Thursday, August 26, 2004

Olympics Report: Days 8 & 9

These were the events which for us may have been non-starters. We'd booked the tickets before we set off and had them delivered to Hig in Darlo. To get them this far we needed letters of authorisation, photocopies of our passports and poor Hig to stay in waiting for the postie and playing on his PC. From there they had to meet us in Greece and that was where another mate came to the rescue. Gibbo, who I met on the Spanish golf tour in 2003, is an Athens resident so we got his address and Hig popped them in the post and we crossed our fingers. The tickets arrived on Friday and I met Gibbo outside the Olympic stadium in between events for the handover.

Thanks go out to Hig and Gibbo for the parts thet played in the tickets' Athens-Darlington-Athens journey!

Our big tickets were for the a swimming finals night which was high on quality and understandably less so in quantity. The first event was the women's 50m freestyle which was won by Inge de Bruijn. Having seen her compatriot get gold earlier in the women's TT we thought the Dutch must be scooping the top medals by the bucketload. A glance at the table showed us that we'd stood through their national anthem on 2/3 of the occasions it's been played at these games.

The event we were looking forward to most, the men's 1500m freestyle final, did not disappoint. Grant Hackett was the big medal hope and duly led from the start but he was chased gamely by the American Larsen Jensen (or is that Jensen Larsen?) and Brit David Davies. Hackett's two pusuers closed the gap, Davies to a length or so and Jensen actually managing to draw level with 2 lengths to go. The crowd loved it, the Aussie swimming coaches less so. Slowly over the last 100m Hackett showed his class and eased away to clinch the gold with Davies clearly overjoyed to get on the podium. (Apparently, Hackett celebrated long and hard later that evening to such an extent that he was unable to make his destination clear to the Greek-speaking cabbie. With great resourcefulness he called the only person he knew who spoke Greek, an Aussie actor from Melbourne, who explained what was happening and saved the gold medalist from a night on a park bench.)

The remaining swimming highlight was the women's 4x100 medley relay which was unexpectedly and excitingly won by Australia. Britain were disqualified, perhaps for walking instead of swimming. The US won some relay or other too...

Day 9 saw us get up early after a night's carousing to watch Japan marmalise Greece in the men's baseball. A rowdy home support were subdued by the Japanese scoring but came to life as three tiny Japanese girls screamed their team on. Every "Hellas, Hellas" cheer was matched with a "Nippon, Nippon", slightly higher in pitch and lower in volume. After a fair bit of this interplay the Japanese girls sportingly started a cheer for the home team. Not wishing to be outdone the crowd responded in kind which led to the bizarre situation of the three girls cheering on Greece and the rest of the crowd shouting for Japan!

The heat of the day sapped us but we had to stagger to the bus and Metro to get to the Olympic velodrome to watch some track cycling. It's our first experience of this and we thoroughly enjoyed it. We saw women's and men's sprint which generally involves 2 slow (almost walking pace) tactical laps and one lap of hammer down sprinting. Great fun to watch. After that we saw the women's pursuit bronze race followed by the final. The Katy Mactier (OZ) vs Sarah Ulmer (NZ) gold medal race was a corker with the Kiwi girl breaking the world record to win.

The evening concluded with men's team pursuit. This is 16 laps where two teams of 4 riders each start on opposite sides of the track. The GB team were the first to impress by actually catching and overtaking their French opposition. The Oz team were next up and not only did the same thing to their opposition but set a new world record in the process.

Sadly our Olympics ended here. We have had such a great time that we are definitely going to start a Beijing fund for 2008!