A strange love: Or, how we learned to stop moaning and love the Olympics – Part 2

I bloody love the Olympics.

FIRST THINGS first. The Olympics may be over, but I’m a convert, ok? Let’s just get that out in the open. Ok, maybe I wasn’t as sceptical as I initially claimed to be. But I don’t just mean that I’ve stopped moaning and I think that it’s bearable. I LOVED the Olympics. Seriously. And Coca-Cola. I love that too. Especially when I get to buy it with my Visa card.

Love it.

It’s been a week of firsts. I have never, ever watched as much sport as I have over the past seven days. Not just over the week, but in one sitting. I’ve watched hours and hours without moving. On the telly. Live, on a pitch. On a giant screen. In the sun. In the rain. I’ve watched sport. This may not seem like a big deal to many people, but it is to me. I’m not a football fan. I don’t really understand rugby, even though I pretend that I do. Cricket is a complete mystery to me. Tennis I like, but I always thought that it’d be better if you could just skip to the match point. When Wimbledon’s on I pretend to watch it whilst really reading a book. But last night something strange happened. One minute I was watching Mo Farah running in the men’s final 5000m, then my memory goes a bit hazy, then the first thing I know I’m on my feet, jumping up and down and shouting like a lunatic. “Come on Mo! Come on Mo! Yes! YESSS! YESSSSSS! Mo FAAAAAAAAARRRRAAAAAAAH!”

I honestly have no idea what I’m cheering about here. And is that a sweatband that I’m wearing? What’s happened to me?

If you could see inside me last night, this is probably what you would have seen. This kid was actually over the moon that I took a picture of his poster. Less so when I stole it off him.

There are lots of reasons why I’ve come to love the Olympics and properly enjoyed watching sports for perhaps the first time in my life. Most obviously, I think that it’s that I’ve been forced to watch sports. As I’ve previously mentioned, London 2012 is a Once In A Lifetime Experience, and watching is compulsory. I never used to like olives, until I realised that they could make even the most excruciating dinner party a little more bearable. So I ate them until I liked them. Now I can’t stop eating them. So perhaps liking sport is like liking olives.

Using a bent wooden stick to hit a giant fluorescent ball around a bright blue pitch bordered with garish pink. That’s hockey. I’ve learnt a lot about sport this week.

Sometimes the people on the pitch put the fluorescent ball into things called “goals.” This rule only applies to teams whose country code is not GB. It’s a rule I’m familiar with from having watched England play football on a few occasions.

I tried to get into football at university, having never watched it as a kid and finding myself in a house of five football fans. On Saturdays, there was nowhere in the house where I couldn’t either see/hear/feel through the floor a) football on telly, b)  football on Five Live radio or c) football being played on the Playstation. It didn’t work out. Frankly, I found it a little intimidating when people were able to tell me how many goals a certain person had scored this year, or how many times a team that they didn’t even follow had or hadn’t won something. It felt like I was constantly trying to play catch up, like I had to absorb sixty years of sporting history before I could even hope to understand a Premiership match. Also, I didn’t really identify with the footballers, or the machismo that seemed to go with them. Neither did it help that I couldn’t play football myself. I tried playing a bit of five-a-side a few years ago, but people kept shouting at me. Apparently I’m f$%£ing sh$£%. I know this, because a lot of people told me so. Usually from the other side of the pitch. Or the sidelines. Or sometimes just whispered in my ear. Needless to say, it didn’t do much for my self esteem.

But at the Olympics, it’s not just about football. It’s about loads of sports. No one knows the rules, and some of them are just bonkers, like handball:

It’s hard not to love handball.

And they tell you how to behave whilst watching the sport, thus minimising the chances of me embarrassing myself by cheering and/or clapping at the wrong point:

One of many not-so-subliminal messages that they feed you whilst watching sport at the Olympics. If there’s ever a dull moment, then they play the opening to “We Will Rock You.” En masse, like some pavlovian mass-cult suicide at the appearance of a comet, the entire audience starts clapping in time and Having Fun.

But maybe it’s also being in London, going to the Olympic Park. Maybe it’s because everyone’s involved – both in spectating and participating. There are hurdlers who went to Eton, sailors in their fifties and boxers from Hull. And a man who came to the UK when he was 8 from a city called Mogadishu and wasn’t that good at school but who is one of the greatest British Olympians. Plus there’s no one telling me that I’m f$£^ing s$%£!, which is nice.

Everyone loves the Olympics. Except maybe Mastercard.

Enforcing fun. “No high five, no entry.”

Ok, maybe it is a little inspiring. But some people got a little carried away.

Oh, and having cold, tasty coca-cola to drink probably also helped me to enjoy it. Because coca-cola is fun. Oh, and sporty too. Coke is fun and sporty. Don’t forget it.

You could be having this much fun in a swimming cap if only you were drinking coca-cola right now.

BUT LET me tell you a little about the Olympic Park.

It’s funny how something so new can already be so iconic.

It’s big. And there was definitely a party atmosphere, and it wasn’t just because of the Coca-Cola people. This week’s Economist noted that “the long trudge from Stratford station to the Olympic Park is lined with grinning volunteers, many shouting cheery messages reminding people that this is a once-in-a-lifetime-event… It sounds cheesy, particularly for Britain. Yet it works.” It’s a measure of how successful this policy is that I hadn’t even noticed that it was a long walk from the tube. Evidently the Olympics has taken the edge off my cynicism. The volunteers are an important part of the experience, however.

This woman is singing a sea shanty. I’m not even joking.

There were lifeguards with megaphones, just in case you forgot to be happy.

But it wasn’t just the volunteers. It was the people actually at the Olympics. Everyone was friendly. People talked. This is not the London I know and love! I spoke to some people to find out why they were being so friendly. It turned out that they weren’t from London. Suddenly it all made sense! My faith in London was restored, however, when on the 108 bus home from Stratford a man refused to get off the bus when the bus driver told him to, and we all had to wait until the police arrived. Thank you, London, Thank you (and thanks to you, man on the 108 bus who made children cry and an entire bus of people wait around for half an hour). For the Olympics, though, I tolerated the smiles and generosity of the tourists and my fellow sports enthusiasts.

Who are these people? I have no idea, but they gave us our flags because they bought too many flags from poundland, and I love them for it (“too many flags.” I know, right? As if it would ever be possible.)

A touching moment of cross-nation unity, or a cynical exercise in hedging your bets?

Unfortunately I left my national dress at home.

These guys didn’t though. My biggest disappointment of the games was not finding someone in a Beefeater costume.

And if you weren’t watching sport live, drinking Coca-Cola, or eating in the world’s largest McDonald’s then there were plenty of other things to do as well.

There was some telly to watch. And I didn’t even want to fast forward to the match point.

Like all good sporting events, there were cheerleaders. Apparently wearing half a garden on their heads.

Those crazy coca cola people take a break from both fun and sun.

All of the sponsors of the event had big installations where you could have a look around and get free stuff. Most of them had huge queues all of the time. But it turns out if you choose not to watch the Men’s 100m Final then anywhere that isn’t the stadium or near a big screen is fairly deserted.

Outside the stadium at the time of the 100m final. It sounded pretty noisy in there.

So it was that we ended up in the Coca Cola Beat Box, a crazy hall of mirrors where everything is fun fun fun.

I remember arriving at the Coca Cola Beat Box. I remember that the staff were A Lot Of Fun. Then it all goes a bit blurry.

The good people of Coca Cola showed us how we could be Having Fun All The Time, if only we drank more Coca Cola. Here Beckie has her moment of Realisation.

This is our initiation into the Coca Cola Fraternity. Obviously I can’t tell you what’s happening here, because you’re not at Level 3 Coca Cola Consumption.

And this is the pay off. It’s like the Olympics, only in a bottle.

So. That was the Olympics. Sport, people being friendly and some fairly slick organisation – from event organisers and advertisers alike.

As I write this I am watching the Closing Ceremony of the Olympics. Part of me is happy that now I won’t be obliged to watch sport All Of The Time. It’ll be nice to have my evenings back. But a larger part of me thinks that London might just be a little bit better if there were pink shirted volunteers with giant foam fingers on every street more of the time.

Seb Coe’s final words at the London 2012 Olympic Ceremony: “Britain, when the time came, we did it right.”

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