Our Olympic Experience

Earlier this week on Drive Thru HR, William Tincup and Bryan Wempen were asking me about The Olympics. William was saying how great London looked and what my experience of it was. If you have the time and inclination you can listen to the whole interview here (we also talked about social media, differences between the US and UK, service culture and some other stuff too).

Listen to internet radio with Wempen and Tincup on Blog Talk Radio

For the past week and a half the Shaw family has gone London 2012 mad. We’ve had a great time and seen loads of sports. You can read about the men’s and women’s road races (which were a highlight for Keira because she was spotted by her friends on the TV), and see a couple of pics here, and in addition I got along to the cycling time trials later in the week and took these photos.

Bradley Wiggins London 2012 Gold Medal Time Trial Ride
Bradley Wiggins London 2012 Gold Medal Time Trial Ride
Chris Froome London 2012 Bronze Medal Time Trial Ride
Chris Froome London 2012 Bronze Medal Time Trial Ride

Because these sports were run on open roads the access was fantastic, we got right up close to all the action. Later in the week we also got to see the men’s table tennis semi finals and Team GB women’s hockey team defeat Belgium 3-0 at The Riverbank Arena.

Carole and Keira in the Olympic Village
Carole and Keira in the Olympic Village
Team GB Women's Hockey
Team GB Women's Hockey

And if all that wasn’t enough Flora Marriott was kind enough to invite me to the Greco Roman Wrestling this week. This was a crazy afternoon spent watching up to three simultaneous bouts of muscly guys trying to flip and fling each other, very intense. Emotions ran high, at one point a defeated wrestler staged a sit in protest after what he perceived as a harsh refereeing decision which cost him the bout.

sit in protest
sit in protest

As you can see we’ve been fortunate to enjoy a great variety of sports and we’ve yet to experience the swimming and athletics at The Paralympics.

It has not been easy to get tickets to enjoy all this – for me the one fly in the ointment has been the hours spent fiddling and faffing with the ticketing website, and the way tickets have been released in stages has been frustrating for many people.

Notwithstanding all the fantastic sport we’ve seen, the overwhelmingly positive thing which stood out for us on our Olympic adventures has been the unpaid volunteers. Almost without exception they’ve struck us as happy, willing and helpful, they’re a big part of what has made London 2012 such a success. I’ve heard rumblings that the volunteers should be awarded the Sports Personality of the Year team award, based on our experiences that would get my vote.

photo credits by yours truly

Olympic Ideals in Contrast

Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those ‘what can we learn from the Olympic Games in the world of work’ type posts. It’s just an observation, that’s all.

Since 1964 Larissa Latynina has held the record for the most medals won by an Olympian. 18 to be precise, including four gold medals in Melbourne, three golds in Rome, and two in Tokyo.

Yesterday evening at The 2012 Olympic Games in London, Michael Phelps eclipsed that record. In the run up to the record changing hands, Latynina said ‘I just lived a normal life, the medals are one thing. Me, myself, my family, my children are another thing. I’m quite happy there is a man in the world who can overcome my record.’

Contrast this with the reaction of John Leonard, the executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, on hearing news that Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen had smashed her personal best by at least five seconds in the 400m Medley. Leonard said the performance reminded him of the East German women swimmers in the 1980s, who were doping on a systematic basis. He told the Guardian newspaper, ‘History in our sport will tell you that every time we see something, and I will put quotation marks around this, unbelievable, history shows us that it turns out later on there was doping involved’.

Phelps has just achieved something most people would define as ‘unbelievable’. I wonder what Mr Leonard makes of that?

And now this morning I read about this farcical display of match fixing at the badminton. Crazy!

Congratulations to Michael Phelps and particularly to Larissa Latynina who has shown humility and good grace as the baton is passed.

photo credit

It’s a Girl Thing

The Olympics are here, and what a weekend it’s been. On Saturday around a gazillion people gathered on some narrow Surrey lanes and various parts of London to watch the men’s cycling road race. Despite Team GB not being able to deliver Mark Cavendish to The Mall for his trademark sprint finish the day out was fantastic. As you can see from the picture above it was a huge party and everyone seemed pleased to be a part of The Olympics and British cycling. Road racing can be great fun to watch and you get right up close to the action. The rush of air as the peloton flies by is really invigorating.

Bradley Wiggins tows Mark Cavendish around the Box Hill loop

On Sunday we went back to the Surrey lanes to watch the women’s race. When I say we, I don’t mean the gazillion people who took to the roads on Saturday, I mean….well by comparison, hardly anyone.

Where is everybody? Much smaller crowds for the Women's Olympic Cycling Road Race

Even the cycling club I belong to which encourages cycling for all and had done a super job building a huge gantry to house around 250 people on Saturday, could barely fill a tiny gazebo on Sunday. It wasn’t just Surrey where there was a big difference. Courtesy of Mervyn Dinnen, here are two views of the men’s race and women’s race going through Fulham which show pretty clearly the difference in crowd sizes. Some might argue that the women’s race was shorter which meant they came past our vantage point twice compared to nine passes by the men on Saturday, but the racing was just as exciting and of course GB went on to secure its first 2012 Olympic medal courtesy of the women’s cycling team and Lizzie Armitstead. The pic below shows Lizzie on the left of the picture looking cool and calm as the peloton rushes past us.

Lizzie Armitstead racing through the Surrey Lanes, Women's Olympic Cycling Road Race - London 2012

OK so this year we have our first ever British winner of the Tour de France in Bradley Wiggins, and Mark Cavendish is the current cycling world champion, but my heart sinks when I hear men saying stuff like ‘Nah, I’m not going to the women’s race tomorrow, it’s not as important as the men’s’. Doesn’t say much for inclusion and diversity, does it? That reaction and the lack of interest in the women’s race felt misogynistic, and it is certainly misguided. After the race, Armitstead said ‘The sexism I have encountered in my career can get quite overwhelming and very frustrating’.

Lest we forget, Nicole Cooke first won the women’s Tour de France back in 2006 and has a list of cycling achievements most professional men can only dream about. Emma Pooley is an outstanding climber who can also count world time trial champion among her many successes, and Lucy Martin is a bright future prospect. Oh yeah, I nearly forgot. Lizzie Armistead, silver medal winning Team GB cyclist.

Those of us who turned out to support the cycling team yesterday witnessed the British riders on their way to Team GB’s first medal of the London 2012 Olympic Games. That felt pretty important to me, here come the girls.