Back In 2011, when cynicism and negativity about the Olympics was rife, the Simpson family took a decision to apply for a large number of tickets for a wide variety of events. This was based on a hugely successful and enjoyable Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002, and on the fact that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, certainly for us. Indeed, as I said to the children:
“If the Olympics takes as long to come back as it has since last time, you will both be in your 70s by the time it returns.”
So my stepfather and I between us applied for 27 events and got tickets for 10, which we supplemented to 13 with later purchases; we also attended two free events. My son was terrified about transport and crowds, but in the event absolutely loved the experience, as we all did. So here are my top 10 thoughts about the 2012 Olympics:
- 1. Complaints about ‘hogging’ tickets
I saw complaints from people (once the Olympics was clearly a success) about people ‘hogging’ tickets; well that would be us, then. Some thoughts on this:
- We were prepared to put our money where our mouth was and buy tickets when many were prophesying doom and gloom.
- Many of our tickets were for low profile events – we saw only 5 medal events (paid for) and 2 free.
- We may have obtained some advantage in applying for low profile events because many of these were ‘kids pay their age’ events.
- Lots of people seem to have applied solely for high profile events and then sulked when they didn’t get them. We would have loved to get cycling, tennis, diving, equestrian and gymnastics tickets, but we didn’t throw our toys out of the pram when we didn’t get them – we were happy to get what we did.
- 2. Crowds
One of my son’s big fears, and there were a lot of people, but there was a lot of space for them too, particularly in the Olympic Park. We never felt crushed or in any danger, and everyone was so happy and friendly it was a pleasure to spend time with them.
- 3. Children
I think the greatest thing of all about the Olympics was the number of children who were at the events, of all ages, enjoying what I am sure will be an experience that stays with them for the rest of their lives. And the crowd behaviour was so good that parents like us were delighted with the example set of sportsmanship, consideration for others and sheer enthusiasm.
- 4. Transport and travel cards
My son’s other big fear was also misplaced, as the transport system was amazingly good. We probably took a wise decision to base ourselves in Greenwich, as this meant that Stratford was easily accessible, with direct DLR trains every 10 minutes. ExCel was also accessible by DLR, whilst we could easily catch a bus that got us into central London in 45 minutes for more outlying venues. We only used the tube twice and the Thames Clippers once, and the Javelin train from St Pancras to Stratford was wonderful. There were few crowded trains etc and everything ran like clockwork.
The innovation of giving ticket holders free travel cards for days when they were going to the Games was a huge success, meaning that ticket collection and checking at venue stations could be dispensed with.
- 5. Volunteers and security staff
What hasn’t already been said? They all looked like they were enjoying themselves, they were friendly and helpful, the security checks were superbly efficient and they set the tone for a happy and friendly games by their demeanour. Thank you.
- 6. Free events
If you were miffed at missing out on tickets, there were plenty of events you could go to see for free. We saw the women’s triathlon cycling go past us 14 times on Constitution Hill and the women’s marathon go past us 6 times on the Embankment, on the front row each time. The crowds at both events were, I thought, extraordinary, until I saw on the big screen at Eton Dorney the crowds for the men’s triathlon, which were simply unbelievable.
- 7. Hockey
I thought hockey at the Commonwealth Games was rather like watching paint dry, but at the Olympics it was brilliant. Maybe women’s hockey is better than men’s?
- 8. Athletics
Hearing my daughter cheering on Mo Farah in the 5,000m heats was a highlight, but so was the whole morning. Apparently London was unusual among Olympic cities in selling out morning athletics, but I can’t understand why – always something going on and often 2 or 3 things at the same time.
- 9. Handball
The great thing about the Olympics is discovering new sports. “You must go and see handball” said so many people that we did, and it was fabulous – fast, rough, close, spectacular – my son’s highlight of the entire Games.
- 10. Swimming / Michael Phelps
Our one ‘high profile’ event was the last night of the swimming. 2 world records (2 more than I had ever seen before) and the last gold medal and special FINA presentation to Michael Phelps, who I suspect will remain the greatest gatherer of Olympic medals and gold medals for some time to come. Unforgettable! And as we came out the noise from the Olympic Stadium was incredible; spine-tingling in its intensity and getting louder as we got further away. That was Mo Farah winning the 10,000m, Great Britain’s third athletics gold medal in 45 minutes. Wow!
So my children, at least one of whom was dreading the Olympics so much, ended up collecting Wenlocks and Mandevilles and asking “can we go to Rio in 2016?” Wouldn’t be much of a once in a lifetime experience then would it? Anyway, they seemed happy with the counter-offer of Glasgow 2014 – much more exotic than Rio – after all, can you get a pint of heavy and a deep-fried Mars bar in Rio? Precisely.