Olympic Canoe Sprint
Yesterday, Rachel, Patch, my dad and I went to watch the Olympic canoe sprints which meant waking up to an alarm at 4:20 in the morning. After an hour and a half in the car, we arrived at the park and ride and were swiftly guided on to a waiting bus. The organisers were obviously trying not to live up to the expectations of London buses, as we departed almost as soon as we’d got on and passed the next bus going to pick up more people as soon as we pulled out of the car park.
After a 15 minute bus journey, we arrived at Eton Dorney Lake (well, almost – we had to walk a kilometre down the side of a horse racing track first). There were very cheery, happy Olympic volunteers everywhere saying, “Good morning!” and, “Have a nice day!” which was more than I could manage at that time in the morning. Despite the friendly atmosphere, you were also very aware of the heavy security going on in the background. There were armed police randomly distributed (also wishing you good morning) and you had to pass through airport security measures before entering the actual venue – fortunately we’d all remembered to leave our flick knives and hand grenades at home, so we got through ok.
Once we got inside, we were at a bit of a loss at what to do. We still had two and half hours to wait till everything started and the only thing to do was buy food and drink at extortionately high prices, so instead we filled up our water bottles, went to the loo and then waited in a short queue to get to our seats. Surprisingly, this was the only queue we had to stand in all day and it was only for a few minutes until the stands actually opened. We were the very first ones in our stand and for the cheap seats, they were pretty good really – right in front of the big screen.
We sat, and we waited, and we waited, and we
read a sneaky book that I may have brought with me waited until FINALLY something started to happen. An hour before the races started, they did a big introductory bit on the big screen telling people about different types of canoeing and things and lo and behold, a few people that we know from racing popped up on the screen telling us about surf kayaks and touring canadians. It was very strange seeing them on a television screen and even stranger seeing these top canoeists wearing buoyancy aids and using beginner kayaks.
At this point we were all a little peckish… ok, ravenously hungry, as although it was only 8:30, we’d been awake for so long it felt like lunch time already. Thankfully we were allowed to bring our own food with us as all the food available to buy was so expensive, so we snacked on a pack of biscuits that I put in at the last minute.
After this, we were introduced to our commentator – a Canadian that had also commentated at the canoe slalom who was very cheery but obviously knew nothing about canoeing (he called it rowing a few times, which is a common mistake but not one that should be made at the Olympics!). He did have a canoeist with him to help out on the technical things, but she was a slalom canoeist so not very informed on the sprinting side of things.
A few things had been organised to keep us entertained while we were waiting, including a war canoe from Canada being paddled down the lake and a thing called ‘bongo cam’, where the cameras would randomly focus on someone and show some pictures of a bongo that you had to ‘hit’ (we all desperately hoped it wouldn’t focus on us, and sunk down into our seats to try and prevent it happening!). The best bit by far though was when four paddlers managed to go fast enough past us to pull a wake-boarder along. They didn’t go too fast as it was quite a bit of resistance, but they were putting in a lot of effort!
After a little more waiting, it was time for the races to start. And being a paddler I hate to admit that I actually had no clue as to who would be faster or how many went through to the next round. To make things a little more interesting when there weren’t any British people racing, we all took bets as to who we thought would win. Rachel and Padraig seemed to have a sixth sense and got nearly every one right, whilst anyone who I picked always seemed to finish second from last. When the British people raced, the atmosphere was amazing and everyone cheered so loud (although, I did want to slap the person sat right behind us with a vuvuzela directed right into our ears). Both the boats we had in the heats that we watched made it into the semi-finals and then the women’s two person boat (K2) just missed out on getting to the final despite nearly the whole crowd willing them to find a little bit extra to finish in the top three.
Don’t you just LOVE Rachel Cawthorn’s boat? (She’s our female British singles paddler).
I have to say, I think the British kit this year is really nice. The things they wore in the opening ceremony were pretty awful in my opinion (gold sweat patches?), but the kit they compete in is lovely. We watched all the heats and then the semi-finals and made a quick getaway just before the last final as it didn’t have any British people in it and we were told that our stand would have to wait 20 minutes after the last race to leave as they were letting people go one stand at a time.
Although I loved going and I appreciate that it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, Rachel and I both agreed that if we got the chance again, we’d go and see a different sport. It’s not that we don’t enjoy watching the canoe sprints, but we’ve seen it all before – we used to go nearly every month up in Nottingham and you could watch for free, compete and cheer you friends on as well as the top athletes. So for us, it was much of the same but with fewer people that we knew in it! We’re also aware that the canoeing didn’t come across very well on the television due to strange Olympic qualification rules that meant not enough people qualified, leading to empty lanes. This meant that nearly everyone in each heat qualified for the next round (but they still had to have the heats to match up similar speed paddlers for the semi-finals) so in some of the heats, it was obvious that the paddlers weren’t trying very hard as they knew they’d already qualified and wanted to save themselves for the semi-final. It’s sparked quite a few debates in the canoeing world, so hopefully we’ll see things done a bit differently in future Olympics and canoeing will be shown as the exciting, closely matched sport it really is.
Overall, I was really impressed by the organisation of the event. Not only did everything go smoothly, meaning we weren’t left queueing for hours on end, but it was accompanied by smiling volunteers that were obviously just happy to be a part of the whole thing. Before the Olympics, I was very doubtful as to how they would go – things in England generally aren’t run very smoothly and (without meaning to be disrespectful) we always seem to accidentally cock something up! I know they’re not over yet and I could be eating my words at any time, but so far I’ve been very proud at how everything’s turned out. Not only am I amazed, inspired and impressed by the British athletes winning so many gold medals, but I’m also amazed, inspired and impressed by the level of organisation that’s gone on behind the scenes. Every little detail seems to have been thought out in a way that means efficiency was at a top level without compromising people’s experience.
I can truly say right now that I am #proudtobebritish.