Departing from JFK on Tuesday for an all-nighter across the 'Pond' for the UK, I became aware immediately that the Olympic Spirit was traveling with me. I found I was between two young American ladies who have volunteered at the upcoming London Olympic Games, starting on Friday: Joanne, a resident of Princeton, NJ, a keen rower was to assist with the starts at the rowing center at Eton Dorney and Elaine from Brooklyn, NY was supporting, in an administrative position, a NY PR firm.
Having cleared immigration at Heathrow Airport, I was again aware of Americans traveling here, when, while waiting at the bus station for onward transportation, I heard a voice, with a mid-western accent, requesting the directions for Harpenden, a small town that is situated in Hertfordshire approximately 20 miles northwest of London. As they would be on the same bus as me, I found myself the "official guide." There were 11 in the group, all proudly wearing purple T-shirts with the logo "London 2012" on the front, comprising nine ladies, one man, a baby and an immense amount of luggage! They had been traveling for close on 24 hours from Ohio, all members of the Southern Baptist Church, visiting to support the Ethiopian Red Cross. With the help of a very patient bus driver, we all managed to store the luggage and with the baby make the two hour journey to their destination.
My first impression was of great excitement throughout the country, with the Opening Ceremony only days away and the Torch Relay nearing its finish as it was conveyed, by selected runners, the last miles through London. The City seemed to be extra busy on my first evening back, as I traveled on the 'London tube' or the American 'subway', to attend a pre-Olympic reception, hosted by the Lord Mayor of the City of London, for past British Olympians: a most enjoyable event meeting many old friends.
The Opening Ceremony, seen by millions of viewers throughout the world, seems by all to be critically acclaimed, especially, for its humor with a free falling monarch and Mr. Bean adding his contribution to the theme tune at all medal ceremonies, Van Gillis' 'Chariots of Fire'.
A beautiful morning accompanies my first visit to the Olympic Park: an area covering 2.5 square kilometers – roughly the size of 350 football fields. This has been divided into four different zones with the Olympic Stadium, Aquatics Center, Water Polo Arena, Basketball Arena, Cycling Arena, BMX Track and Hockey Arena located in them and prominently visible from any location. Each of these zones has its own unique atmosphere – from how they look, down to the type of food and drink available to buy there. Waterways and the River Lea wind through the scenic gardens to give a very pleasant feel to the park, with foot bridges available throughout to make all easily accessible. There is no parking for cars; all visitors arrive by public transport!
My first session is for the second day's swimming in the Aquatic Centre where I watch newly crowned gold medalist, Ryan Lochte, win his heat. In the afternoon I watch a high scoring water polo match with Serbia beating reigning Olympic Champions, Hungary by 14 – 10.
Day 3 finds me with an early start to reach the rowing venue at Eton Dorney, near Slough. We are still in the race off or heat/repechages phase of this event. However, the atmosphere and crowd is still loud and supportive for all rowing teams competing.
I'm been very impressed generally with the excellent organization everywhere: with a large volunteer force, police and army personnel to facilitate the smooth transition of large numbers of attendees to and from venues. I'm finding it easy to move about the city using public transport.
Later this day, I'm back at the Aquatic Centre for the evening session and finals of swimming with the USA having a very successful night winning two gold medals and two silvers: Missy Franklin wins the 100m backstroke and Matt Grevers and Nick Thomas receive their medals to the accompaniment of Bruce Springstin's 'Born in the USA'.
The final highlight of a great evening's swimming was the victory by 15 year old, Ruta Meilutyte, winning the 100m breaststroke to be the first ever Olympic gold in the swimming pool for Lithuania; the last time a winner at this age was 1972, Munich.