(Ed. Note: Andrew Gordon is the girls’ lacrosse and former field hockey coach at Deering High School. He also serves as a field hockey official. He is a native of England)
For one day, I can truly say I was in what felt like the happiest place on earth. The Olympic Park in Stratford, East London – full of smiles, flags, anticipation of events to come, animated discussion of feats just witnessed, and joy in just being a tiny part of it all.
I count myself very fortunate to have been there at all. My English parents were good enough to apply for tickets in the ballot for my son and I and successful in getting them for us in sessions of soccer, basketball, and volleyball (not the beach version). Once in England, I tried desperately to obtain more tickets, like half the population, but nothing doing – they were like gold dust as soon as the events started.
The week leading up to the Olympics was full of concern about whether the transportation system would collapse under the strain of the extra traffic, why the security guards promised by the private company employed for that purpose had not materialized, if the wettest June and July on record would continue and perhaps most of all, whether British athletes would repeat the successes of Beijing, or revert back to type and be plucky losers in London.
Despite all these fears, after the imaginative and extraordinary opening ceremony, the tube ran flawlessly and people even started to talk to each other on it, the army stepped in happily to deal with security and as soon as my son and I reached the UK, the sun came out and the temperature rose, for which I take full credit.
The first few days saw little British success, but after Helen Glover and Heather Stanning broke our duck in rowing, the golds just wouldn’t stop coming. Those two perhaps typified the diversity of athletes at the Olympics – Stanning was on leave from the army and will most likely be stationed in Afghanistan by Christmas, while Glover is a former physical education teacher who lied about her height at a rowing trial session to become part of the Olympic development program.
It did not escape my attention (especially as my American born son kept informing me) that the Yanks were doing quite well at the same time. Americans cleaned up in the pool, including 15 year old Katie Ledecky (how would you like to swim against her in your high school meet?), and of course, the mighty Mr. Phelps. I can truly say I am a much greater admirer of Mr. Phelps than I was before these Olympics, and not because of all those golds – in fact it was his dignity and grace when shockingly beaten into the silver medal position by Chad le Clos of South Africa that really impressed me. I thought Alyson Felix was the most graceful runner on the track, the gymnasts were breathtaking, the diver David Boudia almost perfect and the women’s soccer team spectacular. Their game with Canada was so much more exciting and entertaining than any of the men’s matches that it even converted my 82-year-old Dad to the women’s game.
My one regret is that I did not get to see the sport I played and coached for many decades, field hockey, in person. Oh, and it’s hockey everywhere but here, the other sport is known as ice hockey. While I’m at it, men do play too and hit the ball at incredible speeds these days, much faster than when I last played 20 years ago. The games were fast, highly skilled and exciting, but Kate Middleton kept getting all the best tickets. Fortunately, the BBC did those with access to it proud, every sport was televised live and without interruption, which just exposed the paucity of the NBC coverage when I returned to the States for the last couple of days.
But back to the day we spent in the Olympic Park, a day neither of us will forget. From the moment we stepped out of Stratford tube station we sensed the Olympic spirit, as some of the 70,000 volunteers guided us towards the park with big smiles on their faces. The volunteers were the big hit of the games – many never saw any live action, some gave up careers just to be involved for the 17 days, but all were universally praised for their enthusiasm and the delight they took in performing their roles.
As we entered the park, we heard the roars from inside the Aquatics Center and saw the spectacular Olympic stadium right in front of us, with the other venues a good hike through the park to our right. There seemed to be people there from just about every nation on earth, judging by the flags, hats and shirts we saw sported by those around us. Many had only been able to obtain tickets for admission to the park and sat on the hill watching one side of a giant screen, but that did not seem to diminish their excitement at just being there.
My son and I watched basketball between teams that probably 90 percent of those there had no allegiance to, Brazil and Canada followed by Turkey and China, but the presentation was great and everybody picked a team to cheer for. It was so hard to drag myself out of the park at the day’s end, I would probably have been the last one to leave if my son hadn’t been tired and hungry, but the power of sport and of the games to unite people and bring joy will be my lasting memory.
Finally, I must praise the land of my birth for putting on such a memorable games. Everything worked, the settings were amazing, the crowds for free events like Triathlon and the marathons were enormous and nobody complained (or they kept it to themselves if they wanted to). Fans cheered for all the athletes, regardless of where they came from and appreciated the sacrifices and determination that had brought them to that stage.
I have always loved the Olympics and in some ways measure my life by four year chunks until the next one and am proud that Britain’s games have been universally acclaimed as one of the best in modern memory.
So…when will they start selling tickets for Rio, and who do I know in Brazil?
Volleyball was one of the most popular events at the Summer Olympics.