Olympics: Being There – Swimming

Swimming Heats, Aquatic Centre, Olympic Park

While week two in the Olympics is traditionally dominated by Track and Field, the first week’s blue ribbon event has long been the Swimming, a sport which has featured in every modern Games. In the eighties, while Daley Thompson and Sebastian Coe were headline news in week two, it was the start of the games at the pool, with a quick turnaround between races and a consistent intensity in competition, that captured the imagination. It dominated the schedules as well, replacing Why Don’t You?, Heidi and even Test Match Cricket from BBC1, and that prominent place of Olympic Swimming in the British consciousness was evident in a packed Aquatic Centre for a short session of heats on the morning of Day 4, London 2012.

A session that lasted less than ninety minutes, had few household names and a 10am start which with travel and security advice would have meant dawn starts for many, deterred few, with hardly any empty seats in the smart looking Aquatic Centre, the Diving Pool sitting alongside the Olympic Pool.

Just as impressive as the interior are both the exterior of the Centre and the whole Olympic Park itself, now a complete impressive development since the look of ‘work-still-in-progress’ outside of the stunning Velodrome in the London Prepares Track Cycling event in February. Despite the poor weather on Day 4 all the outdoor spaces were packed, with tens of thousands exploring the vast park with stylish and already iconic sporting venues dotted around large open spaces.

Getting to the Park was a demonstration of how well things can be organised in London, with clear signage in rail stations and roads, and an efficient set-up at St Pancras leading to the Javelin train, which takes seven minutes to get to Stratford International and runs frequently. In the Park itself most volunteers are pro-actively friendly, the few wannabe chuggers outnumbered by the pleasant and helpful.

In the venue there were scores of union flags and regalia in the Aquatic stands, with pockets of supporters of other nations, as there were throughout the park. Poolside, the goodwill and hope from the home crowd really came to the fore in the noise that greeted any British competitor. It may have been too much for Ellen Gandy who led for the first three-quarters of her 200m Butterfly heat, perhaps going out too quickly on the adrenalin the sound must have given her, before having nothing left in the final fifty metres.

There was some success for the red capped racers though as Jemma Lowe in the Women’s 200m Butterfly heats and Michael Jamieson and Andrew Willis in the Men’s 200m Breaststroke all qualified from their heats into their respective semi-finals with top two placings, Jamieson winning his heat with a British record and the noise increasing even further as his red light lit up first in a tight finish. The session ended on a high-note for Team GB as well, with an excellent final leg by Robbie Renwick in the semi-final of the 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay bringing home Britain in second, behind an almost reserve US team that has strength in depth.

The positive energy really comes from the masses though. It is displayed in different ways, from the strange spectacle of elderly women tapping their hands along to Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’ when it is played over the PA to how many people are wearing their countries colours. Naturally the British colours are most predominant, not just in support of their athletes, but pride in a home Olympics.

MG

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