If you have no interest in sport, the Olympics or British success, look away now…

Anyone still there?  Okay, you’re now going to get the full and unadulterated Olympic experience, courtesy of the crew at Dorney Lake.

When the tickets were first made available through the lottery I have to admit that I wasn’t that fussed about going, since I could theoretically have actually been involved in the event behind the scenes (in a past life I was a major regatta organiser and national rowing umpire) but I knew when I retired from that 2 years ago that I had given up my chance of involvement in the Olympics.  Right enough, I never actually got to watch a race in my entire organisational career unless I was umpiring it, so perhaps that wasn’t a bad move lol  Anyway, dad applied for tickets and didn’t get any, (he was ignoring my apathy ;o) ) but he persevered and when they went on sale he got tickets to Friday’s finals.

Now I have to say that the organisation of this event was SUPERB, and an extremely slick process.  We were scheduled to park between 7:00 and 7:30 am at Braywick Park in Maidenhead.  We arrived at 7:05, walked round to the bus park on nice plastic paving stuff to stop us having to squelch through the grass, and by 7:20 we were pulling out of the park and on our way, having walked straight onto a bus.  It became obvious that the 2 couples in front of us on the bus don’t use public transport often, as I overheard the following conversation as we arrived at the event:

Women #1: ‘Look at all those buses, they’re all new you know’  (they weren’t, some of them had Reading Buses livery and a couple of other random ones, but there were a good few new ones)
Woman #2: ‘I wonder what they’ll do with them all afterwards’
Man #2: ‘Maybe they’ll send them all to China or somewhere in the third world’ (or maybe they’ll just distribute them amongst their First bus fleets around the country)
Woman #1: ‘And it must have been someone’s job just to work out all these bus schedules too’ (seriously, ya think?!)

Aaaanyway, it was then a good 1km walk round to the course – the bus park seemed to be in the carpark for Windsor Race Course, and the plastic pavement walked us round past the race track to security.  Well done to the British army and the army of volunteers that processed everyone through that about 20 times faster than the airport security guys (maybe they could give lessons…)  Once through that we had the entertainment guys out singing, cheering, greeting and chatting to us (well done all for pasting on such happy faces that early in the morning!)  Having grabbed a drink and a programme, we headed round to our seats in Grandstand 1.  If you watched any of the rowing on the TV, that was the stand nearest the finish line, we were about 100m from the finish, right opposite the medal pontoons and the family/coach stands.  Here’s the view from our seats:

Looking down at the finish line
The finish tower
Looking up the course at some crews out practising
Looking to the boathouses
Looking right across to the medal pontoons and family/coach grandstand
Looking up from the front of our grandstand – we were near the top

We got to see some soon to be celebs out for a practice row:

GB Men’s double scull, eventual silver medallists
GB Women’s lightweight double scull, eventual gold medallists
GB Men’s single scull, eventual bronze medallist
GB Men’s coxless four, eventual gold medallists

And then the racing started.  Now what you don’t see on the TV is that everyone that has entered gets a final.  In the case of the men’s single scull, there were actually 6 finals!  The ‘non A’ finals are run first, and this guy is officially the slowest Olympic sculler ever – bless him!  He’s only been sculling for a few months, but they are trying to encourage participation from more countries, hence the ‘F’ final consisted of competitors from Tunisia, Cameroon and Niger:

The slowest sculler, from Niger, who got a huge cheer from the crowd!

We got a bit of a break before the real finals, as there was some cross wind and they redrew for the lanes, but we had everything from Mexican waves to grandstand cheering competitions to keep us occupied, not to mention trying to get our tweets up on the big screen!  Finally, it was time for the big boys and girls to come out to play:

GB Men’s quadruple sculls, where alas we missed out on a medal
The winning German men standing up, with the Croatians who came 2nd
The GB Men’s pair at the start of the race
And rowing past to a bronze medal
GB’s Anna Watkins and Kath Grainger sculling past with a commanding lead about to win gold

The GB girls celebrating, while the Aussies on the far side are devastated, and the Poles, nearest, are a bit stunned at getting 3rd!
The TV camera close up on the big screen of the girls’ celebrations
Men’s pair medal ceremony
GB Men’s single scull on the start – his cousin was sitting right in front of us, so no pics of the race without flags in!
Women’s double sculls medal ceremony
Alan Campbell gets his bronze in the Men’s single sculls medal ceremony
Wonder what Alan was pointing out to his training partner, gold medallist Mahe Drysdale
The girls come past to thank everyone – they rowed slowly down the entire course to do this
Alan Campbell comes past to thank everyone too

All I can say is that the noise from the supporters was deafening each time GB came past, and I shouted myself breathless during the races!  By the end of the entire regatta, we’d had our most successful Olympics ever, going from never having won a gold in the women’s races, to winning 3!  GB had a total of 4 gold, 2 silver and 3 bronze, and made the finals in every event they entered.  I’d say it inspired me to get in a boat again, but I think I prefer the breathlessness of cheering these days ;o)

Look at some of the supporters we found too:

This family was across the aisle from us
And some dodgy bloke found some bears to show off…

Speaking of bears, Jack has his own opinion of the day here

We did see some funny outfits on the day, from the sequinned Union Jack dress above to loads of rowing kit (guilty as charged) to cream linen suits and white linen skirts (seriously, this is a UK outdoor event, you thought linen was the thing to wear?  Where do you usually watch rowing, in the hospitality tents at Henley?!)

On our way out, we stopped for a few photo ops, and were sung on our way by one of the funniest volunteers, altogether now:

‘If you’re happy and you know it please don’t go
If you’re happy and you know it don’t leave me…’

The exit was as fast as the entrance was, and by 2pm we were back at the car and on our way home.

Well done to all the volunteers who gave up their days jobs to make the event such a huge success, and gave us all a spectacular day to remember.