Friday, 14 September 2012

Agony and ecstasy on the Nothe

We felt dead privileged on Super Sunday at the Olympics to witness something we’ll never EVER see again but watching history unfold, while sitting among a partisan British crowd on a grassy bank in Weymouth with sun shining, was even better than watching Kevin Pietersen make a double hundred before lunch. No seriously......

There had been no atmosphere at all at the sailing venue because the grockles and masses are kept well away by friendly men with guns . There have been more than 500 journalists passing through the media centre but we all sit quietly (ahem!)  tuned into our computers, the televisions, trackers and twitter.  

Going out on press boats in search of a vibe, offers insight into start line action but the rules are so strict, we have to stay miles away so see or hear  very little unless Ben Ainslie is going off on one.

Amazing crowds on the Nothe
No wifi on board and footage on television that lags about ten seconds behind makes this an inefficient way of following the action though lounging around with binoculars on those fabulous Beneteau Swift Trawlers isn’t the worse way to earn a living.

Our Olympic accreditation doesn't allow us entry to the Nothe, where people have paid up to £55 a ticket to watch the action, which is bizarre really since it is an experiment by the International Olympic Committee to see whether sailing as a ticketed sport works. 

Feedback from friends and other random connections suggest it has been a huge success, even though there is limited seating and the security regulations are more draconian than an American airport. No deckchairs, no drinks and no umbrellas longer than a beer bottle!! 

It was bizarre that the media were not being allowed in. And when we are not allowed in to places, we get angry, really angry and kick up a fuss.  Especially when  global gargoyles Luca Bontempelli (ITA), George Streuli (Seppo! ) Olivier LeClerc (FRA) and me (UK) all muster together. Yikes. Scary. So finally they relented which allowed moi  and a young upstart from the Sun called Alex West to snatch the tickets. Wey hey!! 

We had to queue for about half an hour – yawn yawn – and they confiscated almost everything in our rucksacks but as soon as we got in, we started to live the Olympic dream. Or at least feel it.

It was like walking into a party in Hamble....loads of mates intent of watching some damn good sport and having a blast. All of Hamble, Lymington and Cowes had applied for tickets and got them.....which made for a knowledgeable and appreciative crowd.

Won’t bother to go into detail here because what happened next has been pretty widely reported but while I soaked up the atmosphere for a ‘colour’ piece, my head was somewhere else so  I never quite got over the first shock of the day to enjoy the flares from the second.  

He looks OK but don't be fooled!!
I was gutted for Iain and Bart. Totally, totally overwhelmed with sadness because all week they had been on the sort of form that garners awards for commentators, let alone athletes.  Their Olympic cycle taught us more about professional sport than any other example I can think of because some way out, they knew they had work to do on their fitness and equipment but over the months, ticked all the boxes one by one to get themselves not just back into contention but into pole position. 

There was nothing flashy about it, just hard work and loads of guts. I watched all this and knew they would get gold. What I didn't know was how much would be left up to chance on that flukey Nothe course. Too much, some reckon and the rub of the green went against them. Unlucky....and heart-breaking.

Unlike many of the other sailors they also made us laugh in the mixed zone with their intelligent, healthy and grown up take on sport. 

They are happy to commit their bodies and minds but not their souls and that shows. All-round athletes, all-round blokes that we as journos feel privileged to know. And bleedin nora, they won a silver medal which makes Percy a legend and Simpson a super god.

It was only by the grace of god that our hero Big Ben didn’t suffer the same desperate silvery fate in the next race. The rub of the green without any doubt went with him and he will be forever grateful to Dutch man Pieter-Jan Postma that a rush of blood worked so perfectly in Britain’s favour! Lucky and fabulous.

Dynamic and happy couple
So we cheered and sang and whooped and hollered when Ben’s big moment arrived. Five medals.  Wow, what an achievement. You have to admire him and we will celebrate again when he earns his knighthood. His girlfriend Marit Bouwmeister, a silver medallist in the Laser Radials from the Nederlands was beside herself with pride when she met up with him in the boat park shortly after her racing ended. 

Incidentally, I am shamelessly giving the Stars more space here than the Finn because our sports editors (including mine!) have, in my view, failed to give Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson the credit they are due. So I salute our Stars.

At the press conferences afterwards, they were all more relaxed than we have seen them in two years or so. Poor old Percy had to deal with a question, clumsily but not nastily put, about how he felt about his career being on a slide compared Ainslie’s going stratospheric.  It was unfortunate but Percy didn’t punch the bloke which is how it looked when he first fixed the journalist with a wild eyed stare and roared ‘WOW’. Very Richard Burton I thought.

And then, if he had any sense he would have gone and got drunk as Burton would certainly have done. That was what I was intending to do but for all Ainslie’s wonderful exploits, I left the media centre feeling rather flat.  Sport is real life drama with real life characters so it is not surprising that we suffer when the best loved characters get a little bit burned. 

When people ask about London 2012 and what it meant, this will probably be the answer.  Ainslie’s legacy and Percy’s pain though Dorian’s Crazy Penis will come a close second. But that’s for tomorrow.

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