London called and I answered!

The theme for the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Long before Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman made having a “Bucket List” popular again, I had been working on mine for years. It contains a mixture of smaller sized goals like owning a pinball machine to once-in-a-lifetime trips I want to take. Almost two years ago, I began setting the wheels in motion for such a trip. Destination: The 2012 London Olympics.

People go to Disneyworld or the Grand Canyon. Who goes to the Olympics?

That’s what I kept thinking. And who goes to the Olympics by themselves? That’s what everyone else kept asking me. Naysayers and inner voices aside, I decided this was something I needed to see if I could make happen. My first priority was getting on the official London 2012 email list so that I could be kept in the loop about when tickets would go on sale. As it turned out, that date would be March 15, 2011 — The Ides of March. The former English major in me hoped this date would yield better results than it did for Julius Caesar. There was only one authorized seller in the U.S., and when the appointed date and time arrived, I logged on and held my breath. It was literally me against the world.

Out of the six events I requested, I initially received just two: Men’s soccer and tennis. So, over the next year, I patiently picked up two more from my original wish list: Women’s basketball and swimming. The two events that eluded me were women’s gymnastics and opening ceremonies. Still, I fared better than most and I certainly came away with more than the majority of Britons. And of course there was the pesky little matter of obtaining a flight and finding a hotel, but once both were secured, I felt like I could finally start saying with confidence out loud, “I’m going to London!”

Third Time is a Charm

This is the third time London has hosted the Olympics (they’re the only city to do so) and it was also my third time visiting. Part of the reason I chose to attend the London games is because I lived in the city as part of Michigan State University’s study abroad program. I’m comfortable using public transportation to get around and whether you agree or not, they do speak English. In 2016 the summer games will be in Brazil and I don’t know about you, but my Portuguese is a bit rusty.

Picking up my tickets went much smoother than I expected and I clutched my bag tightly as a gentleman approached me and asked if I “had any extras?” Sure, buddy. I finally had the actual tickets in my hand and there was no way, under any circumstances that I was going to part with them. Eagerly I went back to my hotel to plan the next few days of my adventure.

Rush hour in the pool at the Aquatics Centre.

My first event was swimming on Sunday, July 30th, at 10 a.m. One of the big stories I’d heard before heading to London was how a private security firm hired specifically for the Games was not going to be able to provide enough security, so extra police and the military would called in to fill in the gaps. Their presence was clearly evident and I felt completely safe as I made my way into the Olympic Park. In fact, the military officer who checked my bag was the most polite I’d ever encountered and all the volunteers were cheerful and extremely helpful.

My swimming events were a mixture of men’s and women’s and all were qualifying heats. As I expected, my seats were high up in the Aquatics Centre. After all, I had paid roughly the U.S. equivalent of $100, which was a bargain compared to the woman from California sitting next to me who had shelled out $800 for hers. I got to see Missy Franklin, Ryan Lochte, and some guy named Phelps. Just being there was thrilling, but what I take away from my day is the swimmer from a country I’ve already forgotten. In her qualifying heat she was a full 100 meters behind the other swimmers. She was the best her country had and the spectators all acknowledged that by enthusiastically cheering for her until her hand finally touched the wall. I remember thinking: This is what the Olympic spirit is all about. And I felt honored to have witnessed it.

While there’s much debate on whether to call the sport soccer or football/futbol, one thing is certain – the rest of the world takes it much more seriously than the U.S., which is why I wanted a ticket to see it live — at the famed Wembley Stadium.

Uruguay and Senegal were still playing when I arrived, but the match to see was Team GB against United Arab Emirates. You could just feel the pride the host country had with every pass, kick, and goal. I don’t think they even minded that David Beckham wasn’t on the field. All that mattered was that in the end, the home team advanced. The other extraordinary sight I witnessed at this event was the egress. Imagine everyone leaving Michigan’s Big House at the same time, but in an orderly and mostly silent manner. It was unbelievable. Thousands of us patiently waited as we inched closer to the Underground station. No one yelled. No melee broke out. Even the mounted officers barely moved. So far, my first day at the Olympics was very impressive indeed.

Monday, July 31st – Basketball

Team USA waits for their game against Angola to begin.

Given the lateness of my evening before, I slept in a bit and walked around my neighborhood before venturing back to the Olympic Park for my evening women’s basketball game.

The first game was between Team GB and Canada. While the British offered spurts of scoring, Canada was far more consistent in their play and I think their fans were actually louder. The second game was the U.S. versus Angola. You didn’t have to be a die-hard basketball fan to know how the game was going to end, but I looked at it as an opportunity to see some of the best former standouts from the University of Tennessee and the University of Connecticut. This was my only event where the seating got messed up and there was about 15 minutes of row shuffling in my section. Once that was all squared away, I sat back and enjoyed the precision of our top-notch athletes. I left at halftime since the score was more than doubled and I still had at least an hour walk out of the park to the Underground station.

Wednesday, August 1st – Tennis

I have to say that this was the event I was probably the most excited for and once I saw the line-up for Centre Court; I knew that I was not going to be disappointed.

Serena Williams warms up before her match.

First up were Serena Williams and Vera Zvonareva from Russia. As spectators, we were prepared for a well-fought game. What we got was a preview of the gold medal game Serena would have two days later against Russian Maria Sharapova. The match was over in about an hour and Serena’s opponent only managed to put one point on the scoreboard. The next match between Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt and Serbia’s Novak Djokovic gave the crowd what it was looking for – an exciting match. Hewitt and Djokovic traded points back-and-forth, right up until the last set when Djokovic finally closed the door. This was more like it. This was the level of tennis one expected from Centre Court Wimbledon, and it was about to get even better.

The third match of the day paired Cyprus’ Marcos Baghdatis against Great Britain’s favored son, Andy Murray. Murray, if you remember lost a heartbreaking Wimbledon final in July to Switzerland’s Roger Federer and he and his countrymen were looking for a little redemption. But the mighty Marcos was not going quietly. Neither were his supporters. Even though Centre Court was predominantly Team Andy, there was a small, but stubborn group of supporters from Cyprus who yelled zealously every chance they got. Not to be outdone, chants of “Let’s go, Andy!” filled the air as Murray fought back from a set down to win 4-6, 6-1, 6-4. The crowd was euphoric, Andy was ecstatic, and I couldn’t have dreamed up a better ending to my Olympic experience.

More importantly, I came one step closer to completing my bucket list and that alone is worth a medal to me.

About Sarah Hovis

Word manipulator, arts appreciator, sports spectator, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at [email protected].

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