It was finally time to actually see the Games. Getting tickets wasn’t easy but we scored with swimming and fencing. We headed to the Olympic Village on the first day for heats in the Women’s 200-meter butterfly and Men’s freestyle relays at the Aquatic Center, a state-of-the-art facility built especially for the Games.
For years, I had been a pool rat swimming 4-5 times a week so I really looked forward to these events. Watching the swimmers casually doing warm-up laps, I humbly realized that I would have been unable to keep up with them in pre-race even in my prime. The athletes were simply swimming machines.
One thing that surprised me was the massive support staff that surrounds the events. A dozen people bring plastic boxes in and out full of gear for the next set of swimmers while a heat is in progress. There appeared to be several judges per lane ensuring that swimmers touched the side when turning. And 15 cameras from every angle possible recorded the event. I was amazed at the organization, most of which goes unseen when watching these events on TV.
After the heats, we walked around the Olympic Village. There is such a positive vibe there. People are happy. Smiles from countries around the world. I finally got to experience the Olympic fever that can only be had by being there. It is nice to see that the world can get along. It is possible.
The next day we went to the Excel Center to watch two kinds of fencing. First was the men’s Épée. The Épée is a heavy thrusting weapon that targets the entire body and all hits must be with the tip and not the sides of the blade. Touches hit by the side of the blade do not halt the action. Unlike foil and sabre, Épée does not use “right of way”, and allows simultaneous hits by both fencers. This makes for a lot of drama.
“Judges, begin the fighting!” barks the announcer. There are six matches going on simultaneously. Not knowing anything about the sport, I sit in awe. It is all very high tech with electronic sensors registering the hits. When a hit occurs, the winner’s mask blinks red lights. Then the fencers stop momentarily before beginning again.
We had Row Two seats but were placed at the end of a section in front of the media pit. I wasn’t very happy with the arrangement. I was actually considering leaving when an attendant told us we could move as far to the center as we wished and take unused seats. The only condition was if those seat holders arrived; we would have to abandon our seats. What a windfall. We moved down an entire section along Row Two to the center of the action and had the seats there the whole day. Not only could I see the fencing well, but the athletes would exit the stage right in front of us. Some would be elated from their success, smiling and sometimes yelling with joy. Others showed the agony of defeat having just been eliminated from competition. The highs and lows of the day were overwhelming for me. I was also amazing how exhausted the men were when exiting after a match (three, 3-minute session or the first one to score 15 points). They would remove their masks and sweat streamed in buckets off their heads.
In the afternoon, the Women’s Sabre events began. The Sabre is a light cutting and thrusting weapon that targets the entire body above the waist, excluding the hands. Hits with the edges of the blade as well as the tip are valid. When a scoring touch is landed, the referee determines which fencer receives the point for the action, again through the use of “right of way”. Points seemed to be scored quite fast in contrast to the Épée, and because of this, I found Sabre to lack the elegant flow of the Épée.
But I was impressed early on by the skills of Olga Kharlan, a diminutive fencer from the Ukraine. I chose to root for her throughout the afternoon as she eliminated the competition in match after match. Later that evening Olga defeated Mariel Zangunis from the USA to clinch the Bronze.
That ended our days at the Games. By the time closing ceremonies kicked off, we found ourselves in the tiny Scottish village of Crieff watching the BBC from a laptop on the kitchen table of our dear friend, Rhian. I’m not much for these events, but we were vested in the London Olympics. Then Ray Davies came on the screen to sing the melancholy Kinks song, Waterloo Sunset. The song is one from my youth and tears welled up in my eyes as I saw Ray croon the very British lyrics,
Terry meets Julie, Waterloo Station
Every Friday night.
But I am so lazy, don’t want to wander
I stay at home at night.
But I don’t feel afraid.
As long as I gaze on Waterloo Sunset
I am in paradise.
I had had enough. My Olympic experience was complete. I happily went to bed that night soon after Ray sang. Lying in the darkened room under a Scottish sky full of stars, I, too, was in paradise.
Post script… I heard later that NBC cut out of Ray Davies to air a sit-com. Hail to the BBC.