Swimming will be our first event at the Olympic Park. We’ve got 2 ½ hours to get across town from the badminton venue. We hope we’ll make it and discuss alternate routes until a young Englishwoman overcomes her British reserve and tells us the Central line is back in service. She didn’t try to get tickets to the games because she expected chaos, but is sorry now and may now try to get a ticket to anything.
As we get closer to the park, the underground gets really crowded. I chat with a charming English pre-teen whose Mum and brothers are wedged into the opening by the door. She’s not tall enough to get a good grip on the overhead bar. With my best grandmotherly look, I suggest to a gentleman that if he moved his briefcase from the seat to his lap there would be room for her to sit down. Now that we’re BFF’s, she tells me that she’s been to gymnastics and is going to Athletics. Her step-father is the manager of the Olympic Park. I tell her mother how well organized we think the Games are and apologize for Romney’s ill-considered remarks and assure her that he does not reflect the views of all Americans. ”His remarks caused my husband quite a lot of headaches,” she replies with a look that suggests only the need for tact prevents her from saying more.
Crowds swam into the Stratmore station. “Keep smiling and keep walking. The gates are open; no need for a ticket,” a volunteer with a bull horn repeats endlessly. Police and volunteers route us on a roundabout path to the Park in a pretty effective way to keep crowds moving in and out quickly.
“Look at all those people coming. It’s been like this all day,” says the middle-aged soldier who is making sure we take no pictures while in line for security screening. “Where are they all coming from?’
“From the whole world,” I reply.
The Aquatics Center is clearly a temporary venue; the British have made good use of canvas to construct Big Tops larger than Ringling ever dreamed of. We begin our climb to our sets on the fourth level at a jaunty pace. On the second level, a white haired volunteer suggests that if we want food or beverages we get them now. We take her advice. Our pace slows considerably as we climb. After 121 stair steps we emerge onto the fourth level – only 63 stairs to go!
We are so high that I would like to crawl to my seat and belt myself in for safety, but not wanting to shame our whole nation, I keep myself upright and do not scream in terror. These are really bad seats, but I don’t care. We’ve seen Michael Phelps swim in two Olympics and want to see him in the third and probably his last Games.
The first race is an unexpected bonus. Missy Franklin is a body length in front in the final lap and sets a World Record in the 200 meter backstroke!
Then it’s Phelps in the 100 meter Fly. Bob watches him through our binoculars and I zero in with the telescopic lens of my camera as he enters and prepares for the race. It’s Phelps all the way finishing at 1.21 for another Gold with the Russian swimmer second at 1.44.
France takes a Gold in the Men’s 50 Meter Free. The two heats of the Semi-finals for the Women’s 50 meter Free are a bit of a let-down as Jessica Hardy, USA, is fourth.
Then it’s the Women’s 800 Meter Free Style which proves to be the most exciting race. Great Britain’s Rebecca Adlington in Lane 4 is the favorite, at least according to the British press TV and fans. But Katie Ledecky in Lane 3 takes the lead early. We worry that she has started too fast and worry more when she has lengthened her lead at 100 meters. We wait for her to run out of gas and Aldington to pass her, but at every turn Katie’s lead increases. I am so excited that I lose track of how many meters there are to go. “ Is this the final lap/” I ask Bob, but he can’t hear me over the cheers of the British fans and the race goes on and on as we wait for the inevitable moment when Adlington will turn it on and pass Ledecky. But incredibly, Ledecky’s lead gets greater and greater – it’s nearly a body length as they race toward the finish. Ledecky wins with 8:14.63; Garcia Belmonte of Spain is second at 8:18.63 and Adlington gets the bronze with an 8:20.32.
We’re sitting by Russians and French. No one speaks a common language except sports. We’re all pretty happy; the Russians have two Silvers and the French, a Gold. We clap one another on the back and cheer for each other’s countries during the medal ceremonies. When we sing the Star Spangled Banner three times, it’s enough to make us overlook the USA warm-ups that look as if they were purchased at Goodwill by someone who thinks our country’s colors are grey and black.