The Olympics: Celebrating Success or Jingoism? – Stuck in Draft #2

I wrote this over a year ago, and never quite got around to publishing it. Hence it now forms part of my Stuck in Draft series.

And so another Olympics have concluded and from where I sit it has been a success.

Let me clarify that a little. Team GB has undoubtedly been successful. But there’s a much wider context when you look at the Olympics.

These include:

  • The cost to the host nation of holding the Olympics
  • The IOC
  • The wider geo-politics of the Olympics (e.g. Russia’s participation)
  • The commercialism
  • The zika virus
  • A green diving pool
  • Competing nations’ reactions

And there are many more besides.

It’s clear that hosting the Olympics is just ridiculously expensive, and it will be interesting to see what happens in upcoming Olympic cycles. Brazil probably thought it could afford the Olympics when they won in 2006, but ten years on, and the world economy had changed not least in Brazil itself.

So while state employees weren’t being paid, and poverty is endemic, millions are being spent, perhaps unnecessarily. Winning both the World Cup and Olympics in a short space of time seems one too many global sports events at the same time.

Beyond that we’ve had the spectre of empty seats in nearly every arena. We know that tickets are vastly expensive for the local population, but surely filling those seats should be a massive priority for any organising committee? Give the tickets away if need be. Surely you make some money back on over-priced snack concessions.

It’s somehow hilarious that Irish IOC member, Patrick Hickey, was arrested for ticket-touting when from several thousand miles away it seemed that availability of tickets really wasn’t a problem (with the exception of the Maracaña for the men’s football final).

And with a reported 12% of Paralympic ticket sales sold so far, there’ll be even more blue empty seats next time around. Recall that Brazil sent the fourth largest team to London in 2012 and were 7th on the medal table. Those would suggest that it’s taken seriously.

The IOC have shown themselves to be essentially unreformed. They couldn’t take decisive action against state doping carried out by Russia, leaving it to the Paralympic Committee to show who had some balls. Sadly the Paralympics are suffering a dire shortage of cash. The IOC is rolling it, but don’t expect any bailouts. “Nothing to do with us squire…”

And they treated the whistleblower of state-sponsored Russian doping, Yuliya Stepanova, with distain. Already in hiding in the US, and not allowed to compete at these games (plenty of other ex-dopers did compete), the president of the IOC, Thomas Bach actually said the following: “We are not responsible for dangers to which Ms. Stepanova may be exposed.”

So to the average Brazilian, the Olympics may or may not have been a sideshow – at least until they won the men’s football final with a Neymar penalty, or the men’s volleyball final. But that doesn’t automatically make the Olympics per se a bad thing.

The British team has done superbly, exceeding the medal total for 2012 – something that’s never previously been achieved after a home Olympics.

They finished second in the medals table (the table being unofficial, and weighted towards gold medals), notably ahead of China.

There are two key reasons for these things: lottery money and China under-performing.

Lottery money is significant. At £4m a medal, there seems to be a fairly direct correlation between Olympic success and the amount a nation invests. In the UK this is funded by state lottery run by a for-profit organisation, Camelot. Most know that when they buy a lottery ticket, they know that some of their cash goes to these athletes and their programmes.

Indeed 25% of lottery money goes to “lottery projects” of which sport gets 20% – so about 10p of every £2 ticket.

And of course, we know that the money is targeted at sports who achieve returns on investment: cycling, rowing, yachting and gymnastics for example. Medals are targeted at almost all costs. In the track cycling, many wondered why the GB team had done poorly at the World Championships in London earlier this year, but so well in Rio. The fact was that even though the World Championships were on home turf, the team had focused on peaking their performances in Rio. If that meant under-performing before then, then so be it. Funding is dependent on Olympic success and no other!

Is that the right way of doing things? Probably not. If GB is unlikely to win medals in your sport no matter what (e.g. basketball), then don’t expect any cash coming your way soon. And while it’s great that we support our athletes and allow them to train rather than hold down multiple jobs while they compete in a world that is mostly unprofessional, that doesn’t necessarily help at grass roots levels. Those pitches and swimming pools still need to be there and accessible.

The scariest single statistic I’ve read in the last few week is that 52% of children leave school unable to swim 25m unaided. That’s simply shocking.

And what about China? Well they under-performed badly, and no doubt there’ll be inquests into why. Possibilities include a natural down-shift following a home Olympics. Everyone raises their game to perform well at home, later metaphorically breathing out when the games are over. GB seems to be bucking that trend, but Tokyo 2020 will be interesting.

There’s also the changes happening in Chinese society. Olympians are bigger stars now – and that brings with it distractions when you perhaps have some money when once you didn’t.

Finally, the cat and mouse game of drugs cheats and drug detection continues. Who knows if that is a reason.

The fact that a peak audience of around 7m people watched the British women’s hockey team defeat the Netherlands on Friday night, or that 2m stayed up until nearly 2am on Sunday morning to watch Mo Farah win the 5000m, shows that the Olympics do bring us together as a nation like no other sports event.

Newspapers are full of Olympic pull-outs and “Gold Medal special editions.” Welcome home parades are being planned for Manchester and London. The BBC Sport website saw record views with 68.3m unique browsers in the UK alone, compared with 39m in 2012.

Something to do with a post-Brexit proudness? I doubt it. If anything, the Olympics gives Britons a two-week holiday from unending political turmoil.

Are we getting value for money for our Olympic success? I’d answer yes. It’s not the be all and end all of what we need to do for sport on a wider level. The broader Olympic “legacy” of 2012 does not seem to have emerged in terms of participation. But I know I’m a lot happier seeing lottery money being spent on gold medals than public money on things like useless “garden” bridges across the Thames.

Finally, is the coverage celebratory or jingoistic? BBC coverage of the Olympics was clearly skewed towards events that the GB team does well in. How else to explain primetime Taekwondo? If you’re a fan of handball or archery, you had to look to the digital channels.

But we’re probably no different to any other nation in that regard. From speaking to friends across the Atlantic, it would seem that from an NBC perspective, there were no other nations aside from the US competing in any event! Then again, with so many US medalists, which you’d expect US TV to cover, that wouldn’t leave a lot of time for anything else.

At least we don’t get the X-Factor style sob-stories attached to every single athlete. How they overcome adversity to get to these games. Etc etc etc.

If I had a criticism, it would be a few too many montages that ran way too long, and were aired way too many times. And when commentators cross the line and become fans, that becomes awkward. That’s especially the case where they’re essentially hoping the non-British competitors make a mistake and get that dive wrong, or fail to clear that fence.

It’s always a problem when many of the commentators are either ex-competitors, and quite often friends of the athletes.

And there’s often too much expectation shown. Despite their quality, we can never be certain in events like Track Cycling or the 10,000m that our guy or gal is going to deliver the goods. Yet they sometimes were presented as nailed on certainties, and that’s simply not the case.

One other thing from a UK perspective.

Can’t we just shift Eastenders to BBC2 for a couple of weeks? It would stop a lot of needless channel changing. Stick the Ten O’Clock news there too. Then there wouldn’t be complaints about the news being delayed (complaints from people who for some reason had access to BBC 1 but curiously not the BBC News Channel, which was happily broadcasting the news at 10pm each night).

Sadly, I’m not sure that this will be an issue in four years’ time since the timings of the games will mean nothing live in peak, and it’s unclear how much digital coverage the BBC will be able to provide under their deal with Discovery/Eurosport.

Discovery Buys The Olympics In Europe

Well here’s something a little unexpected. Discovery has swooped in and bought exclusive Olympic rights across Europe for €1.3 billion for the years 2018-2024.

In the UK, the BBC already had a deal in place that stretched out until the 2020 summer games in Tokyo, as does France TV. But the BBC would not have automatic coverage of the 2022 winter games or the 2024 summer games.

Discovery bought Eurosport last year, and this potentially gives them something big to play with. But there are some interesting questions to be asked about the whole deal.

First of all, the UK, like some other European nations, has “Listed Events” – sporting events that are considered so important that they’re protected. “The Olympic Games” falls into Category A in its entirety, which means it must be made freely available live to UK audiences. As it stands, the only broadcasters that meet that requirement are BBC1, BBC2, ITV, C4 and Channel 5 (not all Freeview muxes cover the whole of the UK. Look out for some annoyed football fans who won’t be able to see BT Sport Showcase on Freeview, for example).

The UK isn’t alone – according to an Ofcom document, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland and Italy all also have listed events that include at least some of the Olympics.

While legislation might have changed by 2022, it should be noted that the most recent attempt to amend it, in 2009, was in the ignored by government.

In any case, Discovery’s CEO David Daslav says that events might be sub-licenced to the BBC (or another broadcaster one imagines).

What’ll be interesting to learn is the detail of the IOC’s agreement.

There are some particular lines in the press release to warrant examination:

“In a world of increasingly “anytime, anywhere” viewing, the Olympic Games are an unparalleled live event that aggregate enormous audiences and capture the world’s attention in a way that continues to become more valuable for marketers, distributors and fans.”

Well it’s good to know fans come first…

“This agreement ensures comprehensive coverage of the Olympic Games across Europe, including the guarantee to provide extensive free-to-air television coverage in all territories.”

That doesn’t say “live.” And it’s not clear how it’ll be delivered.

UK viewers were perhaps spoilt in 2012, when coverage was as complete as possible anywhere on the planet – every minute of every event streamed live, and on platforms like Sky Digital and Freesat, all in HD, free of charge. Beyond that, it was all on iPlayer too. Will that be bettered? The bar is pretty high already.

“Consistent with IOC and local market requirements, Discovery has committed to broadcasting a minimum of 200 hours of the Olympic Games and 100 hours of the Olympic Winter Games on free-to-air television during the Games period. Discovery will sub-license a portion of the rights in many markets across Europe.”

To put that in perspective, in the UK, viewers had 2,500 hours of coverage in 2012.

“This new partnership is an exciting win for European sports fans as we will deliver record amounts of content across platforms to ensure the Olympic flame burns bright all year long.”

It’s not really a “win” if it costs European sports fans more than it currently does.

Then there’s the Olympic Charter. Section 48.1 says:

The IOC takes all necessary steps in order to ensure the fullest coverage by the different media and the widest possible audience in the world for the Olympic Games.

That would seem to infer that delivery of the Olympics via Discovery/Eurosport will need to at least match what is currently being delivered. It’ll be interesting to see how that works in the UK. Judging by the line above, it seems that 200 hours of coverage of the summer games is deemed enough.

A big part of this deal is that Discovery will activity promote the IOC’s planned Olympic TV channel – hence the line about “all year long.”

Although quite what this will show between games is still unclear. Rights to events of any value tend to be bought by other pay-TV sports channels or free-to-air broadcasters. And repeats of a dressage event from two years ago are of relatively little interest (Not that this stops Skys Sports F1 filling hours of its schedule with repeats. The F1 season is at least annual, and runs for much of the year).

One final thought. If access to the Olympics were to become in some way limited to UK viewers, the question should then be asked, why are National Lottery proceeds being directed to sports men and women who viewers will have limited access to seeing achieving their goals? I think this same question can be asked of any sport that locks out a proportion of the general public by selling their rights to pay TV providers.

Olympics Day 5 – Wiggo

OK. I didn’t get to watch anything live today. It was a busy work day – but more of that later tonight.
However I did manage to catch Bradley Wiggins’ awesome time trial ride. Coming 10 days after his victory in the Tour de France, he’s clearly an outstanding athlete.
Men's Road Race-31
Bradley leading the charge in the men’s road race on Saturday, trying to catch the leaders.
Bradley in Paris just over a week ago has he won the Tour de France.

Olympics Day 4 – Archery

[Again, I’ve not had a chance to update my photos yet, so I’ll drop them in later] Archery is another wildcard event in that I was able to get a couple of £20 tickets, and thought it’d be fun to watch at Lord’s. All the Olympic venues have secure cycle parks, and since I had to go into work in the afternoon I thought I’d give it a go.
It took asking a couple of stewards, but I found the little enclosure over the road from the main entrance and a young lad assured me that he’d be in with the bikes the whole while. Each cyclist gets a wrist band with a matching one for the bike. You have to match numbers up to retrieve the bike. And of course you lock it as well. It worked well – although I felt a little sorry for the guy who had nothing to do all day. It’s reassuring if you’re leaving a pricey Brompton though!
As for the archery competition itself? Well it was good fun. The rules are relatively straightforward, and we soon understood them. Although we were quite high up, and couldn’t honestly say we could see the arrows in flight, the set-up was good with a nice big screen showing close ups of the targets. In some respects, it’s a bit like watching darts in a live venue. Except the arrows in the targets are a little clearer than darts where the TV monitors are essential.
There was some rain, but it mostly held off, and it didn’t cause anyone to go home early. In all, we got a solid four hours of action with sections of the overall draw being whittled down from the last 32 into competitors going into the last 8. In amongst the crowd were lots of South Koreans wildly their athletes. And I loved seeing a chap from Mongolia who had somehow managed to bring in a massive flag on an enormous metal pole. I’ve no idea how he got that through the x-ray machine!
All good fun, but my last Olympic event for a few days.

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.

Olympics Day 2 – Basketball

Olympic Rings with Velodrome behind
Another early start for me, and my first visit to the Olympic Park for a couple of matches in the preliminary men’s basketball rounds.
Since the session started at 9am, I took seriously the “get there two hours early” suggestion, and found myself in St Pancras International at about 7am. By 7.20am I was in the park. While you can’t usually get the high speed trains from St Pancras to Stratford International included on your travelcard or Oyster Card, the travelcard that comes with your games ticket does include this option. The trains are frequent – all terminating in Ebbsfleet or Ashford, and at that time in the morning for me, pretty quiet. I certainly didn’t have to get in any queues – there were barriers set up outside the station in case.
The only real concern I had was the rules surrounding which cameras you could take in. Although the rules state that you can bring kit in under 30cm, which counts out really long lenses, I was well within that limit. In the event the very friendly and efficient service men and women who actually x-rayed my belongings and frisked me down were fine about it as expected. The real concern is ensuring that you don’t licence your photos for professional use or for profit. So no Creative Commons on any you put on Flickr.
The Orbit
It was a lovely early morning and I now had time to kill. Having skipped breakfast I decided to find some, which wasn’t necessarily a straightforward thing to do. For some reason the biggest McDonald’s in the world which is within the park, didn’t see to be open for business at breakfast – not even at 8am. Another branch was supposed to be open at that time but it’s on the wrong side of the park for the early sessions of Hockey and Basketball which most people were going to.
Olympic Stadium
In the end I bought some sandwiches in the “deli”. A little bit of a misnomer since it sold a limited number of sandwiches, drinks and “treats” (aka Cadbury’s sweets). The queue trailed throughout the store, and I was surprised not to be able to useless contactless technology with my Visa card – something that was being widely touted.
Filling a plastic bottle with water from a fountain was easy, and the park is pretty well signposted. There are long walks to get around it though. It really is large.
Basketball Arena
Getting into the temporary basketball arena – it has been sold to Rio after the London events are over – was straightforward. I had a category C ticket which placed me about halfway up the upper tier. The lower tier is pretty small and largely made up of higher cost tickets. Most spectators are in the upper tier. One side of the venue is for media positions. But these being preliminaries, they never got more than half full. Later games shift to the “North Greenwich Arena” (aka the O2), once the gymnastics has finished there. But the 12,000 or so seats mean that most people get a decent view of the court.
First up was Nigeria v Tunisia. At first it looked like Nigeria was going to walk it. But by the end there were only four points in it, and Tunisia made a real fight of it.
The second game on was much more anticipated. No not the USA – they played in the afternoon after I’d had to leave. But Australia v Brazil was very well supported with lots of fans from both countries in the arena. Aussies had arrived early in the morning anyway since there was an Australia/New Zealand hockey match at 8.30am. New Zealand won that fixture.
Both sides had NBA players – with “Patty” Mills being the standout player on court. But he couldn’t do enough to prevent a strong Brazilian team overcoming the Australian side. That certainly dampened the enthusiasm of people sitting near me.
One of the stories of the first few days of these games has been that of empty seats. There are certainly very few seats still on sale. At time of writing there’s a session tomorrow available. But it must be said that there were plenty of empty seats even allowing for people only watching one of the two matches in the session. In my row of ten seats, only three were occupied – my seat came via another country’s NOC, legitimately acquired I should add. And in the most expensive seats, there were up to 50% vacant. I suspect that many of these have gone to media, governing bodies and sponsors. But it’s shame that they’re sitting in envelopes or desk drawers while I know people who’d love the opportunity to see anything in the Olympic Park.
On the plus side, the guy who was the PA announcer inside the arena did an excellent job, keeping the crowd interested all the time. Although Olympic basketball has fewer breaks that NBA, there are enough that he kept everyone entertained. I’m no fan of “Mexican waves” but it was very amusing seeing him orchestrate a slow motion one.
Exiting the arena was quite slow, but it soon become clear why. It was pouring with rain outside. That also meant that anywhere with an inside was filling up. The now open McDonald’s had a massive queue, while a PA announcer apologised for long waits to get into the 2012 Megastore.
I decided that I’d avoid the overpriced food and queues, and leave the Park. I have other opportunities to visit. On my way out I couldn’t help but notice the large number of NBC people wandering around the park. I saw three NBC “guides” taking groups of visitors. Whether they were part of the 2,700 employees the US network has brought over (compared to the BBC’s fewer than 800) I’m not sure.
In summary then, it was a pretty positive experience. Everything seemed to work smoothly and people were unfailingly pleasant throughout.
Yes food and drink isn’t cheap – especially as you can’t bring the latter in yourself. But that’s par for the course at most sporting arenas. And oddly the biggest failing is perhaps that there aren’t actually enough food outlets and concessions. Obviously the park’s capacity will vary on a daily basis, but you get shorter queues at major music festivals.
Sometimes the signs are a little misleading. On exiting, I wasn’t allowed to follow the massive signs to Stratford International because that exit hadn’t actually opened. Perhaps electronic signs that could be amended would have been better. And it was a similar story at the station, where a queuing system was unnecessary, and in any case people were told to follow signs to the DLR rather than the signs pointing to Javelin trains into London. All a little confusing – especially if you don’t speak English to ask someone.
And a side-note about WiFi. BT Openzone has put pretty decent WiFi in place across the Park. It was certainly nice and strong in the venue I visited this morning. I have a contract with Orange, and that comes with access to BT Openzone hotspots.
Except it doesn’t quite. It seems that BT classifies their hotspots in three ways, and this was a business hotspot. So Orange (and Vodafone) customers don’t get access. O2 (and Tesco) customers do. I found another way to get online using a BT Broadband login, but failing that you’ll have to buy time direct. To be fair, it seemed to work exceptionally well, and at one point I was happily streaming video via the BBC Olympics app. Although I should say that yesterday I managed much the same thing using 3G. And the work mobile phone companies seem to have done across the park meant I had far better 3G coverage than I’ve ever had at any other sporting occasion. So congratulations are in order for that. However the presence of WiFi is clearly a strong benefit. Just a shame that some mobile customers who thought they had full access, don’t.
Before leaving Stratford I looked into Westfield, but couldn’t face eating there. I did wander into John Lewis, but they had a queuing system in place just to get into their widely advertised 2012 store. The queue was an hour long and started the floor below. I quickly left.
So my advice would be – get there early, but bring your own food. And if you want to visit the stores or concessions, then go early. The aforementioned Megastore was open early and was pretty empty when I first walked past it.
Anyway, leaving the site meant I got home speedily and was able to watch the last 25km of the women’s road race with Lizzie Armitstead got silver in despite the miserable rain it was fought out in.
More photos to be found here.
Tomorrow – swimming, fencing and The Orbit!

Olympics Day 1 – Men’s Road Race

Men's Road Race-32
Up early today for the first Olympic action with the Men’s Road Race departing from Central London at 10am. I got to Richmond Park an hour ahead of that and roughly twenty minutes’ later, the peleton arrived. They weren’t really racing at that point, and looked like a big colourful cycling club out for a Sunday run in the park.
Men's Road Race-10
A little later, after a refreshing beverage at a nearby hostelry, we returned, via the inevitable deer, to take up different positions to see the return of the racers.
Men's Road Race-16
By this point there was a considerably dangerous group who’d gained a minute of the peleton. Ordinarily that would be a relatively straightforward gap to breach, but essentially the GB riders were being left on their own to do the work. Even the German team who wanted to put Greipl in the bunch sprint weren’t really going for it. As a result, the breakaway group of roughly thirty were sharing the pain more successfully and maintained their gap.
Men's Road Race-27
There was some drama when around 200m from us (and out of sight), Fabian Cancellera crashed on the corner at Richmond Gate.
In the meantime, the GB team gave everything they could. At the point they passed us, Brad was giving it full gas on the front with Chris Froome and David Millar having been dropped having done all they could.
Men's Road Race-33
But it was not to be, and Alexandr Vinoukorov won fairly comfortably against Colombian Sky rider Rigoberto Uran. A little disappointing given his fairly unapologetic background in doping. Unlike David Millar, he has not come back full of remorse.
Nonetheless, it was a fun day in lovely weather in the park. More photos are on Flickr here.
A side note is that I understand that there were problems with the TV coverage. I was mostly reliant on radio and they too had very little timing information. Unlike, say, the Tour de France, where timing information is excellent and ever present, there was a real paucity in this race. From what I’ve read subsequently, it appears that for whatever reason, the GPS equipment wasn’t working, hence the lack of information. Let’s hope that they fix it for the Women’s Road Race on Sunday.
The race coverage is provided by OBS – Olympic Broadcast Services. They in turn subcontract it to various countries. I assume that they give cycling to the French, but I really don’t know.
What’s not the OBS’s fault was the terrible coverage from the BBC reporter on the Ten O’Clock News that I caught when I got back home. They included a bit of an interview with an upset Mark Cavendish was rude to the reporter, asking him if he understood cycling. Unfortunately, from his report, it was clear that he didn’t. I know it’s not easy to explain both the tactics and tell viewers what happened in a sport which they might not be familiar with. But his report was utterly misleading.
And it was also disappointing that he repeated that all too familiar mantra that we “expect” to win medals. Well guess what, it’s called “sport”. And that means that we don’t know in advance what the outcome of any given fixture will be. If we did, then it wouldn’t actually be any fun watching the action. Our athletes are undoubtedly under tremendous pressure. But that’s doesn’t mean that we should report lack of medal success as some kind of dismal failure. While the nation might have thought that it was a given that Cav would win today, unlike a stage race, a single day’s racing introduces many uncertainties. And reporters like everyone else need to understand that.

Olympics – The Torch Relay

Warning: There’s probably going to be a bit of Olympics coverage in this blog over the next couple of weeks!
Torch Relay-4
Well it was only around the corner, and I was coming back from a meeting anyway, so I had to join the massed ranks of office workers, shop workers, and tourists who came out to watch the Olympic flame come past.
People grabbed every vantage point. And of course, nobody was without either a phone or a camera.
Torch Relay-1
Torch Relay-6
View the full set here.