Screams, chants and bellows surrounded us, as we leant forwards, huddled under an umbrella, looking up at the giant screen. As the boat crossed the third line, we began to cheer too, urging our team on. Moments later, we were rewarded and the crowd erupted as Team GB got their first gold medal of the Olympic Games.
Short of being at Eton Dorney, sitting in the Park Live area of the Olympic Park was the best place to be to witness that first gold being won.
We had arrived at the Olympic Park only moments earlier, full of anticipation and excitement. Ever since my Olympics tickets arrived, all pretty and pink in their own special wallet, I had been counting down the days.
With amazingly trouble-free transport there (well done, Get Ahead of the Games!) and smiling volunteers to welcome us, whisk us through security and point us in the right direction – and now a gold medal, it was a flawless start to our day of Olympic Games.
Flushed with victory, we wandered around the park, which is the size of a small town, only more futuristic buildings and more open space. We gazed in awe at the various structures, all of which will be the backdrops to some unforgettable moments. Then we prepared for our main event: the Women’s Basketball. A friendly police officer took our photo outside the arena, and then it was game on.
Our seats were high up and in the centre, so we had a brilliant view of the entire arena. There was plenty to entertain us as Brazil and Australia warmed up and the crowds flocked in.
Soon, the game started and to add a bit of dynamism, my friend and I decided to support opposing teams. I took Brazil, she backed the Aussies.
If I didn’t believe in serendipity or the six degrees of separation before, I most certainly do now. The best things in life are often totally unexpected, and so it was that while we were enjoying the game from our perfectly adequate vantage point, a friend of a friend of a friend appeared and produced, magician-like, a trump card. He was working at the Olympics and had managed to get us court-side seats.
From half-time onwards, we had the best seats in the whole arena. I felt like I was dreaming: we were so close to the players that I could hear what they were saying to each other. I was also sitting rather rigidly at first, aware that I would be visible on TV for pretty much the whole time. My cheering for Brazil also became fairly timid, as I found myself surrounded by a posse of very passionate Australians.
After a few minutes, however, I was lost in the game, cheering on Brazil, not caring what I looked like, or if the mad Australians heard me. Brazil played valiantly, but in the end, the Aussies won and soon, we were on to the next match: our very own Team GB taking on the mighty Russia.
This time there was no timidity on my part: along with more or less everyone else in the arena, I whooped and bellowed my lungs out, willing Team GB on to victory. I still couldn’t quite believe our stellar view – I was able to see every nuanced expression on the players’ faces, and we could listen in on the rapid team talks during time outs.
It was a fierce battle, with the points zinging, and right until the last second, it looked like GB might win. But with a hefty lot of 3-pointers, Russia claimed victory – and all credit to them: the atmosphere in the arena was far from in their favour, and the mostly-British crowd still gave our girls the biggest cheer.
On the super-speedy Javelin train back into central London, I was just gazing into space, a stupid smile on my face as I took in the day’s events. I idly listened to the chatter around me, when I picked up on a particular conversation.
“So what event did you go to?” someone asked, conversationally.
“Oh, we didn’t,” came the reply. “We just had tickets for the park. But it was wonderful. So wonderful. Just to be there, the atmosphere… we had a great time. And when we’re even older and wrinklier than we are now, we can say: we were there.”
This brief exchange filled my heart with almost inexplicable warmth. But that was the most wonderful thing about the whole day: the friendliness, the smiles, the conversations, the unity of people in the Olympic Park. And one day when I am old, I will say with pride: London 2012? Yes, I was there.