Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Olympics: Welcome to London

I don't know how the games will go in Sochi--safe, I hope-but they could not go better than in 2012. I've never known a city to open up and blossom the way London did as the welcomed the world.

I've been to London a few times, including a week in March, 2012, and what was most remarkable then was that there were almost no signs that the city was about to host an Olympics. I later realized that this was because they delayed putting up any Olympic signs or decorations until after the Queen's Jubilee, but at the time I was pretty concerned that they either weren't ready or simply didn't care. The British tend to keep themselves to themselves, as the saying goes.

Something magic happened when the games began. I really think it was the Opening Ceremony. I didn't even try to watch that live--eventing started the next morning at 8--but I watched a big chunk of it, all the way until the athletes began marching in, on television with a bunch of eventing enthusiasts at a bar in Greenwich. Something about the whole drama--pastoral England, the industrial revolution, the Queen dropping out of a helicopter and then being so moved that she nearly cried as she pronounced the games open--created such a groundswell of national pride, such a feeling of hospitality, that it changed the atmosphere in England to one of constant happy welcome. I had people spontaneously asking me questions on the subway, and on the ferry ride to Greenwich on cross-country morning, one of the eventing Technical Delegates [which meant they were a Very Big Deal, the absolute arbitrator of the competition] entertained my daughter and me with salacious stories about our then Olympic eventing coach.

It was glorious.

P.S. This year marks the debut of women's ski jumping. Today I hacked out in the fields with a woman whose ex-boyfriend was a national level ski jumper. We both agreed that nothing on earth would get us to try ski jumping. Not. Ever.