My Olympic Spectator Experience
What's It Like To Be An Olympic Fan?
I've been a fan of the OlympicGames ever since I first remember seeing the Montreal Games on TV in 1976. I never thought I'd get to see an Olympic Games in person, but then London was awarded the Games for 2012. I had a chance of seeing the Games, live and in person.
I live in England, about 100 miles from London, but it was clear that getting tickets without a sackload of cash or a sponsor connection was not going to be easy. The application process was tricky, as although the rules were simple, they were fraught with the risk of getting none or paying thousands of pound for too many tickets.
I didn't get the exact tickets I wanted, but I did get some tickets to both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The experience was wonderful, and one I'll remember forever. Here's my experience, with a few hints and tips in case you're lucky enough to be able to go one day.
(A member of the French football team after losing to Canada in the Bronze medal play off)
Getting Tickets For The Olympics
I registered on the official London 2012 ticket website to select which events I wanted to go to, choose the sessions, decide on a price level and commit to buying any tickets I ordered. I'd have liked to say "I'll take any pairs tickets for the track cycling, and I'd like three for athletics at the Olympic Stadium, but I'm not fussy about which event, and if you want to pick any sort of Olympic sport like archery, rowing or a marshal art, I'll take a pair for that.", but no such luck I had to pick exact events, and if I got tickets I'd have to pay for all of them, but demand was such that I might get none.
I had to gamble - should I just select the events I really wanted to see (and could afford), or should I risk selecting lots of events and hope that I'd end up with some.
With a bit of co-ordination with family we formed an informal cartel, all agreeing to order too many tickets, and share out what we got in the ticket lottery. We added an equal smattering of Paralympic tickets too, on the same basis.
The only way to pay for tickets was by Visa, as Visa was a sponsor. As soon as the tickets were allotted, payment would be taken, if the payment request was rejected then all the tickets would go elsewhere. I didn't want to order a new credit card so used my Visa Debit and transferred my savings in, more in hope than expectation.
I chose cycling, boxing, swimming, athletics, fencing and, as a safety back-up, football. I didn't really want to see football, it's not a real Olympic sport, but as the stadium in my old home town was being used, and ticket sales were expected to be low, I added a selection, in the hope of at least getting some Olympic tickets.
In the lottery I got all the football tickets I ordered, but nothing else. Everyone I knew who had tried for tickets got football and nothing else, but I wasn't disappointed - I was going to the Olympics!
I later had a call from a distant relative, he'd got tickets to Paralympic cycling, and couldn't go - would I like his tickets? Absolutely!
The Camera I Used
Fun With FansClick thumbnail to view full-size
I loved meeting people from around the world. We may not have been able to communicate with language, but we could trade smiles, songs and snacks. Everyone was there to have fun.
I found myself choosing teams or competitors to support based on the enthusiasm levels of the nationalities around me. The Olympics is a great way to meet people from every corner of the globe.
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Travel To Olympic Events
With the tickets came plenty of information on how to travel to Olympic events. Public transport links were explained, along with the specially laid on Olympic transport.
I went to three football events, all north of London, and the Paralympic Cycling at Brands Hatch motor racing circuit in Kent, east of London. For the football events the routine was simple, get to the railway station in the city and there were buses laid on to take you straight to the stadium. If you wanted to drive you'd have to park miles away and get a shuttle bus, the railway was the best route. For the cycling we drove to a large field miles from the circuit and buses took us to the event, minimising traffic.
The "Games Makers" were in charge of making sure people found the right bus, and got to the right turnstiles. They were a huge success at the London 2012 games. They were all volunteers, and had been through quite a selection process. Every single one I met was friendly, welcoming, helpful and enthusiastic. I only knew two of them personally and they commended the experience as one of the best in their lives.
(Photo: Supporters of the French Paralympic Cycling Team leading us in singing La Marseillaise on a shuttle bus)
Dress and pack for the weather, including the weather predicted throughout the day. You'll be outdoors for hours so think about a hat and sunscreen. Take a camera, but don't let it get between you and having fun.
Security for the London 2012 Olympics was tight. On the day after London was awarded the Olympic Games, on the morning of July 7, 2005, London's transport network was attacked by suicide bombers, killing 52 people, and injuring around 700, many of those injuries were life changing.
Britain is a safe place to live, and the police are not routinely armed, yet during the Games there were six missile launchers placed around the city to shoot down any airborne attacks, air traffic was routed away from Olympic venues and the Royal Navy was deployed on the Thames. That seemed rather over the top, and people living near the missile sites were understandably unhappy.
Apart from obvious measures, such as not allowing knives, guns or weapons into stadiums, an airline-like approach was adopted, you could not take liquids into any stadiums and could be expected to go through an x-ray scanner and have a pat-down search. It was possible to take small backpacks into stadiums, but each was searched and sealed before entry.
I was amused to see a Japanese fan dressed as a giant Hello Kitty being asked to remove his giant Kitty head to be searched and bagged. I did move in to take a closer photo, but a cheery Games Maker stepped forward to ask me not to take pictures of security. They asked with such charm it seemed rude not to comply.
I was allowed to take my camera with a zoom lens in with me, but had to demonstrate it was a real camera by taking a picture. I took a snapshot of the security guard and showed it to him or her each time, and they chuckled at how bad the shots were, I was set up for taking pictures 100 yards away, not 10".
Eating & Drinking (and drugs) At Olympic Venues
The Olympics have sponsorship deals which mean that the food and drink available is overpriced and unpleasant. For the two hours of a football game, or four hours or so of a double header match, that's not a real problem, but for the cycling we'd be there all day.
Fortunately we were able to bring food into the venues, but not drink. We could bring empty plastic sports water bottles and at each venue there were free water fountains to refill them.
We took a picnic to Brands Hatch racing circuit, but were mindful that we'd have to carry it everywhere, and couldn't have cutlery, crockery, or liquids. That did mean no ice pack either, and the weather was very warm, so were were careful to pack picnic items that wouldn't spoil quickly, and would still taste good tepid.
I'd advise reading any information you get around what the rules are and making yourself some healthy food to take along. It's an exciting time and you may need to be up early, get home late and travel a lot. I certainly do that with far less risk of a tantrum or tears if I'm not jacked up on junk food. I'm guessing the same goes for children!
It was possible to take in medication if necessary, but only if necessary. I took my Mum to one football game (she had a blast) and she needed to take her insulin shots, she had plenty of advance warning so was able to take along a copy of her prescription and it wasn't a problem. A friend did have to bin a few loose painkillers from the bottom of her handbag as security wouldn't allow them in as they couldn't identify them.
A Lifelong Love Of The Olympics
As a child I'd watch any and every sport at the Olympics and then go out and try to recreate them. We climbed over school fences to use running tracks and jumping pits, raced our bikes around an old gravel pit, and even carefully laid a roll of toilet paper across the garden to use as a bar for gymnastics.
We fenced with branches and any time we could get to the sports center to swim, dive and play badminton we would. I was a mini sports nut. I wasn't much good at any of them, but it didn't stop me enjoying myself.
The Olympics give children an opportunity to see all sorts of sports thy may not otherwise see, and there may be one in there that they could be good at. Those of us in the Commonwealth get an extra bite of the cherry with the Commonwealth Games, which has netball and squash too.
Just like in the Summer Olympics, the Winter Olympics at home would be recreated as well as possible, but we did bike rather than ski jumping, and a curious biathlon with and running and basketball hoops. I don't recommend trying out the bobsleigh with a tea tray on the stairs, it results in tears.