Olympics Day 3 – Swimming, The Orbit and Fencing

[Note: This is a first draft. I’ll drop in some photos when I get a chance to process them]
Today was a swimming day, and I had a 10am session. Having decided that security was very swift I didn’t get in too early today, but I still ended up with an hour to kill before competition started. I did use the time to discover some of the walkways and paths that are little hidden from general view and mean that the Olympic Park really is a park. With all the bridges and waterways, it’s an interesting site.
I did venture into the megastore while it was empty, and I can tell you that they have an awful lot for sale. Sadly, I can confirm that I came away with some T-shirts.
Over in the Aquatic Centre, I found that my category E ticket meant that I was incredibly high up. I mean really high. I couldn’t actually see any more that the first couple of rows of seats on the other side, I was that high. Having said that, I was quite nicely placed for the finish line, so I can’t complain.
What I will moan a little about is the shortness of the session. We had heats for three events, each 200m, and each with five heats. The session started at 10am, and was over before 11am. That’s not a great deal of time. Yes, I got to see Phelps in the 200m butterfly and there were some fine performances. But I do think that a few more events might have been scheduled in the session. I think it’s probably because TV networks want to stretch out the swimming events over lots of nights.
I also know that I wouldn’t want to be in some seats for the diving. You could find yourself an awfully long way from the board. Anyway, all the seats I could actually see were fully occupied.
Out in the park, I had more time to explore. All the sponsors of the Olympics get their own pavilions. BMW has a very smart looking one with water running down all its walls and cars on top. The public are allowed in and get to watch a ten minute ad before being allowed on the roof to see the cars, and get some nice photos. They were all very friendly and even offered to take photos of me.
Meanwhile Coca-Cola’s pavilion was all about “pin trading”. Pins are badges, and there seems to be an enormous collecting aspect to Olympic badges. Inside the pavillion there were upwards of 150 badges available just for the London games. Then there were traders inside and outside who carry books of badges they’re willing to sell. I suppose it’s the Olympic version of stamp collecting.
I didn’t come away with any badges.
The people running the Orbit statue/viewing platform to let me in early. I think they were pleased that I just came up to them with an actual ticket. You ride up the giant helter skelter in a lift and then walk down the steps on the outside.
The view is excellent from the top, but you might find that you’re better off with a compact camera rather than DSLR up there. That’s because the wire they’ve put up to stop anyone falling off the top is so fine that you can’t poke a sizeable DSLR lens through the mesh.
There are two levels of viewing platforms, and you can take photos through the glass inside too. I found it handy to use a lens cloth to give the windows a wipe to remove the smears of young hands on them!
And so onto ExCel and the Fencing. In transport terms it’s pretty straightforward getting the DLR a few stops down the line. However look forward to a bit of walking since they’re keen for you to use West Silvertown, whereas Custom House is actually adjacent to the venue. But with some time to kill, I was happy to wander around Victoria Dock including seeing people doing wakeboarding.
ExCel has loads of sport going on its enormous shell. Judo, Table Tennis, Boxing, Weightlifting and Taekwondo as well as Fencing. It’s fun to spot the athletes and sports federation officials wandering around in their tracksuits. I saw some enormous Azerbaijanis, Poles, Ukranians, and very noticeable from their tracksuits – Russians. Let’s just say, if you’re going to an 80s party, seek out the 2012 official tracksuit.
Again, there were troops on duty to carry out searches and work the x-ray machines. I had to pour my water bottle empty before going in, and then faced the challenge of finding a water fountain to refill it. They turn out to be inside each of the sports arenas themselves.
Now I can safely say that I knew nothing about fencing. The little booklet that LOCOG sends you with your tickets was helpful to a point, although it mostly detailed transport to and from the venue. My seat was category D which was the back row on one end. But it’s actually a better seat that somewhat more expensive end tickets down the front, where you may be closer to the action, but can’t actually see a great angle.
It was the women’s Epee event with two semi finals, a bronze play off and then a final. The first semi-final went fairly straightforwardly, with Ukranian Shemyakina beating the tall Chinese Sun. Matches are played in three bouts of three minutes on a piste in the middle of the arena. I’ve got to say that I was really impressed with how it looked. The lighting is dimmed so that you see the fencers against almost darkness. In the Epee, points can be scored simultaneously, and the winner is either the first to 15, or the person with the most points at the end of the three bouts.
In the second semi-final, Britta Heidemann, the reining Olympic champion took on A L Shin from South Korea. The match began slowly, and because they showed lack of competitiveness, the judge moved them straight into the second bout before the first ended – that’s something judges can do in fencing!
As we reached the end of final bout it was tied 5-5, and that means that an extra minute of sudden death is fought. The clock was running down and it was still 5-5. There are various interruptions that can stop the clock, and we reached just one second left with the scores level. Yet with one second on the clock we had three double hits with both competitors (neither scoring), and the clock remained on one second. Then the clock showed 0 seconds and we had it reset to one second.
Heidemann finally landed a strike, but there was confusion. The South Koreans weren’t happy and thought that the timing equipment must be faulty. It had seemed strange that so much had happened within just one second. It was like one of those rounds of Just A Minute when Nicholas Parsons starts to say “There’s just a quarter of a second left…”
We were in deadlock, and the judges were in a huddle.
At this point I discovered that I was sitting next to someone very senior in the US Fencing team (and Modern Pentathlon). He was a previous Epee Olympian for the US Team and was with his mother. He explained that the Germans were certainly going to win, but that the South Koreans would fight it all the way. There’s lots of money and prestige attached to fencing in South Korea, and the coach and competitor would be expected to fight it.
He’d been in situations previously and had done the same. Not only did he appeal and get turned down, but he also then put in a written appeal along with a sum of money (something like 100 Euros), and the spectators had to wait.
In the meantime, the German had now been awarded the result after a delay of perhaps twenty minutes. But while the appeal continued, the Korean fencer stayed on the piste. It was explained that she had to do this since if she left she’d effectively be conceding defeat. And South Korean athletes do exactly what they’re told by their coaches.
My chum from the US Team said that the coach would be fighting for his very future. And I should expect that it’d take several people to get her from the piste.
In the event this was precisely true.
In fact, my friend said, the Korean coach should have jumped in before a second was added back to the clock. At that point there obviously was something amiss, and that’d have been the time to argue the case. It may have been when we first saw 1 second it was actually 1.99 seconds, and therefore there might have been three opportunities to strike. But perhaps an official timer was slow.
Either way, it was all too little, and the German went through to the final.
The whole thing took about ninety minutes to sort out and a very censorial announcer kept saying that it was all very delicate and that we shouldn’t slow hand clap or otherwise try to speed things along.
Sadly for the Korean, she lost a well fought bronze medal match, while the gold went to the Ukranian Shemyakina who overcame the much fancied German. Perhaps she was having an off day.
One thing I do know is that I understand an awful lot more about fencing that I used to, and it was incredibly useful to end up next to such a nice and knowledgable chap. He headed off early as he says his team will score plenty of medals (I think he said either three or four). Epee is their weakest event – hence no Americans in the final four.
I went away from the fencing thinking that I’d like to watch some more of it.
The trip home was fairly painless with another wander around the docks to Pontoon Dock station, and by travelling via Stratford and the Javelin trains (easily the best way to get in and out of London), I was home in no time.