In Part One of John Bauernfeind’s three-part, on-site Olympic extravaganza, he explains the finer points of Judo; confirms American stereotypes about Britons; and provides some background on why he went to London in the first place.
Driving from London’s Heathrow International Airport to our hotel, my brother made the first (and quite possibly my favorite) observation of the 2012 Olympics.
“Did you see that sign?” he asked. “That sign just said ‘550 yards to the next exit.’” Without waiting for me to respond, he said: “Yeah, I could make it in two.” Casually referring to his up-and-down golf game (and the length with which he thinks he plays with). My mom and I both shared a laugh and our trip to the 30th Summer Olympics – along with my adoration for London – had begun.
To someone who has never been to London, or England for that matter, it is hard to liken it to anything stateside, aside from the weather, which is comparable to that of America’s Emerald City. After a week of intense reporting across the pond, I was able to confirm most of Americans’ thoughts about the English: they do prefer tea to coffee; they do love their pints of ale, and – after no fewer than ten conversations with English folk – I was able to determine that their teeth, are, well, poor. They looked like stalagmites poking out in every direction in an ominous cave.
All jokes aside, the Olympics are unlike any sporting event in the world; they occupy their own category, separate from the rest. The Olympics, though, are one with the host city, so the Games are only as successful as the city allows them to be. London, hosting the games for a record third time, gave the world a great venue with which to share a piece of the themselves with the world.
Though my press pass was somehow lost amid the stress and confusion that ran rampant before the Games, I still managed to make five events, reporting for no one in particular. The flight from Chicago across the Atlantic Ocean lasted nearly eight hours, yet it was the shortest, long flight I had ever flown (if that makes any sense, which I’m sure it doesn’t). Apart from the inconsiderate drone that had his seat reclined the entire flight (even when he went to the bathroom. I mean, come on.), I was looking forward to watching the U.S. basketball team as well as being able to buy a beer or two for myself (The latter plan was quickly thwarted; beer is expensive in England. The average cost of a pint equals about eight American dollars).
Checking into the hotel just before midnight (6 P.M. Central time), finding sleep was difficult, if not totally out of consideration. Accompanying my newfound insomnia was the bar in the pull-out couch constantly jabbing at my lower back. The struggle to sleep would follow me throughout the week, but it’s not hard waking up after a mere five hours of sleep while at the Olympics.
On the first full day of our trip to London, we had originally planned on riding the London Eye – the supersized Ferris wheel in downtown London. That morning, our luck would strike for the first of several times. We were offered tickets to Judo, a Japanese martial art in which the ultimate goal is to get the opponent on to their back.
How did we get these tickets, as well as U.S. basketball and swimming tickets, you ask? That can be attributed to my dad’s job – he works as the Director of Olympic Operations for a company with ties to the States and Great Britain (and who had sponsored several athletes for the Games), and one of his tasks during the Olympics was hosting athletes, family members of those athletes and clients. A job that sometimes involved taking them to events including U.S Basketball, Swimming and the majority of the Track and Field competitions.
If I had to describe Judo to someone who had no idea what the sport is, (which had been myself earlier in the day) I would begin by telling them that hand strength, or strength in one’s hands, is above all else in a Judo fight. Anna – an athlete who had fallen short of qualifying for Judo – was accompanying us, and explained to us the sport in its basic form. Once a basic level of understanding was formed, she would point out Judo’s idiosyncrasies, such as the wazari, which occurs when the opponent is flipped onto their back, resulting in a win, as well as the physical and mental exhaustion that occurs following the five minutes of fighting.
We ended up watching about ten Judo matches, which in and of itself is not a very exciting sport. Opponents try constantly to grasp on to each other, jostling for position and waiting for an opportunity to present itself so that they can attempt a move. What made Judo great though was the atmosphere. Encouraged by the emcee of the event, I found myself yelling and clapping madly, along with the rest of the venue (mostly foreigners). The energy throughout the stadium, which held no more than 10,000 people, was palpable, even if it wasn’t one hundred percent authentic. This would be the case in many of the events that I would see; oftentimes the lesser, more obscure events were more exciting than the more popular ones.
After a burly French woman crushed a smaller, overmatched German by sitting on top of her for the last two minutes of the Gold medal bout (another thing that was difficult to understand about the sport: in almost every match, it seemed that new methods of fighting were used and allowed), I left the Excel Centre in genuine exuberance and awe. But rather than relish a truly once-in-a-lifetime moment, my good vibes morphed into anger and stress.
An hour-long, crowded train ride will do that to an impatient American.
To be continued.