August 1, 2012

Postcards From London - 7-31-12

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Over the next several days, GoIslanders.com will bring you "Postcards from London," as assistant soccer coach Lauren "Money" Molinaro blogs about her trip to the XXX Olympiad. Here is her fourth entry, discussing the events of July 31. 

July 31, 2012.

It's Tuesday, Gabe's first day off since I landed in London. Actually it's his first day off in 20 straight days, and since he's been working an average of 14 hours a day, we made a pact last night – no alarm clocks and no early plans. You might think since we haven't seen each other in literally 10 years, rising early would be the thing to do. More time equals more memories, right? Well, we agree in this case to choose quality over quantity.

It's 2 p.m. when we finally leave the house. We hop the Tube and head for Oxford Circus. It's supposed to be a cool area, and Gabe has some extra Olympic tickets to dole out to his "mates." Spare Olympic tickets are a BIG deal in London since they are so very hard to come by. I guess Gabe's 14-hour days have their perks.

About seven stops into our journey, the Tube stops abruptly, and an apologetic Brit mumbles something about the train. I hear, "no," "off," and "terminated." We exit and hop a double-decker bus. Very charming. As we prepare the tickets and travel cards for our mates, we realize we've left our own swimming tickets at home in Greenwich. Hilarious, right? Hardly. We split up, I head home, and we agree to meet back at the Olympic Park at 5:30 p.m.

Once I finally secure our swimming tickets and a seat on the train to Stratford, it suddenly hits me; today is the day I'm going into the Olympic Village! I'm on the guest list, another advantage accompanying Gabe's long days, and after going through some tight security and submitting my passport as collateral, we freely walk around the official Olympic Village. We even bring Izzy.

The Olympic Village is really nice, brand new and filled with people and buildings, and there is a green park in the middle of it with a weird gorilla statue. We go on sort of a jogging tour because swimming starts promptly at 7:30 p.m. Since all the races are either finals or semifinals we really don't want to be late.

As we cruise through the Village, there are Olympic Athletes everywhere. Some jog, others ride bikes, while some stand and chat with friends. I meet some Angolans, a wonderful Nigerian man, and I sneak a peek at the 400-meter world champion from Botswana, Amantle Montsho. There are apartment buildings everywhere where the athletes live for the duration of the Games. Each is decorated according to the occupying nation.

Among the most notable are Canada and South Korea, as well as Great Britain, whose athletes also have the best view of the Olympic Park. It's truly like a village with living quarters, dining halls, lounges, bars (without the alcohol), gyms and various other places. The Olympic Rings stand proudly in the center of the village by the park, and Izzy and I stop to take a picture. On our way out, we also stop by the Olympic Truce Walls to check out the signatures and marvel at the idea of it all.

7:05 p.m. – "Shoot! We have to go!" exclaims Gabe, and we head for the Aquatics Center. We have to physically run to make it there on time, but it's worth it. Even though we are officially in the nose bleed seats, the stadium is so well designed that we don't feel very far away. We have an excellent view and apart from all the body heat that seems to be rising steadily from the fans below, it's quite comfortable and cool. We are in a sea of fans from Great Britain, with Aussies below us, and a crew of South Africans to our left. Gabe works with African countries, and helps out especially with South Africa. He is excited to see his buddy, Chad Le Clos, battle in the 200-meter butterfly and the 200-meter relay. I, on the other hand, am pumped to see if tonight is the night Michael Phelps will become the most decorated Olympian in history, and of course to see Ryan Lochte and the Chinese teenage phenom, Ye Shiwen.

Shiwen wins gold, Lochte leads the U.S. to an incredible gold in the relay, and Phelps makes Olympic history, but the story that wins my heart is of South African, Chad Le Clos. In the last meter of the pool, he inches by Phelps to win gold in the 200-meter fly. His reaction after winning is simply priceless, and at the medal ceremony, tears fill his eyes. While his National Anthem echoes throughout the Aquatics Center, tears continue to stream down his face. The feeling in the stadium is overwhelming as spectators can feel his victory.

I, myself, can feel his years of training and sacrifices. I can feel his sweat and tears, his pain and injuries, and his battle throughout his lifetime to do what he did on this very night right before my eyes. And it reminded me that this is why we play sports. This is it, this very moment in time, and nothing, my friends, is sweeter than the feeling of hard earned victory, especially over the great Michael Phelps.

Kudos, Chad!

From London 2012 –

It's $$

GO ISLANDERS!