Good evening, or morning. I’m not quite sure which. It’s about 2.30am.
I’m sat in the Main Press Centre in the Olympic Park, chilling out with my feet on the desk, a hot chocolate and watching highlights of the women’s beach volleyball. Life is good!
The reason I am writing my blog now is two-fold. First, I have two-and-a-bit hours to kill until my bus out to Eton Dorney, and second is that I have just got so much to tell you, and I don’t want to forget it.
When last I left you I was speeding towards Stratford on the high-speed. Well, I got there, and it was raining.
When I’d left Folkestone it was sunny, warm and I’d opted for the white-polo shirt, khaki shorts and sunglasses look. Great on the beach on the English riviera, not so good in the rain-lashed east end.
So I was a little dismayed when I emerged from Stratford International to find it was raining hard. Very hard. By the time I joined the security queue at the media entrance I looked like the wooden-spoon winner in a Magaluf wet T-shirt competition.
The only thing which cheered me up was geting on the bus. Because it was dry? No. Because I sat next to Yao Ming.
You might not know Yao Ming’s name, but I’d wager if you saw him, you’d probably go ‘Ohhh, yeahhh, him.’
Yao Ming was one of the most famous basketball players in the NBA (and hence the world) until he retired last year. He is Chinese. And he is 7’6” tall. Tom Daley could dive off him. If he lay on the floor it would take Adam Gemili a second to run the length of him from a standing start. He is massive.
So when I say I sat next to him, I didn’t. He took up a seat on his own. I sat on the opposite side of the aisle to him and after hearing him turn down a request for a photo from a Spanish journalist, I took one myself while I pretended to fix my hair in my phone. Sneaky huh! You can check out my Olympic pictures on twitter by the way – @kentonline2012
So it just so happened that Yao and I were on the way to the same place. With all our local competitors in action later in the day, I decided to treat myself to a little indulgence. I wanted to see an iconic sporting event, so I went to see the US men’s basketball team play France.
Now you may have picked up from previous blogs that there are a few, very high profile events where press box space is limited so we have to apply for tickets in addition to our accreditation. Opening Ceremonies, swimming finals, that sort of thing. Well, the US basketball game was not ticketed. But the rest surely will be.
I got there an hour before tip-off and every single tabled position (with a socket and a TV) was taken, and there was only one single seat in the extra press bit, with cabled internet. I took it. I couldn’t connect to the web for some strange reason, so instead I did a twitter commentary on proceedings on my phone.
Over the next 55 minutes I must have seen at least 75 journalists come up the stairs looking for somewhere to sit. I felt a little guilty, I’ll admit. But it’s a once in a lifetime thing for me.
I had a jolly old time. The US were just too good, as they should be, but it was a good spectatcle, the crowd were really into it and I didn’t want to leave.
However at half-time I had to. I had vowed to go and watch Jen Wilson and South Africa face Argentina in the hockey. So I made my way out of the venue to find a scene from the third world.
There were dozens, scores of journos of all nationalities being held outside the entrance by staff. They were baying to get in like it was Noah’s Arc and the world was about to flood (which looked distinctly possible at the time, to be fair). I walked out and dutifully said I wasn’t coming back, and the throng pressed forward, all shouting to claim my vacant seat.
As I say, it’ll be ticketed next time, so it was a one-off for me!
I’ll not say too much about the South Africa game, they got a bit of a tonking by Argentina unfortunately. I will however share that I really like the Riverside Arena. It’s a great place to watch sport. I will warn anyone with tickets though, it is very open to the elements. VERY open. No shelter anywhere, so make sure you check the forecast first and bring appropriate clothing (swimming hats and goggles would have been appropriate today!).
Despite the rain I was thrilled to hear such fantastic support from the South African fans, even at 7-1 down. There were some haunting songs, I assume traditional South African ones, which were among the more unusual but memorable things I’ve heard at a full-blooded sporting contest.
After the game the South Africans trouped off disconsolately, but bless Jen Wilson. She still agreed to come over and talk to me, sharing her devastation. What a thoroughly class act she is. We’ve already seen that not all Olympians have time for the press, but for her to talk, despite how she must have been feeling... Well, I would happily say I’m an honorary South African women’s hockey supporter now (ex-Maidstone striker Lauren Penny is a SA reserve and she’s very nice too, as it happens!)
After the hockey I made the dash through the rain to the bus stop to catch a shuttle to the Aquatics Centre. Sadly the see-through plastic poncho which a volunteer kindly handed me failed to get over my head properly so I walked along the road looking like the victim of an explosion in a cling film factory.
I discarded the poncho and within minutes I was poolside. Wow. What an unusual building that really is. Imagine a capital letter W. Or, don’t imagine it, look at the one I just typed. The pool is in the middle between the two ‘dips’ while the two high points on the outside are the top of the stands. The roof curves in so much that if you’re in the top row, you can see the pool, but cannot see beyond a quarter of the way up the other side. It’s mental. But my word it’s loud.
I was there for Elly Gandy and her reception was electric. Unfortunately she was in a class field, and there was an extra special buzz in the crowd when Dana Vollmer broke the World Record. It was the first swimming race I’d watched since a Cub Scout gala at Hythe when I was about 11, and I saw a World Record broken. Awesome.
I updated the website with the result and then legged it down about a dozen flights of stairs to the mixed zone to try and grab a few words with Elly. Sadly it was SUCH a long way that the only thing I saw of her was her back being ushered through a door by a press officer and I had to chase quotes up from the host broadcaster (nick them off the telly!).
I stayed to write up my stories in the stands at the swimming and enjoyed watching Rebecca Adlington’s bronze medal swim. The noise from the crowd when she hit the final turn in the 400m freestyle and everyone realised she was in with a chance was unbelievable.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve written the word goosebumps or spine-tingling in the last few days. I need some new vocabulary. But the feeling was very special. Like you could physically feel the collective will of 17,000 people pouring down the stands like rushing lava down a volcano to try and push her on and push the French woman back.
I think that, along with the welcome for Team GB in Friday’s Opening Ceremony, were two stand-out moments for me. I’ll never forget them.
And so, back here. I got the bus back to the Main Press Centre around 11pm. I need to be on a 4.50am bus out to the rowing, and there’s just no way of getting to Kent and back in time tonight.
For the record, I will point out that I’ve done this off my own bat. I was given the option by my superiors to forget about the rowing, watch it on TV, get some sleep. But this is the Olympics. Plenty of time to sleep in October.
Hope I’ll see you in the morning on www.kentonline.co.uk/olympics or @kentonline2012 and I might even pop up on kmfm, who knows!