My Olympic Odyssey (Part 15/15): My top 10

Amongst the unforgettable sporting drama it was a romantic gesture that topped it all.

10. Pool  idol

Tom Daley relishes inviting the world into his life. With 300,000 Twitter followers interest in his event was already off the scale, but non-diving fans too couldn’t help but feel for the perma-tanned talent after his father died from a brain tumour only last year.
The first dive of six was off kilter but a successful appeal meant he was allowed to repeat the dive due to the flashbulbs which accompanied his first putting him off – the crowd were reprimanded accordingly.
Round after round Daley climbed the leader board until the penultimate dive where he found himself in first.
The final two competitors executed more complicated dives, which meant Daley finished in third, prompting his swimming family to grab the 18-year-old in celebration and leap laughing and shouting into the pool.

9. Games Maker-me smile

My penultimate event of the Games wasn’t the most glamourous but it was a special one.

Scouring the crowd with my camera’s long lens, I suspect the fans next to me wondered what was more interesting than the women’s volleyball bronze-medal match currently taking place.

‘Look hard right,’ texted the Games Maker for whom I was searching.

And there she was, grinning at me from across the arena. My mum, the Games Maker. So proud of her.

8. Last but so not least

This is the first Olympic Games in which women have competed for every country

You didn’t have to be from Team GB to experience the crowd’s infamous support.

During a qualifying round for the women’s 800m Kenya’s Janeth Jepkosgei stormed to win but it was the lady finishing a lap behind her who received a standing ovation.

Sarah Attar became the first Saudi Arabian woman to run in track and field, and formed half of the first Saudi Arabian women’s squad to ever compete at an Olympic Games – the other participant was Wodjan Shaherkani in the judo.

Despite having to walk behind the men during the opening ceremony, the ladies made history and it was a privilege to watch it happen, roared on by the crowd.

7. The swim off

‘A-my, A-my, A-my,’ reverberated around the Aquatics Centre one Friday morning.

The British 50m swimmer had come in a dead heat first-thing that morning and now there was a swim-off between her and two other sprinters to see who would make it through to the final.

So, just three in the pool, Amy had already raced twice, the second time in the relay half an hour before and now she had 15,000 people cheering her on.

Falling silent as the racers took their positions, the crowd roared her home to what was only ever going to be a win in the one-lap race.

When athletes talk of the crowd’s support helping them, I think of this moment.

6. A celestial moment at the blue riband event

The men line up for the 100m semi final a few hours before the main event

It was the silence that got me.

A stadium full of 80,000 people and you could hear a pin drop.

Simultaneously, flashbulbs sparkled as the sprinters held their position on the start line.

That pause, pregnant with anticipation, created a celestial atmosphere in an other-worldly moment.

5. Taking London for granted

On the way to the opening ceremony, having spent hours getting into costume, primping and preening in hair and make-up I was astounded when one of my dance troupe burst into tears just as we were about to enter the stadium.

My first concern was her make-up running.

Overcome with the ‘all-inclusive’ nature of the event, Daria pointed to the kids in wheelchairs and the various cultures, ages and abilities taking part, and furiously through her tears said, ‘You’d never get this Poland. Never’.

4. Oh what a night

From left to right: Long jumper Greg Rutherford, heptathlete Jess Ennis and long-distance runner Mo Farah

The night we won three golds in 45-minutes on the athletics track I was in the stadium but barely saw a thing – I just blubbed my way through the entire evening.

First, Jess Ennis, pretty much a guaranteed winner of the heptathlon before the final 800m event, surprised and delighted the crowd by overtaking two heptathletes who had already overtaken her to win the race and with it, the gold she craved.

Minutes later, Greg Rutherford held his arm aloft as competitor after competitor failed to beat his fourth-round jump of 8.31m.

And then Mo Farah – oh lovely Mo – stormed to gold in the 10,000m and was greeted by his daughter running on to the track along with his eight-months pregnant wife… with twins.

Overcome by the third gold of the night I sobbed into the fatigues of a startled squaddie next to me. Emotional wreck barely covers it.

3. A mother’s love

Team GB’s men were just about to secure a historic medal in the gymnastics team competition.

Currently second, only Japan could move above them; their final gymnast, Kohei Uchimura, three-time all-around world champion and arguably the best men’s gymnast ever, was set to go on the pommel horse. He fell. His score was low, Team GB came a shocking second to tumultuous celebrations from the partisan crowd.

Behind me, a group of elderly Japanese women were distraught. Shortly afterwards, the Japanese team put in a query to the judges regarding the score. I turned to the ladies behind me and gestured, somehow, that there was a query.

The crowd held its breath, the appeal was granted, Uchimura’s score improved, and it was silver for Japan and bronze for Team GB, a still astounding achievement and a fair result I thought.

I turned to the ladies behind me again and gave them the thumbs up, indicating position ‘two’, and smiling and shaking their hands.

One of the ladies turned to me, grabbed my hand, shaking it furiously saying ‘uchimuramama’, ‘uchimuramama’. I was baffled, then I understood. I turned to the now smiling Japanese lady on the left. She was Kohei Uchimura’s mother. She bowed, took my hand and pressed it to her face.

2. BFF and BBF

The silhouette of the man waving at me from the top stand of the seating area after the final rehearsal for the London 2012 opening ceremony had finished looked like my boyfriend but I couldn’t be sure so I waited in my costume while spectators poured out of the stadium grinning at me and sharing how they’d loved the performance.

Fizzing with excitement my boyfriend and best friend appeared out of the crowd, me jumping and hugging them like a loon and they, at turns, laughing at my skin-tight costume with eyes glistening to see me so happy.

My best friend had tears in her eyes and my boyfriend gave me the biggest bear hug ever. Unforgettable.

1. An Olympic-sized romantic gesture

Having been turned down for an Olympic volunteer role (aka, a Games Maker), auditioned twice to be in the opening ceremony but ended up a reserve, and got nothing from applying for £2,500 worth of tickets in the ballots, I was gutted.

Rewind seven years and I was on the verge of moving to Sydney from the UK. That was, until one rainy day in London, we snatched the vote to host the Games from hot favourites, Paris.

Sydney on hold now that the Olympics were going to be in my home country, I promptly bought a flat in east London, three miles from the Olympic stadium. I then hunkered down waiting for any opportunity to get involved. The opportunities that had now come to nothing.

Some friends of my boyfriend, Jason, took pity on me and offered us two of their four tickets for a morning of athletics, but it was my boyfriend who unknown to me, leapt into action.

Having told me we were going for dinner with friends one week-night in April my first thought on seeing my older sister and parents sat in the restaurant was, ‘how bizarre that they’re out in the same restaurant as us’. I know.

With the arrival of my younger sister, husband and eight- and five-year-old nieces it soon became clear that this was an early birthday dinner, a big birthday looming in June.

At the end of a meal filled with surreptitious glances and smiles, my boyfriend handed my older niece, Lucy, eight gold (obviously) envelopes. On opening the first, I promptly burst out crying.

Confused by my happy tears, five-year-old Milly hugged my arm and said: “If you don’t win a medal, I’ll make you one.”

Seven envelopes later and I was off to handball, fencing, archery, gymnastics… I was stunned.

Turns out, my boyfriend had spent hours trawling websites finding official tickets and even set up a spreadsheet to make sure he wasn’t buying any that clashed with my favourite gymnastics and athletics events.

Having watched me sob at the merest hint of sporting achievement or disaster he completely understood my yearning to be involved and my crushing disappointment at, so far, being foiled at every turn.

When I was 17-years-old and having reached national zone squad level at gymnastics, a stress fracture in my lower back followed by a spinal fusion operation signalled the end of my gymnastics career and my Olympic dream. This was not such a far-fetched aim.

One of the girl’s in my gym ended up going to the Seoul Olympics, so what crushed me was not knowing how far I could have got and having to give up the sport I loved and excelled at.

Next thing I know, Jason is whispering in Lucy’s ear. Unsure, she double checks what he’s asked her to say, then announces: “There’s been an almighty cock-up,” to giggles around the table, although maybe not her parents. “We’ve found some more envelopes.”

A ticket for the women’s individual gymnastics final and two mornings at the athletics were the piece de resistance of an unforgettable evening.

Since then I got my grubby little paws on tickets for the men’s 100m final, Jess Ennis going for gold, Tom Daley in the diving, but as I took my seat at the archery at Lord’s or the handball at the Copper Box the emotion for my boyfriend and family as I recall that unforgettable night and what they’ve done to help me reach an alternative Olympic dream was overwhelming.

Author: Jo Gunston

Roving blogging superfan shares behind the scenes stories of her sports life and the best of those from like-minded souls.

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