London 2012… My experience

Originally written in August 2012, right after the London olympics.

Few of the people who know me know that I moved to London to have the “olympic experience”. Freaky?? Totally. Truth is, I had always dreamed of attending.

From 2011 I had been talking to hotels about the games and not always from a positive outlook. As I deal with hotels in my daily job, the event was being looked at from a purely commercial sense; this changed as the date was drawing closer. And let’s be honest: a lot of Londoners were moaning about aspects around the games (the tube, the amounts of people, the expense) and yet, once the olympics were here and they went fantastically well, it became a British accomplishment. Don’t get me wrong, it was always going to be exactly that, but I would have expected more emotion from the beginning.

The opening ceremony was magical. London bad always wanted to do its own thing and,?frankly, it was absolutely amazing. I know some people started comparing it to Beijing’s and suggesting it just did not reach that level. What can I say? Sod them. The opening of the games should always be a full representation of the culture, the “savoir faire” of the country and its culture. Danny Boyle was able to capture that essence like no one else.

I’m not British and this post is not intended to be a love letter to the country (which by the way treats me very well, thank you very much) but, let’s face it, credit should be given where it’s due. For a “small” country, it’s provided a huge legacy globally. Boyle probably had a harder time making sure that everyone was represented than having to come up with ideas. How great was it that he remembered Shakespeare, Robin Hood, the NHS, the swinging 60s… And it was great that he did because people sometimes forget that London is one of the coolest capitals in the world – and has been through the decades. And just in case you did not share that view, what better way to demonstrate that than having the Queen talk to 007? To be fair, I would not have said no to Daniel Craig either… And if you are not into him, there was always Mr Bean, who of course never needs translation.

From the moment the Games started, the atmosphere in London was simply electric. Each and every Londoner was delighted and proud to be part of the event – they simply took over our daily life: in the office we celebrated our countries’ medals, we took turns to see the main finals and even the tube had special notices. I was in heaven. I was able to follow the Spanish results in swimming, windsurf, triathlon, basketball… What a privilege.

Every night, after work, David and I would seat down and see a repeat of the best of the day. BBC’s coverage was absolutely superb: they even opened new channels so that all sports would get coverage AND made all content available online. Frankly, it was virtually impossible to miss an event.

In my humble opinion, one of the best competitions started on the second day. Those that know me are aware of my passion for gymnastics and I would have loved to be able to see the artistic competition live. Sadly, it was not to be, but I did follow all of it on the television.

The WAG (Women’s Artistic Gymnastics) competition seemed very much over before it started. It was clear that, unless there was a huge upset, the USA team was going to take the gold. The quality of the team and their use of the code of points very much had them as the ones to beat. Kyla Ross, Gabby Douglas (national champ), Jordyn Wieber (world champ in the all around), McKayla Maroney (world champ on vault) and Aly Raisman. Most of them had also been in the team that had taken the gold in the team event in 2011’s world championship. They did not disappoint.

Where it was going to be tougher for them was during qualifications. This part of the competition decides which individual gymnasts go through the all around individual final and, seeing as only 2 gymnasts can go through per country, drama was served. Everyone expected to see the world champ (Wieber) and the national champ (Douglas) go through. I personally preferred for Raisman to go through (I love her work hard attitude). Everyone who knew about gymnastics laughed at my prediction.

Truth is 3 gymnasts in the USA team would’ve qualified if that rule was not there. Gabby did a very good competition, Wieber played it “safe” and… Well, Aly did the competition of her life. It was on the Aly’s last event that Wieber realised her dream had gone. There’s an amazing picture of a an exhilarated and ready Raisman beside a crumbling, devastated Wieber… The team final suddenly got a little bit more “interesting” for other teams – the USA team now had a huge challenge: to keep Wieber motivated.

And when the day came, was the team ready! Each performance was done to the best of their capacity – Maroney even did the perfect Amanar vault ever seen. They really earned the gold as early as after the first rotation: their scores were just so high the other teams played catch up for the rest of the competition. Russia took the silver with a beautiful Komova (who made mistakes, as she sadly always does), the rock that’s Mustafina and a generally flawless Afanasyeva, who showed her maturity, trying to lift the team’s spirit all the time, despite her own mistake. The British girls did really well: they went through to the final and got a diploma.

With a gold in their pockets, Douglas and Raisman competed a couple of days later, this time, for the all around. Douglas hit every routine and took her second gold medal. Raisman was third ex-aequo, which meant that they would have to apply the tie break rule , so the medal went to Mustafina. Komova was once again second and left in tears. Frankly, I love her as a gymnast but she’s not a fantastic competitor. It’s like she’s never ready mentally for the task that’s ahead of her.

Raisman ended up making up on the finals: won the floor final and a bronze medal on the beam (this time the tie break rule hurt Ponor, of Romania). Maroney was quite unlucky, though. Despite having done one of the best vaults of all time on qualifications, she was not so lucky on the finals – she did an amazing first vault and sat the second one. Despite that, she still got the silver.

The women’s competition was fantastic… And the men’s?  No, that one did not disappoint either. The original predictions have the gold to the Japanese team, silver to the Chinese and the bronze one seemed to be up in this air. Ukraine and team GB were coming up in the ranks and, in my opinion, the latter had greater chances… But anything can happen in a competition.

Let’s start with the qualification event. The Chinese team barely made it through to the final after a truly terrible performance. If it was so horrible, how did they go through, I hear you ask. Well, the current code gives a starting value to a routine based on the amount of difficulty it has. If the gymnast does not do one of the elements well (bends knees, stumbles, etc) but it’s obvious that the element was there, completed, then it’s counted as a difficulty. What comes off the mark is the execution piece, which is a smaller ratio. The Chinese had incredibly high starting value, one of the highest, so for them not to make the final would have meant not completing a lot of the difficulties.Japan had a great competition and went through to the final as the clear favourites. The Brits also qualified for the final comfortably.

The day of the final, the Chinese performed on the same level the US girls had on their own: they were flawless. This really affected Japan mentally, who had a couple of wobbles and had to really depend on the incredibly elegant Uchimura. The Brits almost touched perfection (within their level of difficulty) and they made history. Going onto the last rotation, they looked set to make the podium. Japan went into the pommel horse and they had a major meltdown. They were suddenly 4th. That meant team GB was silver. I don’t think they could believe themselves. While the Brits were celebrating, the Japanese raise an enquiry, questioning Uchimura’s score. It was approved and Japan was given a much deserved silver, which was probably not really appreciated to the full as the audience was booing the decision. I personally thin that it was most definitely fair and the judges that chose not to reward the difficulty originally should be penalised. The GB gymnasts were amazing: they supported the Japanese so that they would celebrate the silver and hugged the Ukrainian team, who had been bronze for a whole 10 minutes.

The US men’s team was just not at the same level and did not have a great competition. It was a bit of a disaster on a team level and, on an individual level they could have potentially had 2 people in the top 4. Sadly, they had a bit of a meltdown half way through the competition. One of them, Leyva, did manage to achieve the bronze medal in one of the best comebacks I have ever seen. The one gymnast who did not make a single mistake was the great Uchimura. He’s won everything since 2009, year in which Mr. Yang Wei retired. Uchimura reminds gymnastics fans of the elegant 1980s and 1990s period, which was very pleasing to the eye. Thereafter, they chose to recreate the code and reward difficulty in the performance instead of artistry.

Arguably, Uchimura is the best example of the perfect blend between the both and has already claimed his spot in history. Yes, he went into the final with the gold almost in his hands, but only a gymnast of the caliber of Uchimura can do that. I was ecstatic to see him win and take the medal home. Last thing I will say about this amazing guy and his team is that, unlike other Asian gymnasts, the Japanese squad actually have normal jobs. Can you imagine if their job was only to train?

The Spanish mens teams also need special mention. The latter decided to leave one of its stars, Rafa Martínez, home (I am still unsure as to why) and brought a great team nonetheless to London. They managed to qualify to the team final and 2 of its gymnasts entered the all around individual final. One of them (Fabián) managed to clench an Olympic diploma if I remember correctly. He also got into a couple of finals with Botella. I wish the women’s Spanish team took a leaf of their book: they only brought one gymnast (they did not qualify the team the previous year) and her performance did not warrant a spot in the final. I feel like the Federation needs to think long and hard about a change in the technical team.

After artistic gymnastics, it was the turn for swimming and athletics. Yes, even if Phelps was defeated twice (by De Clos and Lochte), no one can take away the medals that he won in London and that added to his already existing haul. After 3 Games, he managed to become the most successful Olympic athlete of all time. The BBC had Ian Thorpe as commentator and he was clearly moved by the feat. Emotions were running high: 4 days before he won that last gold medal, there were opinions suggesting that his career was over, simply because he had won a bronze… Fast forward 96 hours and he was back in the lap of the Gods. Who doesn’t like a bit of drama?

And since we are talking about drama, let’s mention Mr Bolt and the situation he was in pre London. The best sprinter of all time had been beaten not just once, but twice!, by a fellow compatriot. A lot of people were secretly hoping to see him fall from grace in these games, wishing to see him away from the gold. But what’s the true difference between a competitor and a champion? The capacity to continuously peak at the right time, charisma and, yes, hard work. At Olympic level there’s simply nothing else. And what did Usain Bolt do? A proper veni, vidi, vinci: he took the gold for the 100, 200 and 4×100 metres… What a hero!

Continuing on the topic of athletics, let’s not forget what happened on the first Saturday of the games. In just 2 hours, team GB won the female heptathlon with Jessica Ennis, the long jump with Greg Rutherford and the 10,000 with Mo Farrah. Ennis was relieved, Farrah was on cloud 9 and Rutherford… I actually think that he still does not believe he won. But that’s how the games work right? It’s just another competition and the best person or luckiest on the day will take the throne. Luck has to be on your side too and Paula Radcliffe is a tremendous example of bad luck on all her Olympic experiences. This time, she had to retire from the games a couple of days out with a broken foot. I fear that this will be the end of her career; how terrible is it that one of the best female marathon runners of all time has never earned a medal?

One of the British stars that was expected to perform well and did was the diver Tom Daley. Despite his young age he’s been everywhere in the media since Beijing, where he was one of the youngest of team GB’s delegation at the age of 14. He had already won a couple of medals at world level and there were clear expectations for him and his partner. Beijing was not to be a successful competition for them and, in fact, the partnership ended badly. After Beijing, Daley became world champion, commonwealth champion and, whilst his 2010 and 2011 were not amazing, he was still in the world top 5: anything could happen.

His dad had been to all the competitions and was easy to spot in the crowd: wherever Tom Daley competed, you could see a young man with a massive British flag. Between 2009 and 2010, you could see an older and bald version of Mr Daley, who was by then suffering from a brain tumour. Luck was not on his side and he died at home surrounded by his family in 2011.

Tom’s will kept him going: he took only 3 days off (he was forced by his coaches) and then restarted training to ensure he could reach the games in peak form. In the duo competition they were not lucky (one of the jumps was very sub par) but on the individual one Tom was flawless and, while he did not have the same of difficulty as the Chinese, he performed to the best capacity … And let’s not forget he did his leaving cert/ O levels before the games. Well deserved and let’s hope he continues on a high and can make Rio.

I can literally see my mam scratching her head and asking herself: “is this girl not going to talk about rhythmic gymnastics?”. Yes! Right now!Those of you that know me personally know that I had tickets for 2 days: the individual final and one of the qualification days. Luck was on my side (well, I also worked for it!!) and I managed to get in 3 of the 4 days.

I was a gymnast when I was a kid… Well, I actually think that once you’ve been one, you will always be one. Forever. There literally isn’t a day when I don’t think of something gymnastics related or when I don’t remember any of the many values that the sport gave me. Even if I can’t really share those with my work colleagues (they think I’m obsessed), I always have the support of my “petardos”, my gymnastics friends, whom I am in touch with daily. We’ve lived many adventures together, including getting stuck in Bremen in 2010 during the ash cloud.

A German fan created, back in 1997, a page that included a forum where I met the majority of the petardos. He created the page in advance of the WC in Berlin, which were won by the sublime Vitrichenko… I was a fan then and I am a fan still today, years after her retirement. In that world champs was also the stunning Natalia Lipovskaya and another of my favourites, Yana Batyrchina. Even if she “only” came third, I still remember her hoop and ribbon routines, which were magic.

Anyway, coming back to 2012, I guess you can imagine how excite I was for the competition to start. When the day finally came, I met with Jon, one of my friends from our “rhythmic clan”. He is one of my best friends and he’s incredibly knowledgeable about the sport (and as mad as a brush… Just like I am). Sadly we were not searing together – we still encountered very funny moments nonetheless.

I got the first row. When I sat down, I saw a couple of people who sort of reminded me of someone. They asked me if they could put the US flag on the rails and of course I let them. I also made sure that my own flag was not covered by theirs. I struck conversation with them and realised that I was, in fact, talking to Julie Zetlin’s family. Julie Zetlin the US gymnast, of course. I had a great time with them: I shared gossip I had heard from the Russian side of things, whilst they shared from other federations (not US). Sadly, I did not get to see Julie after the competition but I did tweet her so that she would thank her family for such a great time.

And Jon? Where was he? Well, he was sitting with Cameron, a lovely Australian fan. They were lucky enough to have the entire 2008 Ukrainian team beside them. Yes, the entire team, including Bessonova. And for those of you that don’t know any of those gymnasts, that’s ok: Google can be your friend on that one.

I could not go the second day of competition (I had no tickets) but I did the rest. The individual final was the third day and both Jon and I had tickets. We were supposed to be sitting together, but I had got Curri a ticket in the box office and was waiting for her. If you ever get to really know me, then I’ll share how I got that ticket. She made it just 2 minutes before the competition started. I ran to my seat and, to my surprise, Jon was not there. I texted him only to get a text telling me to look at the judges: he had a seat right behind them!! In first row! The amazing Jon also spoke to some volunteers to let them know that my “sister” Alina Maksymenko was competing that day and wouldn’t it be nice to be able to see her from the first row.

I got up and ran without hesitation to the seat beside Jon and I saw the entire competition from there… Incredible and, may I say, a dream come true. I spent the entire competition cheering for the Ukrainians and I would stand up with the flag that a friend (Angy) had every time my “sister” came up. We had such a laugh and, luckily, we took no one’s seat!

The competition was amazing. Kanaeva performed as she always did – amazingly well. The gymnasts that really caught my eye or impressed me where Maksymenko (my sister), Rizadtzinova (I guess my cousin?) and Charkashyna, who finally after many years took the AA bronze…Did we celebrate that one!!

The next day was the groups final. I did not have a ticket but I went just in case… And I got one! The parents of one of the gymnasts in the Spanish team ( who I knew), had extra tickets and they sold me one. It may not have been cheap but, frankly, it was so worth it. To see the Spanish team performing to the level that they did was really great. After 10 years of sub par Olympic performance (and I am saying sub par because there was potential for more), “we” finished just shy of the podium on 4th place. I may have been seating on my own with a British family on the day, but I had an amazing time. I am also sure that they ended learning a bit about the sport thanks to the comments and observations I shared with them.

That was the last day of rhythmic gymnastics and also the last day of the games… As well as the end of this post. What a 2 week party, London became the capital of the world during that fortnight and celebrated in style with the Closing ceremony too, where they did not forget about my favourite singer of all time: Freddie Mercury. In less than half a minute, he managed to be the only artist present in 2 Olympic Games (in death) and he contributed to the audience’s (and Twitter’s) euphoria… What a legend.

And, well, soon enough we will have another 11 days of party with the Paralympic Games. My congratulations to the Olympic teams and best of luck to those athletes competing in the next few days!

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