excited about it,” said Nick, a resident from London. “It’s nice that everyone is proud of their nation but they are all coming together and it is all very friendly and they are all enjoying it.”

Hyde Park, which is beside the Marble Arch in West London, was a courtyard full of movement. Security and traffic officers barricaded the roads to keep what seemed to be thousands of people from overflowing the street.

Emma Martin traveled from Orange County, Calif. with a few of her friends to experience the games first-hand. She and her fellow Americans were fully dressed in red, white, and blue spandex American flag pants complete with brightly colored flowers for their hair.

“I never really understood the importance of the Olympics until I was here, in person, in the city, and it is awesome,” said Martin. “Seeing everyone come together as one in a large place like this a is really a great sight to see.”

People flocked to the live concert. Groups from different countries paraded into the gates singing their country’s anthems and screaming good luck chants at the top of their lungs.

Brazilians ran through the left side of the field speaking in their native language of Portuguese waiving their green, blue and yellow flags across their bodies as New Zealanders were beside them singing their anthem in the same upbeat and euphoric tempo.

About 20 miles from Hyde Park, seemingly every nationality filled Trafalgar. Chanting and singing fans covered the historical monuments.

At one end of the square Americans sang “The Star Spangled Banner” while people of Great Britain chanted “God Save the Queen.” The statues of lions standing on the balcony of the square became center stage for the performers cheering on their country.

Another resident from California, Chloe Martin, said seeing the reactions to those standing right next to her in a crowd was so loud and exhilarating and all at the same time breath taking.

“Everybody is so unified and it shows that everyone is together like the world is finally as one,” she said.

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.