Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Day of Drama

(This post has A LOT of pictures. Don't forget, if you click on a picture you can see it in large size and can scroll through the pictures using the left/right arrow keys)

To re-cap: On the morning of August 3rd, our alarm went early, we ate cereal in our Hilton hotel room with bowls and spoons we brought from home, I spent ages in the bathroom applying facepaint, and we raced out the door at 5.45am.

In our haste, we left our breakfast bowls and spoons beside the sink. It was the last we would ever see of them.

Yes, our $1 IKEA bowls were stolen. From the Hilton. August 3rd was shaping up to be a dramatic day.

By 6.30am, we had parked our car at the park-and-ride and were sitting on the top-deck of a bus on its way to Eton Dorney Lake for a morning of Olympic rowing finals.

See? Olympic rowing finals with Kiwis competing for gold medals? Top-quality drama!

Eventually we arrived, and once again we made our way across the paddocks, through the security procedures and into the venue. It was now 7.20am and the first race started at 9.20am. What to do? Coffee of course! We spent half an hour in the queue, which was a good way to pass the time. People loved our facepaint and we even had a conversation with the middle-aged men in front of us in the queue. Yes - a conversation with random people in London! This was truly a unique day, and there was a real atmosphere of fun and friendliness.

Facepaint. Breaking down the barriers since 1984. 
With coffees in hand, we went and found our seats. To our delight, two guys from Invercargill were seated next to us (and then another two Kiwis next to them). Boy it was great to hear those broad Southland accents! They were real hard cases, and we had a good old yarn with them. At one stage, all the boys went wandering, and I was interviewed alongside some other Kiwis for the BBC Olympic coverage. You'll just have to take my word for it though, as there are no pictures of the event taking place...

Again, just like a good episode of Shortland Street - full of drama!

Next we settled down for the first races. There were a few sort-of 'fastest loser' finals, including a race featuring Nigeria's Hamadou Issaka.The crowd cheered him on wildly, yes, partly because we were proud of him, but also because we wanted him to hurry up and finish the race so that we could see some Kiwi rowers...

After that, the excitement amped up a bit with a medal race for the men's quadruple sculls. Germany won, Croatia second, and Aussie third. We cheered for you Australia, even if Britain didn't....

After a few more heats, next up was the gold medal race in Men's Pair. In the heats, New Zealand's Hamish Bond and Eric Murray had smashed the world record, taking a massive six seconds off the time. Needless to say, we were looking forward to their  race.

Two thirds of the way through and they were leading the pack. Go Bond and Murray!!

Towards the end, it got a little more tense, but the Kiwis were always in control. We were screaming and shouting at this stage - you need to yell excitedly while you look at the pictures, otherwise you won't get the full effect. 

Cheer louder, I can't hear you!


What a moment. To be at an Olympic medal event and watch a team from New Zealand win the gold. It was truly amazing. We waved our flags, clapped our hands 'til they were raw, and cheered our little hearts out.

An aside - check out the faces of the Aussie bronze-winning quadruple sculls team (If you can concentrate on their faces when they're wearing those crazy outfits):

Yes, they look very impressed.

Then came the medal ceremony. What a bunch of proud Kiwis we were. The crowd cheered hardest for the British guys who won the bronze, but there was a significant amount of NZ-support, which was much appreciated. 

Our row of Kiwis proudly prepared to sing the National Anthem. At full, passionate, patriotic, tone-deaf volume.

The result was truly, truly awful. You couldn't fault our heart, though. It was an absolutely surreal, amazing moment to be standing at the Olympics, singing our lungs out to the New Zealand national anthem (poorly, but very proudly).

Afterward, we vowed to practice more. The Brits seated behind us even offered to help us sing the next time our anthem was played! (We gratefully accepted their offer).

Who knew sport could be so dramatic?!?

In between the Men's Pair and the medal ceremony, there were a few other finals. One of those was the gold medal race for Women's Double Sculls. Unfortunately, the Evers-Swindell twins were not competing (Probably because they retired in 2008), though we were represented by the new team of Louise Ayling and Julia Edward who had been doing well in the lead-up to the Olympics.

Sadly, their Olympic experience did not go well, and the team finished fifth, with some ladies from a large island beside Ireland coming first. We didn't hear the end of it over the next few days - and it seemed the clip of the Brits coming first was played over and over again - who cares which team came second or third (or fifth), right?

I will admit, that the crowd's medal ceremony rendition of 'God Save the Queen' was electric (not to mention in tune), and I felt a shiver shoot down my spine.

Next were the single sculls finals. We eagerly waited. Would this be gold for NZ's Mahe Drysdale?

The stands were packed full of excited spectators

What a flag!
Are you feeling the anticipation? The weather had been changeable all morning - going from cold and windy to drizzle to brilliant sunshine. We sat around, shivering, wrapped in our flags for warmth. Waiting. And then it began.

The medal race for Men's Single Sculls. Would NZ's Mahe Drysdale be able to hold on for gold, or would he be beaten by rival Ondrej Synek? (Fortunately for Drysdale, Olaf Tufte, one of his key rivals in the past few years, had only made it into the 'loser's final').

We began to cheer as soon as we saw the boats. And then the sun came out - what an omen!

Approximately halfway and Drysdale was in the lead
Tense stuff
Drysdale was in the lead, but could he hold on? What a nail-biter! The cheers were like a wave of solid noise. Britain's Alan Campbell was battling it out for third, and the crowd's cheering was like nothing you've heard before.
Can Drysdale maintain his lead?
No time to take pictures of the finish line as we were too busy cheering! Mahe Drysdale had won gold! Synek was less than two seconds behind. GO NEW ZEALAND!!

It was soon time for the medal ceremony.

Unfortunately for us, the Brits behind us claimed that, even with Google's help, they couldn't find the words of the NZ National Anthem. We were on our own.

Buoyed by excitement, patriotism, and partially-lost voices, this rendition was possibly worse than the last. But never mind, NEW ZEALAND HAD WON GOLD! TWICE IN ONE DAY!

Our Champion
What a day. Absolutely packed to the hilt with drama and excitement! Never in our wildest dreams had we thought we'd be standing at an Olympic final, watching three Kiwis win gold medals. What a wonderful, electric, thrilling moment. We felt so, so lucky to get those golden tickets.

On the way to the bus, we were interviewed by Three News (!), who asked us if it was better than our wedding day. We thought long and hard about that one. It was definitely up there with seeing U2 in concert, that's for sure. The jury's still out on the wedding question...

All in one morning we had our plates thieved by the Hilton, I was interviewed by the BBC, we were interviewed by NZ's TV3 news, and - most dramatic of all - we saw New Zealand win two Olympic gold medals! And you thought you needed to watch a Spanish Soap Opera for drama...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Penultimate Day

The day after our badminton adventure, we set out for Eton. On one of the hottest days of August, our trusty SatNav tried to take us through central London in the middle of a workday, but after a bit (okay, a lot) of reprogramming, water-drinking, scathing looks directed from the driver to the ‘navigator’ (I use that term loosely to describe myself), and about four U-turns, we finally made it south to the M25: the John’s Road of Greater London. Two hours later, we arrived at The Hilton.
The horizontal blue route is the SatNav suggested route.
The big blue loop to the south is the faster M25 motorway route
Yes, you heard right - The Hilton. It was the best deal we could find, and we figured it was something we should do at least once in our lives. Our hotel room had recently been redecorated, and we were impressed with the results.

We were also impressed with the view:

Yes, that is grass (Grass!) and rabbits (Rabbits!). It was a nice change from a noisy, dusty construction site, and it was BLISS to have a room that was pitch black at night because it was pitch black outside! (Incidentally, I can’t wait until our next country holiday…)

After checking in, we drove in to Windsor – the closest town to Eton Dorney, the Olympic rowing venue. It was another lovely country town, and a lovely sunny day. We were also surprised to see many happy Kiwis walking down the main street – it wasn’t until we got back to our hotel room and saw the evening news that we realised New Zealand had won gold and bronze in rowing that day.

After a fashion we came across Eton College, but unfortunately we just missed the walking tour of the campus. We also checked out Windsor Castle, but at $66 NZD for the two of us to enter, we decided to save our money for a rainy day, and instead we wandered around the beautiful streets of Windsor.

This reminds me of a house I saw on
Feb 22 in Christchurch...
Eton College Chapel - built between 1440-1480.

The next morning, our alarm rudely woke us at 5am. We gathered our All-Blacks jerseys, NZ flags, and black and white facepaint. Was this the day we would see a New Zealander win gold at an Olympic Games?? 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Olympic Badminton

Early one morning,
‘Bout a quarter past five,
We got out of bed,
Cranked into overdrive.

We ate up our breakfast,
And prepared us some lunch.
We collected the camera,
And grabbed something to munch.

We rode the 'Jubilee line'
Almost from start to finish,
Even after twenty stops
Our excitement undiminished.

Exiting the station
We stopped, with glee,
As directly ahead
Was the stadium – Wembley.

We entered the queue,
Poured out our Evian,
Had our backpacks scanned,
Pockets checked by militarian.

At long last we were in,
And we entered the stadium
Climbed up to our seats,
Eager to watch some badminton.

We do structures and history,
And we really do know it –
But one role we should avoid
Is that of the poet.

Alright, alright. I’ll stop the rhymes now, and hand it over to the Engineer to tell you about the Olympic Badminton at Wembley.

Our first taste of live Olympic sport was a morning session of badminton. It was a knock-out session, so the group phase had finished, and teams were playing to get into the medal rounds. It was actually the first session after the debacle of teams purposely trying to lose gamesIn case anyone missed it, teams from South Korea, China and Indonesia all intentionally tried to lose their last group matches, to get an easier draw for the next round. We did wonder if we would get to see everyone trying their hardest – but as our session was a knock-out one there was no chance of that!

We got to see men’s doubles, men’s singles, women’s singles and mixed doubles. We were lucky to see China’s Lin Dan play singles on the court closest to us. He is regarded as the greatest badminton player of all time (and one year younger than me)! He won gold in Beijing, and is a four-time world champion, as well as five-time All-England champion. He won the game we watched, and went on to win gold again – becoming the first badminton player to defend their Olympic title. We also got to see Li Xuerui, who went on to win the women’s singles gold medal.
Lin Dan - good to see the world's greatest player is a leftie!

He even has a dominating handshake.
Indonesia v Germany
 Li Xuerui

Wembley Arena was almost full, so there was a good atmosphere. However it was a little unfortunate that there were three games being played at any one time, as it meant that the crowd’s attention was split three ways and different people were cheering at different times. It also meant it was hard to know what to watch, and so you missed some really good points.

At the end though, once two of the courts had finished, it was just the Danish mixed doubles team left playing the Chinese team. There were some vocal Danish supporters in the crowd (wearing Danish flags). Led on by them, with the whole crowd focused, the atmosphere really picked up. It was a shame when the game finished – and unfortunately despite the vocal support, the Danes couldn't get past the Chinese.

The Danish team and their slick moves
Overall though, it was a great morning. The whole experience was super-efficient, from the transport (tube tickets came with the event tickets), security, to ticket scanning on the door. The games makers were so friendly and cheery – as you can see, one even leant us his foam hand while he took a photo of us!

With our first Olympic experience done, we were really looking forward to the rowing, and getting to see some Kiwis in action!