August 15, 2012
Scott Reed and his son Jeff have traveled from Lilburn to London to attend the 2012 Olympics. Scott Reed is attending his fifth Olympic Games this summer and will blog about his experiences for the Daily Post. His 19-year-old son Jeff, a Killian Hill Christian graduate and Reinhardt University student, will provide photos for the blog. The two will blog throughout the Olympics.
I thought that coming home and watching the last few days of the London Olympic Games would be fun, to get the hometown perspective on the events. But I found the NBC coverage disappointing. It’s not their fault, there is only so much they can do with tape delayed action, but it reinforced for me that seeing an entire event and being there in person is far better than seeing it later on TV, even if the TV allows a better explanation of what’s actually happening.
Looking back on the Games, a few thoughts stand out.
First, the British were excellent hosts. Every local I met was friendly and hospitable to a fault. A good example is one night when Jeff and I were trying to find the USA House, which we had been invited to visit. We had a hard time finding it and finally asked directions from a local walking down the street. He gave us directions and sent us on our way. A couple of blocks and five minutes away we were stumped, and stood looking at our street map. The gentleman who had given us directions suddenly appeared next to us and pointed us in the right direction again. He could tell by my look that we were both appreciative and surprised by his return appearance, and he shyly commented that he had been following us to make sure we got there OK.
The British were also very concerned about how the rest of the world viewed the London Games. That’s natural, as everyone wants to look good for the world. We were the same way in Atlanta. But with the Brits, it seemed to go to another level. Several locals described it to me as natural British pessimism. It was like they feared they wouldn’t be able to pull off the Games properly, and were worried about failing. Then when it all turned out well, there was an outpouring of both joy and relief.
The favorite event we attended was tennis, because it was so special for me to visit Wimbledon. The most pleasantly surprising sport was water polo---those people have to be tough to survive all the fighting, choking and kicking! The most disappointing sport we saw was badminton. I know they are world class athletes and work hard, but to me it looked just like you would see in your back yard. Now that I have seen it once, I don’t need to see it again.
My most awkward moment was early on in the trip, soon after we moved in to our flat. Three of us were sharing one ancient toilet, and we evidently didn’t know how to flush it properly. We promptly stopped it up. We searched the entire flat and couldn’t find a plunger. We obviously couldn’t go 2 full weeks with a stopped up toilet, so I went upstairs to the flat above us to see if we could borrow a plunger. Unfortunately, the person living above us was Lithuanian and spoke very broken English,and evidently their word for toilet plunger is different than ours. The person I spoke with had no idea what I meant. So, naturally, I started to pantomime and act out what I needed. I was all of 2 seconds into my attempt when I realized how dumb I must look and that there was no way he would understand, and there was no way that anything good would come from my efforts. So I just gave up, thanked him, and left. I’m sure that all the neighbors were warned about us immediately and kept their doors double bolted to protect against their crude American visitors. (It turns out there was a plunger in the shed in the back, so we did eventually solve the problem. What good was it doing in the shed in the back yard?)
Our second most awkward moment came when Jeff and I were going to the USA House. I had specifically asked and had been assured that it was OK to wear shorts. The directions said the house was across from Royal Albert Hall, in a very nice section of London. Unfortunately, in my mind I was focusing on Royal Albert Hall and thought we were supposed to go there. When we arrived, we could see in through the glass and not only was no one else in shorts, but they were actually in formal wear, including tuxedos with tails and long dresses. So we had a dilemma: Should we go in and stand out like sore thumbs, or slink away before we were discovered? Well, I decided that we wouldn’t have another chance to visit USA House, and we had come a long way. I figured the worst that could happen would be that we would be shunned, but at least we would get some nice food and pictures. So we barged on in. We were intercepted by a very kind looking hostess who looked like she was going to faint, or at least hold her nose when we walked up. The look on her face was one of extreme relief when she realized we were looking for the USA House across the street. She gladly pointed us in the right direction, and even walked us part way there to make sure we didn’t detour back to her party. And yes, when we got to the USA House, there were plenty of other people there in shorts. We spent a fun evening there, met a lot of nice people,and grabbed a pocket full of pins to trade later.
The London organizing committee (LOCOG) did a great job and did a lot of things right. But in my opinion, the worst mistake they made was in outlawing secondary ticket sales. When an Olympic Games is put on, the local organizing committee has tremendous expenses. And they have to recoup all of their costs in a two week event, unlike normal stadium or venues that can pay for themselves over multiple years. So they try to maximize revenue and also the timing of the revenue, getting as much as possible as early as possible. One way they do that is that Olympic sponsors and the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) for each country are required to purchase a certain number of event tickets. The requirement is often far more than the NOCs or sponsors can use. The NOCs and sponsors try to recoup some of their expenses by selling their extra tickets on the secondary market. The practice is common and is usually not frowned upon. In fact, at many Olympics the International Olympic Committee actually sets us formal ticket exchange locations for secondary sales. Those secondary sales don’t add any revenue for the organizing committee, but they allow locals access to tickets they wouldn’t otherwise be able to obtain, and they allow the venues to be full. But in London, secondary sales were against the law. Consequently, the NOCs and sponsors had no avenue for disposing of extra tickets,and many events had large areas of empty seats. That was a shame.
It was also sad that the Olympic torch was inside the main stadium, visible only to people lucky enough to have tickets for events in the stadium. No one outside the stadium could ever see the flame. Since the Olympic flame is one of the iconic symbols of the Olympics, that seemed to be a poor decision.
The best part of the trip was traveling with my son, Jeff. Jeff was not only fun to travel with, but was also helpful. Barry and I would still probably be lost somewhere on the tube if we had not had Jeff to keep us pointed in the right direction. Jeff also took all the pictures that have been used in this blog. He leaves Saturday for his freshman year in college, so it was a great father / son trip.
We spent a lot of time tired, walked a lot (up to 10 miles some days),and were rained on frequently. But that is all part of the experience of traveling. We also saw many fun events, toured many of London’s historical sites, reunited with friends from all over the world, and met many new friends. It was a fantastic experience! I can’t wait for the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, in 2014!