What to do now I have my life back….

So it is farewell, London 2012. You leave behind a bucketful of emotions, memories, and images.

The fears over security, the outrage over ticket allocations and early empty seats, the worry about the weather spoiling the party – all are insignificant now in the wake of The London Games we have all just experienced.

I have loved becoming the world’s leading Armchair Expert in all of the minority sports I’ve been watching. I have learned the scoring systems to Archery, Handball, Beach Volleyball, Diving, Taekwondo, and Amateur Boxing over the past two weeks, all of which I ought to write down somewhere so that I remember them in four years time when I am glued to my tv set into the early hours, watching the competitiors in Rio in 2016.

So what have been the highlights for me?

Well, let me start by saying that – great acheivements that they were – the highlights for me are NOT Mo Farah’s two golds, nor Jessica Ennis winning the Heptathlon, nor any of the other ‘expected’ golds. For me, it was the unexpected successes, and the story behind the competiton that generated the emotional attachment.

Things like judoka Gemma Gibbons, whose reaction to winning her semi-final and a guaranteed medal was a heartfelt and emotional glance heavenwards, accompanied by a mouthed “I love you, mum” to her late mother.

Things like rower Kath Grainger, who followed silver in Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, and Beijing 2008, with a superb and long-deserved gold at the rowing lake at Eton Dorney.

Things like the bronze secured by diver Tom Daley, whose journey to the Olympics this year was full of personal tragedy but ended in joyous success.

The closest finishes were seen in the velodrome, where again we saw personal stories entwined with success. And even though the successes were more easily anticipated, seeing Victoria Pendleton go through the agonies of disqualification in one race, come storming back with gold in the keirin, and just get pipped in the Individual Sprint in her last race, highlighted what the Olympics means to people competing. Even Sir Chris Hoy was reduced to tears on the podium, when collecting his historic sixth Olympic Gold.

One thing I do have to say is that the BBC did a superb job covering the Games – adding the 24 extra channels for the duration of tha Games was brilliant, as it allowed you to watch every session of every sport, and really put the viewer in charge. Well done Auntie, I consider that bit of my license fee well spent.

And so we finish with 65 medals, 29 of them gold. We finish with a feel-good factor in the country that will hopefully take a while to dissipate. We finish our London oddessy and look forward now to Rio 2016.

Above all, we finish with a nation desperately trying to remember what they used to do on a Monday evening. Personally, I watched an 80s DVD. What did you do?

The View From The Armchair Expert

Expert.

The word is bandied around all too freely these days. It used to be that to become an ‘expert’ you needed to work at it. Usually over some considerable period of time. You wouldn’t want, for example, to find out that the ‘expert’ lawyer you have hired tro defend you at your trial was a street sweeper three months ago until he saw an old recording of Rumpole Of The Bailey on UK Gold. Or that the ‘expert’ surgeon hadn’t previously been closer to a scalpel than the Hobbycraft Hour on QVC.

There are some things, however, that you CAN become an expert on, simply by sitting in a comfy chair with a mug of tea and a tv remote control.

I’m talking, of course, about Minority Olympic Sports.

I’ve personally gained ‘expertise’ in several sports over the past week. Beach Volleyball is one. True, there are always reasons for watching Beach Volleyball. One is the incredible architecture that surrounds the temporary stadium built in Horseguards Parade. I couldn’t see it myself, but as soon as a Men’s match started, it was much more obvious. I also know the rules now. Each game is best of three  sets, played to 21, 21 and 15 respectively, with end changes after every seven points (five in the third set) and a mandatory time out halfway through the set. I know what a ‘spike’ is, and all about blocking, covert signalling, and setting. I’m also becoming quite the ‘expert’ on uniform, although not for the reason you’d imediately assume. OK – not only that reason. There’s a culture surrounding Beach Volleyball that lends itself to loud music, raucous crowds, and beachwear. Whatever you may think about the decisions to make female players wear swimwear whilst playing, there is at least one view point from where it makes some logical sense. Wimbledon, it ain’t…

I’ve also been watching Handball, something I only ever do every four years, and yet again I am left wondering why this is. It is a fast paced, quite physical sport, and can probably be best compared to Basketball and Water Polo. But where Water Polo is slow and players hang onto the ball for ages, and where Basketball players seem to get free shots to the net for even the slightedt brush with an opponent, Handball involves barging, grappling, throwing to the ground, penalties taken with the opposing goalkeeper less than fIve feet in front of your face. There’s passion, unbridled aggression, and no little amount of personal grudge-matches going on. And that’s just the women…

Of course, what has been most evident is the moments of Team GB success. It took a little while, but they came in the end, and in some style. Rowing brought us our first gold, swiftly followed by old Wiggo on his bike. and earlier today, we saw gold again in the canoe slalom and the double-trap shooting. All in all, it’s hotting up heading into the evening session.

I wonder where the next gold will come from. To be honest, will we care? Probably not – as every success is being cheered from the rafters, even it seems by those who previously sat on the fence as Olympic nay-sayers.

The football teams have both progressed to the quarter finals unbeaten, the divers still have their chance of success, Andy Murray is in the tennis semifinals where he’s bidding to be the first British Finallist at the All England Club since last month, and on top of all that, we’ve not even started the track cycling or the athletics yet.

I’m looking forward to becoming even more ‘expert’ in the coming days…

London 2012 – The Opening Ceremony

There have been a few days activity in the sporting and corporate extravaganza that is the 30th Olympiad. Here’s my take on what I’ve seen so far, starting with…

The Opening Ceremony

International reception of the Opening Ceremony has been broadly positive, with some criticism from certain quarters.  Overall, Danny Boyle did a great job in my opinion, with some clear highlights and a few bits that I was less than impressed with. Of course, the whole thing started 48 minutes earlier than the published 9PM start time, with a flypast by the Red Arrows at 20:12…

The transformation from the pastoral country scene to the Industrial revolution, complete with towering chimneys and our dark, satanic mills was vislually stunning, although there were a few too many shots of Sir Kenny Branagh’s bewhiskered face when I’d have preferred to see more of  the hardware appearing. Ending it with the forged Olympic rings in mid air, searing the retina with sparks and light, was a great image to end the first segment.

Following this, we had one of the most bizarre and entertaining surprises, with the entrance of HM Queen. The video of Bond himself going to collect her from the palace and fly her to the stadium, where the two “parachuted” into the stadium, was a remarkable piece of organisation, convincing HMQE2 to wear the same dress and hat for the shoot that she did for the opening ceremony, and even giving her some lines, which she (of course) delivered perfectly. Daniel Craig did appear to be stifling a few giggles throughout the sequence.

Then…. something a little strange. A major, choreographed homage to the NHS. I’m not entirely sure why this was selected for inclusion in the show, because despite the wonderful work being done day in, day out by the staff in hospitals, trusts, local surgeries, health centres and homes up and down the country, there’s only so much you can do with kids in bed (and even as I type that, I appreciate that it doesn’t sound right on any level, even simply written down…) That these beds were also iluminated trampolines, and that some of them contained giant marrionettes of some of Britains creepiest literary baddies, only somehow made the segment worse – especially when a hundred Mary Poppins’s descended from the night sky to see them off and then join in some dancing.

Anyway, that aside, we then had the London Symphony Orchestra, playing a rendition of Vangelis’ haunting theme from Chariots Of Fire. Or so we thought. It turned out to be a vehicle for Mr Bean himself to ridicule the pomp and ceremony in a way that Benny Hill would no doubt have done twenty-five years ago, only with more saucy scantily-clad girls. However, I’ll get to the Beach Volleyball in a while….

Rowan Atkinson showed why Mr Bean is so popular around the world, with a visual comedy segment that hit just the right note – whlist he was busy hitting just the one note.

The best section of the ceremony was without doubt the musical journey through the decades. Moving from the Industrial Age to the Digital Age, shown in dance, music and movie clips, worked really well, especially with the narrative flowing through the segments as well. I knew most of the songs used, and loved the mix of video, dance moves, and classic tracks.

Then we got to the bit that we have to suffer through, but that is very hard to enjoy – the Parade of the Nations – all 204 of them. I thought that Danny had hit on a way to jazz the whole thing up, when Fiji entered to the sounds of “Jive Talking” – so we really did have the Fiji Bee Gees for a moment! Sadly this was just a coincidence, as there was no Bob Mali, no “Ghana Get A Witness”, no “Sudan’s Hall Days” and no sound of The Kinks singing “T-O-G-O, Togo!”

This went on for ages, and then it was time to light the thing. The flame appeared by speedboat (the only job they could give David Beckham that kept him out of the way, I guess) and then Steve Redgrave handed the flame to the seven young athletes nominated to light the flame. Kids in tracksuits setting fires and running away – interesting parallels to last summer’s riots there…

And so it was all over bar some arthritic crooning by Paul McCartney, who really showed why he should have hung up his performing suit and retired to his country estate of Hampshire. Not IN Hampshire, it IS Hampshire…

I’ll post again tomorrow with my take on the early sports converage – especially those sports that I really only watch once every four years.