Norcross: Track & Field in London

Aries Merritt, 110m hurdles gold medalist, wins his qualifying heat.
Aries Merritt, 110m hurdles gold medalist, wins his qualifying heat.

I'm watching Olympics coverage in my Pawcatuck living room this morning, and seeing the Olympic Park and other venues on television is somewhat surreal. On Tuesday morning, only a few days ago, I was in the Olympic Stadium watching Usain Bolt run by me, and now I'm home, trying to get over jet lag and actually catching up on results in the many sports I didn't experience while I was in London.

My last morning in London was a hectic one, as I needed to check out of Pembridge Hall, take my luggage to Paddington Station where I'd pick it up on my way to Heathrow, and get to the Olympic Park to meet my friends Anna and Mark Hughes and their children, Gemma and Ollie. We'd all experience this last event together before I headed home. Traveling to the Olympic Park during morning rush hour wasn't the most fun I had in my week there, but I was in my seat ten minutes before the 10 a.m. session began.

The highlight of the morning was seeing the men's 200 meter qualifying heats, which included Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world, and his teammate Yohan Blake. As impressive as he was when I watched him win the 100 meters on television, seeing Bolt in person was amazing. He literally appeared to jog across the finish line, easily winning his heat, and I can't wait until tonight to see if he wins the final. Other men's events that morning included the 110 meter hurdles and triple jump qualifying, and on the women's side, javelin and 5000 meter qualifying. The women's 5000m was really interesting to watch, as in one of the heats, a woman from Japan led for virtually the entire race, but in the last lap, very impressive runners from Africa turned it on and took the first three spots, less than a second separating all of them, the first two spots to Ethiopia and the third to Kenya. The Japanese runner fell to eighth and did not qualify for the finals; this race demonstrated how important pacing and strategy are in a long-distance race, and it was fascinating to watch.

For the most part, this last morning in the Olympic Stadium was about soaking up the atmosphere, which was incredible every day at every venue where I attended events. At the end of the session, after taking the last of our photographs, we ventured out into the park for the last time. The kids wanted to have lunch at McDonald's – Olympic Park happens to have the world's largest McDonald's, seating capacity 1,500 in what is a temporary building. After lunch we wandered over to some gardens with features designed with children in mind; it included an archway to which thousands of good luck messages from schoolchildren had been attached.

As we headed toward the exit, where I'd take public transportation back to Paddington Station and then to Heathrow, we couldn't believe that our Olympic experience was over. As long as I've been planning this trip, I've said that it would be a "once in a lifetime" experience. Now, I can't imagine it being my only time at the Olympics. The positive energy, the sportsmanship, the excellence, the goodwill displayed at Olympic venues, and around London was amazing: my entire time there, I knew that I was experiencing something special, something that transcended sports. I definitely hope that I'll attend a future Olympic Games!

I have to say a huge thank you to every volunteer and staff person that I came across at Olympic events, who did their best to be welcoming, friendly, and helpful all week. I don't think I ever saw any of them without a smile. They also displayed efficiency and professionalism every step of the way, and I lost count of how many times I saw one of them taking a photograph for someone. I don't have other Games to compare it to, but I cannot imagine that other cities have been more ready, more organized, or more spirited. Just before I left, my friend Mark said, "Go home and tell everyone that you were at the greatest Olympic Games ever." Done!

Usain Bolt before his 200m qualifying heat.
Usain Bolt before his 200m qualifying heat.


Jennifer Norcross is an English and history teacher at Stonington High School. She tries to take advantage of her summers off for interesting travel and will be visiting friends and attending several events at the Games.

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