Saturday, 4 August 2012

Generating an Inspiration

Maley & Jeffrey (Australia) lead off in the men's C2 semi-final
Jana Dukatova of Slovakia would end up in sixth place overall
Brazil and USA pounding volleyballs into submission at Earl's Court
Britain leads the world in the Synchronised Sweat-Mopping event
GB v Italy eventually started at 2230h
Note to self: new "Olympic" category needed for programme filing systems
Hopperational details
Date & Venues
Thursday 2 August 2012
a)    Lee Valley White Water Centre
b)    Earl’s Court Arena
The Olympic Games – London 2012
a)    Canoe Slalom semi-finals & final: Men’s C2 and Women’s K1 class
b)    Men’s Volleyball group stage games: Brazil v USA and GB v Italy
First Olympic events seen live, first time watching canoe slalom and volleyball live.
Gold for Baillie & Scott (GBR)
Silver for Florence & Hounslow (GBR)
Bronze for Hochschorner & Hochschorner (SVK)
Gold for Emilie Fer (FRA)
Silver for Jessica Fox (AUS)
Bronze for Maialen Chourraut (SPA)
USA 3-1 Brazil
Great Britain 0-3 Italy
This day in one sentence
A personal victory over the idiosyncracies of online ticket purchase and travel logistics so that I could experience a small but significant part of this great event.
So what?
I now want to go to Rio in 2016 !
The drama unfolds
I had spent a number of very frustrating hours trying to get tickets through the online purchase system, which seemed full of anomalies. Eventually, I was lucky to get a volleyball ticket at about twenty minutes past midnight.  It was more out of curiosity than anything that I logged in next morning – to my amazement I was able to secure a canoe slalom ticket within three minutes, timed at 9.14am, for an event starting at 1.30pm.  The voices in my head were telling me that this could get logistically tricky, but, hey, I may never get the chance again.  To the Yappmobile!

I left the house at 10.00am, parked in Cheshunt at 10.40am, collected the day’s tickets after a 45min walk (good job I’d had the presence of mind to take ID), and was in position in plenty of time.  The signage was excellent, the volunteers were friendly, the security checks were smooth and courteous, the atmosphere was multinationally superb – I couldn’t have asked for more.  Give me British troops rather than independent security firms every time, by the way.  I made an early decision that I would have to skip the medal ceremonies in order to have any chance of getting to the evening event.

A series of good audio-visual presentations explained some of the technicalities of the  sport and the big screens would prove crucial in helping spectators to follow what was happening.  I had a great view of gates 5 to 11 in particular but needed the screen for the rest of the course.

Team GB had two pairs in the C2 semi-final, which would reduce ten nations to six for the final.  In the C class, the participants are kneeling and have a single-bladed paddle.  The Australian and two Czech pairs preceded David Florence and Richard Hounslow, and here is a part of their run, which turned out to be the fastest in the semi.

The Slovenian paddlers were slower too, so even at that point, Florence & Hounslow knew they had made the top six for the final.  A Polish pair posted a good time and then came the other British canoe, with Tim Baillie and Etienne Scott.  They had an eventful but fast run – finding themselves reversing through gate 12 where fast forward had been the plan – but they avoided penalties and had the third best time at that point, and knew immediately that they were in the final.  It’s fair to say that the crowd were loud and partisan.

Semi-final: Baillie & Scott reverse (as planned) through gate 10
Even though all three remaining pairs (China, Slovakia and France) went faster than Baillie & Stott, no-one beat the Florence & Hounslow time.  The crowd cheered somewhat unsportingly as the later canoes picked up penalty points, including the Hochschorner brothers, looking for a fourth consecutive gold medal for Slovakia in this event.  Both Slovakia and France were behind Florence & Hounslow because of a two-second penalty for touching a gate.

On to the women’s K1 semi-final, which would reduce 15 nations to 10.  In the K class, the athlete is seated and holds a double-blade paddle.  There was plenty of support for the young Aussie, Jessica Fox, and of course for Team GB’s Lizzie Neave.  Stepanka Hilgertova was representing the Czech Republic at the age of 44.  As it turned out, Neave had a disappointing run, picking up six penalty seconds and missing out on the final in 12th place, by over a second.  Pacierpnik (Polcand), Chourraut (Spain) and Fer (France) had the three fastest semi-final times.

Jessica Fox of Australia in the semi-final
Lizzie Neave (GB) picked up penalty points and went out at the semi-final stage
In the men’s C2 final, Baillie & Scott went first and posted a penalty-free run of 106.41 seconds.  None of the drama of the semi-final, it was a very solid performance.  Both of the next two canoes (China & Poland) picked up penalties and were over 6 and 4 seconds behind respectively.  The French pair (Klauss & Peche) moved into second place, guaranteeing at least a bronze for Baillie & Stott.  The crowd worked it out before the commentator.

The Hochschorner brothers were quick, but with a 2-second penalty they could only take second place, upgrading Baillie & Stott’s in-the-bag status to silver with only their Team GB teammates to go.  We were on our feet creating the oft-mentioned “wall of noise” as Florence & Hounslow came down for a silver medal … less than half a second behind Baillie & Scott, who therefore took gold in an amazing 1-2 for Team GB.  Hochschorner & Hochschorner were pushed into the bronze medal place, and their incredible achievement has been largely ignored outside Slovakia and the canoeing fraternity.

Slovakian legends would have to settle for bronze this time
Florence and Hounslow on a smooth route to silver for GB
The women’s K1 final seemed rather an anti-climax after that, and two or three participants picked up early penalties so that completion of the course was a matter of pride and formality rather than threatening the leaders.  Fox led for Australia with the top three to come.  Chourraut was narrowly slower and took the provisional silver position, but then Fer went fastest so far with just Pacierpnik to come.  However, her run hit problems early on and she finished 7th overall.  So to summarise, Gold for France, Silver for Australia and Bronze for Spain, but I was already on my way down the steps from the stands as the applause died down at just after 4.30pm.

I’d decided to abandon the car in Cheshunt and it proved to be a good decision.  I used the free travelcard that came with the tickets and got a train to Liverpool Street, then the tube to Earl’s Court, getting there in plenty of time for the security checks and a pre-game falafel wrap.  (Yes, shock horror – I am off the burgers for the new season.)  Again, the rules and features of the game were explained for those unfamiliar with the sport.

I must read up on the physics of "hanging" sometime!
The first two sets of the men’s volleyball game between USA and Brazil were compelling, feisty and of the highest quality.  It was a privilege to watch, and there was plenty of yellow-shirted support for the South Americans in the crowd.  If their reaction is anything to go by, Rio 2016 will be a lot of fun.  Both sides had 3-0 records so far, and neither had even dropped a set.  Something had to give.  USA held an occasional slender lead on and off during the very tight first set.  Here’s the end of it … USA are in white.

So, Brazil took the lead, 25-23.  USA took initial control of the second set but Brazil came back strongly.  Again, here are the final few points.

USA drew level with that 27-25 set win.  The next two sets were competitive and hard-fought, but the USA supporters found their voices as their team gradually took charge.  Team USA ran out victors by 3 sets to 1, (23-25, 27-25, 25-19, 25-17).

At 10.30pm, the match between Great Britain and Italy started.  The scorebook will show that Italy won comfortably by 3-0, leaving Team GB looking for their first set of the tournament at the bottom of their group.  They had their moments, and this was a competitive game with GB’s body language positive to the end even as the crowd steadily filed out as we approached 11.30pm.  Neither side had the raw power of either USA or Brazil, and there were more examples of delicacy and finesse at the net.  It was always entertaining but the truth is that the result was never really in doubt.  I was heading out of the door just before midnight.  The final set scores were 25-19 25-16 25-20 to Italy.

Here's a short clip to set the scene.  Italy are in blue.

The Tube to Liverpool Street station was fine, but there were no more trains to Cheshunt.  After a quick chat with staff, I just made the 12.40am to Chingford which was at least heading vaguely in the right direction.  After a short and reasonably priced taxi journey, I was reunited with the lonely Yappmobile at 1.40am and back online trying (unsuccessfully)  to get some more tickets at 2.30am.  There is no cure.
What Next?
The regular football hopping season will start on Saturday with a Step 5 trip and the beginning of “Hopping for Moorfields”.  I also had the experience of being a studio guest on BBC Three Counties radio last Tuesday – Kate Robbins was sitting in for Nick Coffer and some groundhopping chat appears two to two-and-a-half hours in to the three-hour programme.  She thinks I’m mad, and I am absolutely delighted with that.  This listen-again link will work for another day or two.  Please send me a penny-a-goal pledge (or something of your own choice) if you can – price of a pint or a pie and a great cause, and you don't have to pay up till next June.

(It is the 31 July programme)

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