The next day, Thursday, there were no events to be seen on my part, but I found myself some forty-nine stories high in the air, at the top of the London Eye. As I said before, the Eye is a giant Ferris wheel that makes its full revolution in half an hour. But enough tourist-y stuff, you can learn all about the Eye on Wikipedia. A few hours later, my family and I made our way to the International Broadcast Center for a personal tour. Located about a mile away from Olympic Park, the IBC is the apex of broadcasting the Olympics for each country, so it’s kind of a big deal. Flanked by barbed wire fences and security guards, the IBC is not something that you can merely ‘go and check out’; you have to know someone, which I did. Yes, I’ve also got connections.
I was met at the entrance to the IBC by Anne Grotefeld, who invited me and my family to come and tour the building. I had never met Anne before that day, but had talked with her on the phone and emailed her several months leading up to the Games. For an article that I had written second semester (and posted on the IUSC website), I had interviewed her; I came to learn that she worked for NBC and would be in London for the Olympics; I, too, would be at the Olympics. The offer presented itself to come and meet her, which I gladly accepted.
Olympic security is strict and regimented, as you are stopped several times throughout security, either to present your ticket (which, I’m not even kidding, would have to do at least five times before entering a venue) or to let them search your bag, or worse, to search you. The security was even tighter at the IBC; even before going through security, and the subsequent pat-down, we had to hand over our passports. The message was clear: if you try anything, we will detain you. Not that I would try anything, but the thought was put in your head, that they owned you for that hour and a half you were on their territory.
After my brief moment of clarity, Anne and her co-worker Ingrid Klipp, who would later fill in for Anne as the tour guide, walked us through the IBC studios, showing us where they worked, as well as some behind the scenes looks at the editing and programming departments. Quick side note: I cannot speak for all countries and their respective broadcast teams, but the workers for NBC’s Olympic games worked twelve hour shifts every day, and oftentimes would work overtime, sometimes putting in shifts of fifteen and sixteen hours. Just for you, America.
The tour was eye-opening, as the amount of people it took and the hours that they put in gave me a brief perspective of how chaotic and crunched for time the Olympics are. We were able to see both Studio 1, where Brian Williams and Bob Costas report to the States from every night (there are two studios, the other one simply named ‘Studio 2.’ We would have been allowed to look in on that one as well, but Al Michaels and his segment were taping at the time). After we wrapped up the tour (for those of you who are fans of the show Access Hollywood, I did walk past Billy Bush, but had no idea who he was until my mom told me), we headed off for a pint at our soon-to-be favorite pub in downtown London, St. James Tavern.
The following day was the most eventful (or event-filled) of my Olympic voyage, as I saw both swimming and beach volleyball events. It would be my first journey to Olympic Park, the scenic area which held the more popular and attended events. Olympic Park was home to the Track and Field stadium (which holds 80,000 people. Unfortunately, I was not able to get an advance on any Track and Field tickets), the basketball arena (which is actually named Basketball Arena) and the swimming pool/venue. Needless to say, Olympic Park was massive; hundreds of thousands of people were there every day.
First off, let me say that the swimming session I attended was the most painstakingly boring event that I saw during my time in London. Not that I’m ungrateful of seeing an Olympic event or anything, but it is my belief that I got stuck with the worst swimming session possible. After an hour and forty five minutes, I had seen two semifinal trials of the 4×100 meter relay (one men’s, one women’s) and an appropriately called ‘swim-off,’ between three females in the 100m freestyle (the day before they had tied each other). These events, though, were actually enjoyable to watch, and the ‘swim-off’ between the three female swimmers had the crowd delirious. No, what made my time in the pool so mind-numbing was the four sessions of the men’s 1500m trials. 1500m is thirty laps in the pool, which equated to roughly fifteen minutes for all of the swimmers to finish. What was even worse than the length of time was the lack of a thrilling finish, as the winner of the heat won by a five second differential (or more) every time. I would watch only the first and last laps of the 1500m trials; in the meantime, my mind would shift between trivial thoughts, searching for a way to pass the time. Though my time at the swimming venue may have been less exciting than I had thought it would be, in ten years I’ll probably be telling anybody who will listen that I saw Michael Phelps’ last Olympic race.
After the swimming events, we left Olympic Park for our second event of the day, beach volleyball, which would become my favorite event of the trip. Located adjacent to the Horse Guards Parade, the setting provided a picturesque scenery, one that would overtake them all throughout the Olympics. I saw two matches, both of which were the first matches of the elimination round. I was lucky enough to see two of the top ranked teams (they were also American) in the sport for each gender; Jennifer Kessey and April Ross, which dominated the Netherland’s duo in two sets; Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers, the defending Olympic Gold medalists, who would lose in consecutive sets to an Italian team.
The crowd involvement and enthusiasm was what made beach volleyball such an exciting event. Pushed on by the home fans, (beach volleyball was the talk amongst all of the natives, as blonde hair and bikinis playing sports brought something out in those Brits. Prince Harry and even the Prime Minister managed to make a match) each point was exhilarating; with a powerful spike by the American team sending roars throughout the stadium. With a beer in hand, I cheered along with them. This is what the Olympics are all about I thought, realizing now how true of a statement it really was.