Through a couple of good friends A&C got the opportunity to go to an Olympic event (basketball), they had a spare ticket and I am always up for opportunistic days out because I am not good at sorting things out in advance. A&C picked me up at 05:30 on the main road through the village, it was was not very bright out as it was overcast and very early in the day. We parked up at Berkhamsted station and timed it to perfection to get the 06:01 to Euston.
The Olympic tickets cover your travel to the event so we only needed to but a return to Watford junction. The train was a fast one and we were soon at Euston, the train was fairly quiet at that time in the morning so we had no trouble getting seats together. From the station there were signs leading us to the Javelin train service from St Pancras, which runs every 10 minutes and shuttles between St Pancras a Stratford station. The signs took us via the back roads to St Pancras rather than along the busy Euston Road, interestingly they has painted some silhouettes prints on the pavement, it took us a couple to figure out what they were all about. Each one had a name, city and year, it was obvious that the cities were all Olympic venues, but not all the names were familiar. They turned out to be representations of some famous Olympic feats, the silhouettes we the foot/hand outlines representing the moves required to do the event. For example ones had lots of foot prints clustered together at many angles, then further down the street was the outline of a ball connected to a handle and chain representing a hammer, the the track and field.
As we arrived at St Pancras (only a five minute walk) we were directed by official Olympic helpers in their purple Olympic uniforms, towards the platform for the Javelin Shuttle service. We stopped off at Sourced Market for a coffee and I chose a couple of Chelsea buns for lunch later, because I had not made any sandwiches. A was carrying a really heavy rucksack, which probably contained enough chocolate to feed everyone in the basketball arena. Our timing was perfect we boarded the train with about a minute to spare, and seven minutes later we were at Stratford.
At Stratford you exit the station almost directly into the Westfield shopping mall, with all it high end fashion shops. We walked through the mall and out the other side where the entrance to the Olympic park awaited us. It was not yet 08:00 but the park was open and the queues at security were short. We finished off any water we had in bottles, but kept them in our bags as we had been told that there are water fountains where you can fill them once inside the Olympic park. Security was a breeze we hardly had to wait and the army guys on duty were courteous and friendly, whilst x-raying our bags and scanning or bodies for guns.
Once in the park the helpers were doing a great job corralling the crowds to the events, using load hailers, which they seemed to have given to people who had a sense of humour which was great. They seemed to be attempting to have one side of the routes for one direction and the other for the other direction, i guess when it gets busy this will really keep the flow of people moving. The last thing you want to people walking against each other as one event leaves and another event arrives, which will just slow right down. We head towards the Basketball arena at the other end of the park in our own time as we had plenty of time to spare.
Once in the area of the arena we found a water fountain to fill our bottles and a WC for a comfort break, then we headed to the entrance where again without any significant queue we had our tickets validated, and headed into the arena itself. We had seats in block 201 row 20, which basically meant we had fairly good seats, we were up in the high section but fairly low down in the section, at one end of the arena. We were close enough for A&C to get good pictures with their 200mm zoom. Soon after we sat down AH arrived the 4th person in our party. AH is very devoted to Olympics spectating he had taken 2 weeks off work and had tickets for at least one event everyday, except for the opening ceremony. It seemed like a labour of love to me, he was getting up early and going from one event to another, including one which involved getting to Dorny lake by bus via trains to London he lived in Princes Risborough, he had managed only 22 hours sleep in the first 4 days.
Basketball is quite and animated event with music and a compère getting the crowd going, and cheerleaders and dancers wheeled on during time-outs and between ends. The first match covered by our tickets was France v Lithuania, which was won by France. The game had a fairly high scoring rate and the Lithuanian’s racked up more fouls than the French. Towards the end of the match the French seemed to raise their game and kept the lead until the time ran out. The support for the French was nearly non-existent I did at one point here some people singing “Allez La France” but it was not that loud compared to the background noise, it could hardly be noticed. Compare that to the Lithuanian’s who cheered loudly when they had the ball and booed and whistled when the French had the ball, which was not very sporting. I notice later that a Lithuanian supported had been arrested and fined at an earlier match against Nigeria for racist chanting, which is a bit reminiscent of the trouble at the Euro 2012 football earlier in the year.
Next up was China v Australia and to make things just a little bit more special for us, the mum, dad, and brother of one of the Australia team Aaron Haynes, were sitting in the row just in front of us, we became the Aaron fan club corner, and they kindly explained some of the finer points of the rules of basketball. Australia were in control through out the match and never really looked in danger of losing but it was not a whitewash. The score line was lower than the previous game and so was the number of fouls. We left the arana after the game it was around13:00.
Next we went for a wander round the park there were a few more people about than earlier I guess due to the fact that we were between sessions now not at the start. We went to the merchandise shop but the queue was so long we gave it miss. The ArcelorMittal Orbit was impressive in that it was tall but as a piece of art it did nothing for me. We were near the BMW centre when it started to threaten rain so we popped in for a look the got corralled into the corporate video before exiting via the roof to get some shots of the view across the park.
After some food, thanks to A for making egg and tomato sandwiches which went down really well, we headed slowly round to Wiggins Way the name that has been given to the grassy area around the large outdoor screens which show the events. We found a fairly good spot with a good view of one of the screens, and settled in to watch the events in the Velodrome, it was a strange feeling to be watching an event with the building where they were taking place also being within view. Great Britain won a couple of gold medals, and at arounf 18:30 we decided we had had a long enough day and headed back home.
The journey home was just as good as the way in there were a few more people on the trains but we still managed to all sit together. As we got off the train at St Pancras A noticed that Stella McCartney was just a few yards ahead of us, I tried to get a photo but it came out blurred. On the train we chatted to a couple of Germans (father and son) over for two weeks going to many events, and two other guys originally from the east end who had been to the Velodrome which made us fell envious. I got home at 22:00 and went straight to bed it had been a long day, but an excellent one, thanks to A and A&C for the experience.