Dispatch from London: From West to East, basket to beach

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US fans in Olympic Park

The author at the Velodrome

A Londoner by birth, but a resident of Los Angeles since the mid-nineties, it seemed appropriate and terrifically exciting to be attending two Olympic sporting events that I associate with Southern California: Basketball and Beach Volleyball. Tickets to the Olympics games are like gold dust so imagine my delight in finding two tickets courtesy of an American called Michael on Craigslist.  My nephew Tim, a keen basketball fan, was over from Australia and we were thrilled to find ourselves on Tuesday morning heading from my home in Queens Park West London to the Olympic Park in East London’s Stratford.

Despite the scaremongering that has been going on for months in London about how hellish public transport would be during the games, we had no trouble getting the train, and having been warned to allow two hours for airport like security checks, it only took about 10 minutes to get in!

Even under the grey London skies the futuristic design of the buildings and park looked really impressive and the landscaping of the wetlands and riverbanks was gorgeous, dotted with lots of colourful greenery and wildflowers. The two biggest queues were for McDonalds (oy) and the London 2012 megastore so we had a bite to eat (an underwhelming burrito in the World Square of food stalls) then headed to the Basketball arena for two games, Lithuania vs. Nigeria and Team GB vs. Brazil. Our seats were up in the gods but comfortable and my nephew was able to tell me the rules of the game – who knew it was so complex?!

US fans in Olympic Park

The Lithuanian vs. Nigerian game was rather scrappy but the second game with Team GB and Brazil was not only superior but really exciting – Team GB did really well and led for much of the game. We were beaten in the end but not after a jolly good fight. I then left my nephew at the Basketball arena and rushed out of the Olympic Park to head towards the centre of London. Apart from the huge crowds of people it was easy to get out and hopped right onto a train and got a seat! In less than an hour I was walking out of the Piccadilly Tube station towards Horse Guards Parade for Beach Volleyball. It was wonderful to see a sport that was born in Southern California transported to an area just off the Mall – the road that leads to Buckingham Palace. Designed by Team Populous Architects, the company responsible for many of the impressive Olympic buildings, the 15,000 seater arena was built  in a mere six weeks, a tight schedule dictated by the recent Jubilee celebrations here in the Capital.

I only managed to secure a single ticket for Beach Volleyball using the extremely clunky and vexing London 2012 official website, and got it months before this event became the hottest ticket in town. Unlike many of the Olympic sessions that have been plagued by empty seats, the Horse Guards Parade arena was full and the atmosphere was one big party from beginning to end. I found myself among Westminstergents quaffing Pimms cocktails while lapping up the volleyball action as bikini clad women players lunged and leapt in front of their delighted eyes. If that wasn’t enough to get them hot under their pinstripe collars, a group of toned and expertly choreographed dancers dressed in 1950’s style beachwear danced while the players took a break. ‘Beach volleyball is my new favourite sport! I love this game!” cried the row of Australians sitting behind me, in town with their employer and official Olympics sponsor BMW.

Dancers on the volleyball court
US male Volleyball team

We saw the Russian ladies team beat Canada 2-1; Men’s US defending champions Dalhausser & Rogers beat Spain 2-1 – Dalhausser’s imposing frame of 6’9” made a rather brooding presence on the pitch after the balletic women before him. The Italian men’s team, a nation that usually leads the way when it comes to fashion, looked like they were wearing long johns and their scoring was even less impressive as they were beaten by the Austrians 0-2 (who knew Austria had beaches?) and lastly another victory for the US as Ladies team Ross and Kessy beat the Netherlands 2-1.

Ross and Kessy post match

As the full moon began to rise over the stadium and Big Ben announced midnight, lots of happy spectators began to make their way home – yours truly by tube which for the duration of the games is running until 2 am!