• Outside The Rings: Tripp Mickle

        Tripp Mickle has covered the business side of the Olympics for SportsBusiness Journal since 2006, traveling to both the Beijing and Vancouver Games. Along the way he’s also covered the motorsports, soccer, hockey and action sports beats for the magazine, as well as other subjects. London will be Tripp’s third Olympics as both a reporter and visitor. He’s just glad this one doesn’t require a translator or a parka.

       You can reach Tripp at tmickle@sportsbusinessjournal.com, or follow him on Twitter @trippmickle.

  • On The Ground: After initial dread, these Games truly have been 'lovely'

    London was wound tight when I arrived three weeks ago. The Olympics were coming, and dread gripped the city.

    They were putting in Olympic lanes, and everyone said traffic would be a disaster. They were putting cruise missiles on top of buildings, and everyone said security would be a nightmare. They were telling people to leave the city, and everyone said the Underground would fail.

    The bleak atmosphere was similar to the one that gathered around a family preparing to host a Christmas party. Somewhere in east London, the mom was rushing about frantically organizing things and taking care of last-minute details before the extended family arrived. Everyone else was being asked to do small things they didn’t want to do, and that left plenty of time to grumble and complain.

    My cab driver from Victoria station to my hotel was like the family’s aggravated son. He had been excited when London won the Olympics seven years ago, but the more he listened to talk radio and heard about road closures, the more agitated he became. He spent most of the drive apologizing for how much longer the drive was than it should be.

    “They’ve got everything shut down around Buckingham Palace for the cycling this weekend,” he said. “It’s going to be dreadful.”

    He had made plans to avoid the coming calamity by taking two weeks off during the Olympics. It was a tactic a lot of Londoners took during the first week of the Games.

    ■  ■  ■

    I had my own sense of dread about these Olympics. I was worried about the weather, the failure of security contractor G4S and the lines for venues.

    The news that came from London the past six months turned an Olympics I was looking forward to into one filled with foreboding.

    My first day didn’t help matters.

    I planned to buy a mobile phone for emails and calls after I arrived. But I wasn’t prepared to do it at Westfield Stratford mall. The mall, which is the biggest in Europe, acts as the de facto entrance to the Olympic Park. It had five different mobile phone retailers. It took me an hour to figure out which phone to buy from which store.

    When I tried to set up my email account on it two hours later, I discovered it was too outdated for our corporate email system. That meant I had to spend another hour walking back to the mall from Olympic Park and an hour after that swapping it out for a phone that did work. All in, I spent four hours of my first day just trying to get a phone that I could use.

    Fortunately, things got easier from there. And Danny Boyle had a lot to do with that. There was an enormous difference in the country’s mood after the opening ceremony. Everyone collectively seemed to think, “Maybe this won’t be so bad after all.”

    And it wasn’t. For them or for me.

    During the next two weeks, I spent my days bouncing from sports to meetings to interviews. I saw handball, archery, diving, beach volleyball, shooting, rowing, swimming, gymnastics, basketball, tennis, track and field, track cycling, volleyball and boxing. I ate 18 Cliff bars, chewed 60 sticks of spearmint gum, and ate more boxed sandwiches than I can remember. I worked at seven different Starbucks.

    I saw Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt make history, and went to a party attended by Jessica Ennis and the actor who played Matthew from “Downton Abbey.” I snuck in speed tours of Westminster Abbey, Churchill’s War Room and the Tate Modern. I visited Hampstead Heath with a college friend and heard her 2-year-old son, who is being raised in London, point at a deep gray sky and say, “Ahh, it’s sunny!”

    I was called a wanker outside a tube stop and identified as an American “because [my] teeth are white.” I heard a Scottish emcee taunt the prime minister and coin a new phrase for raking sand between beach volleyball sets. “It’s rakey, rakey time!!!!”

    I watched the lights flicker on and heard the closing-time-bell ring at a half-dozen pubs. I felt underdressed at Wimbledon and got damp with rain watching women’s marathon runners race through a downpour.

    I heard music everywhere. “Born in the USA” after Phelps won his 19th Olympic medal, Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” as sand was raked at beach volleyball and LCD Soundsystem’s “This is how it Starts” during a 1,500-meter semifinal.

    I marveled at the bag of tricks organizers used to keep people smiling for two straight weeks. They hired jazz dancers to perform in front of a long line for the Javelin, they gave away free water and ice cream on a hot day, and volunteers kept things humorous with an array of jokes. “They look OK, but I’m not sure about you lot.”

    By my last trip to the park, it was clear London was a different place than it had been when I arrived. Great Britain had been through some dark times over the last year or so. Austerity measures had made the nation feel weak, and the riots that hit London last year left its citizens uncertain about the future. But the Olympics and Team GB’s overwhelming medal success had changed that.

    Chris Kay, a 63-year-old retired civil engineer who I walked to the Olympic Park with that last day, put it this way: “The Olympics is a morale booster. It’s not a good time for us. This is a shot in the arm and a reminder we can do something big.”

    ■  ■  ■

    By the time I left Friday morning, London was loose and upbeat. The Olympics were almost over, and though tickets had been scarce and business had been slower than expected, optimism replaced the city’s doom and gloom.

    My cab driver to Victoria station was chipper even in his British pessimism.

    “How’s it been?” I said.

    “Absolute crap!” he answered.

    Business had been rubbish, he said, but he’d learned from a passenger who’d helped organize another Olympics that business is always rubbish during the Games. It’s not until four or five years after the Games, when people who watched decide to visit the host city, that businesses see increases. And he was OK with that.

    “The roads have been absolutely dead,” he said. “It’s been lovely, really.”

    It was 60 degrees and sunny outside as the cab sped through central London. I looked out the window as we drove past Number 10 Downing Street and Trafalgar Square. London was just waking up, and I couldn’t help but think that my cabbie was right.

    The Olympics had been lovely.

  • Samsung project had the right Olympic spirit behind it, if not the athletes

    Samsung's Genome Project was a great idea in theory.
    There’s one Olympic sponsor that was conspicuously silent in the U.S. media the last two weeks, and that’s Samsung.

    The Korean company declined my request to sit down and talk about its marketing program around the London Games, and that’s too bad because I’ve been thinking about what Samsung did a lot since I arrived in London three weeks ago.

    The company developed a Facebook application last spring called the Genome Project that allowed users to see their connection to past and present Olympians. It was a six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon thing, but instead of connecting actors, it connected individuals to Olympians who trained in their hometown or graduated from the same college.

    It was a great idea, but it faltered in its execution when it decided to feature Olympians who hadn’t granted the company permission to feature them. That opened the door to a lawsuit from 18 Olympians who allege their names and likenesses were used without their permission.

    I’ll let a judge sort out who is right and who is wrong in the lawsuit. But I wanted to point out that Samsung was right in the philosophy of its program, that sharing a connection with an Olympian makes watching that athlete compete more entertaining.

    I put the idea to the test last week and it took me to see a sport I never thought I’d see — equestrian.

    My connection to the sport is as convoluted as any Samsung’s Genome Project might have served up. My brother-in-law is from Albemarle, N.C., and his father works at a farm and horse stable there that host one of the South’s largest equestrian events. It’s also the home of Canadian equestrian team member Rebecca Howard.

    When I toured the farm last year, I watched Howard working with the horses there for a few minutes and was told that she was hoping to make the Canadian Olympic team. It wasn’t until I arrived here that I checked to see if she’d actually done it.

    She competed in individual eventing — the competition that includes dressage, a cross country test and jumping — and I headed out to see her ride last week. Unfortunately, I arrived for the finals and she didn’t qualify.

    But the very fact that she was in it was enough to get me to equestrian. And watching a giant animal leap through the air over obstacles as the rider leans forward and the crowd gasps is more entertaining than I expected.  

    Howard wasn’t the only connection that made me pay attention to events I didn’t plan to watch. I learned over here that a classmate at Wake Forest University had a sister, Evelyn Stevens, who made the USA Cycling team, so I watched her in the road race the first Sunday of competition. I also made a point of going to watch the U.S. play Nigeria in basketball, the most lopsided game of the Olympics, because it featured Wake alums Chris Paul and Al-Farouq Aminu.

    Those tenuous connections made my Olympics better, and that’s what the Samsung Genome Project was supposed to do for everyone.

    It’s a shame it didn’t work out that way.

  • The velodrome, track cycling is no white elephant for these Games

    If you’re lucky and your schedule is clear, you can let impulse guide you at the Olympics.

    Tuesday, I got lucky. I had a three-hour break between interviews and just enough time to get to the velodrome for the last day of track cycling.

    I came to London with zero interest in the sport. I thought velodromes were developed so that the Olympics could leave behind at least one unused relic from every Games. After all, who rides a bike indoors? They don’t have treadmill races, do they?

    But after five days of listening to the BBC talk about how many medals the Brits were winning in track cycling, I decided to give the sport a chance. Those cyclists are seriously fit, and while it may not be a passion among a lot of Americans, who gravitate toward road cycling or mountain biking, it is a huge passion point here.

    It’s odd to think about. Americans prefer road cycling and watching cars go around in circles on a NASCAR track. Brits enjoy track cycling and prefer seeing F1 cars navigate tight turns on the streets of Monaco.

    Great Britain's Laura Trott brought the crowd to its feet with a gold medal on Tuesday.
    GETTY IMAGES
    Track cycling has practically become the country’s national Olympic sport here, and I wanted to see what it was all about, so I hurried from a few meetings in central London out to the Olympic Park for the last day of track cycling.

    The exterior of the velodrome is made of wood that bends outward from the building’s concrete foundation and swoops upward into the sky. Walking under its overhang, I felt like I was beneath a giant bamboo cereal bowl.

    The venue holds 6,000 people, and its interior looks like a salad platter. It’s as hot and stuffy inside as Florida in late May. London organizers say it’s made of a “100 percent naturally ventilated system that eliminates the need for air conditioning.” My damp shirt would disagree.

    A British sports executive told me Tuesday that the nation generally feels uncomfortable celebrating success. Someone forgot to tell people at the velodrome that.

    The moment a British cyclist took to the track and the beeper sounded, a roar rumbled up from every seat in the venue. As British cyclist Laura Trott in the women’s omnium, a 500-meter time trial, circled the track in her race, they got louder and louder and louder until she crossed the finish line. Then it went silent.

    When the scoreboard showed she had finished in record time, they exploded to their feet. They applauded. They whistled. They chanted. They shouted. “Laura! Laura! Laura! Laura!”

    They stood for more than five minutes after Trott won, clapping as she rode her bike around the track with a Union Jack fluttering off her back.

    Between races, the entertainment of choice was a kiss cam. The crowd chanted “Kiss! Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!” It’s like a giant game of spin the bottle with 6,000 people.

    One time they were showing two guys on the camera, who were reluctant, so a third guy leaned in and pecked one of them on the cheek. The crowd roared.

    In just two hours, I saw Team Great Britain win two gold medals, and I developed an appreciation for a velodrome that I’d never had before. In some places, they don’t become white elephants. London’s surely one of those places.

    Sometimes it’s good to follow your impulse.

  • Olympic tennis at Wimbledon is serene, if not entirely different

    Olympic tennis at Wimbledon is fun, but it doesn't match the pristine image of the club that people see on TV.
    I was part of a group of North Americans who cordoned off an entire end of the train car on the district line to Wimbledon on Saturday. Coincidence brought us together, but it provided a welcome escape from a week of Union Jack flags and Team GB cheers.

    This country has gone from despair in the first few days of the Olympics to complete and unfettered patriotic, revelry. Six gold medals in a single day will do that to you. Especially when you haven’t pulled off a feat like that in modern Olympic history.

    The two Canadians, American couple and the family of an American Olympian I found myself seated with were looking to escape that by watching an American talent — Serena Williams — on the historic green grass of Wimbledon.

    It would be the first time any of us had been to the All England Lawn and Tennis Club, and I’m still trying to decide if our visit counts. So much was different about Olympics tennis at Wimbledon.

    The sidewalks running from the Southfields tube stop were empty early Saturday afternoon. Instead of thick crowds of tennis enthusiasts buzzing with excitement before a women’s final at the Championships, there were small groups of Belgians and Germans and Spaniards who seemed to all be chewing over the same question: Will it look the same as it does on TV?

    The streets were deserted. They had been barricaded and blocked off before the Olympics began for security reasons. IMG’s David Abrutyn, who goes to the Championships every year, said security was so tight that he couldn’t even use the backstreets where he grabs taxis every July. He had to make the long walk with the masses.

    The first thing I did when I got inside was head straight to a concession booth and pay £2.50 for my strawberries and cream. It was nearly 2 p.m., but my tennis-loving father watched enough tennis from the Championships for NBC’s “Breakfast at Wimbledon” to be seared into my brain.

    The strawberries and cream — as underwhelming as the clear plastic bowl in which it was served — were sold at a booth with a lime green sign in the shadow of Centre Court. Adjacent booths had the hot pink, deep purple and electric blue from LOCOG’s (London Olympic Organizing Committee) palette of ugly.

    For Championship regulars like Tim Curry, the U.S. Tennis Association’s head of communications, those colors have been very disorienting.

    Wimbledon is defined be the simple and bland forest green that is on its seats, railings, walls and trim outside the stadium. But for the Olympics, Centre Court was wrapped in London 2012 purple, and the Rolex clock and Wimbledon W’s were covered with the lime green logo of the Games.

    Serena Williams' dominant performance caused the crowd to grow a little restless.
    GETTY IMAGES
    The crowd added another layer of dissonance for Curry and others. The place wasn’t filled with the tennis-loving rich fans who watched Williams play a month ago. It was a mixed group, many of whom were lucky enough to snag tickets through an egalitarian lottery system.

    They were a rambunctious bunch. The emcee had to remind everyone to be quiet a few times as the match began. It didn’t help that Williams went to the bathroom right before the match started, which prompted a cascade of boos.

    The masses wanted tennis, but I don’t think they wanted the tennis they got. Williams was dominant, winning the first eight points and hitting the ball so hard that Maria Sharapova was left to lunge and weakly hold out her racket hoping she could redirect the ball back over the net.

    The first set was a 6-0 drubbing that ended in less than 30 minutes. The crowd started looking for something to cheer. There were catcalls when Williams’ skirt blew up and cheers when the first fan caught a tennis ball that popped off of Sharapova’s racket like a foul ball.

    The action in the stands seemed more important throughout the Olympic tennis at Wimbledon. Curry said he was watching Andy Roddick’s first-round match on Court 2 when a baby started wailing. Roddick was just about to serve as the father stood up to take the baby out of the stands.

    “Andy looked up at the guy carrying his screaming child and said to him, ‘Don’t worry. It gets better,’” Curry said.

    After Williams’ 63-minute domination of Sharapova ended, I wandered around the grounds of Wimbledon. It was the most peaceful walk I’d had all Olympics.

    Wimbledon, usually crowded and bustling during the Championships, was an oasis of calm during the Games. London 2012 ticketed individual matches rather than the entire day of tennis, so the place was practically empty.

    There was plenty of room on the hill behind No. 1 Court. People were stretched out on the ground drinking cider and watching a giant screen while the Bryan brothers played for the gold medal on Centre Court.

    They weren’t selling Wimbledon merchandise. The store was full of London 2012’s loud pinks, oranges and greens. There were no purple and green W’s. So I headed into town to buy a shirt.

  • London's Aquatics Centre falls short of other Olympic venues

    From Ryan Lochte to Katie Ledecky, there were plenty of big splashes for Team USA in the pool this week, but the London Aquatics Centre itself was a dud.

    Just as Horse Guards Parade exemplifies everything that organizers got right at the London Games, the Aquatics Centre this week became a showcase for where they fell short. And it starts with the venue.

    From the outside, the venue looks stunning. London-based Zaha Hadid Architects designed a roof that curves and dips dramatically like a wave in the pool. The stands rise up on either side of the curve roofing, making the entire facility look like a concrete and steel replica of Michael Phelps in mid-butterfly stroke.

    But inside, the venue becomes dysfunctional. The stands rise straight up beneath the dipping roof, leaving spectators a clipped view of the pool. It feels like watching a baseball game through a slit in the outfield fence. Agents, former Olympic swimmers and fans alike have complained about their sightlines this week.

    Unlike other Games venues, such as Horse Guards Parade (below), the London Aquatics Centre fell short of Olympic excitement.
    GETTY IMAGES (2)
    Then there’s in-venue atmosphere. At Horse Guards Parade, London organizers and the volleyball federation created a party. At the basketball arena, organizers and the basketball federation replicated an NBA game. But at swimming, organizers and the swimming federation created a swim meet on par with the one you might see at a nearby country club. There’s little music, the acoustics in the venue garble the emcee’s comments and there’s not much energizing the crowd other than a breakout performance by Lochte or a medal-winning performance by Great Britain’s Rebecca Addlington.

    If FINA, the international swimming federation, is as interested in increasing youth interest in the sport as it says it is, then it would do well to take a cue or two from USA Swimming. The U.S. governing body has turned its Olympic Trials into a vibrant showcase for the sport full of pyrotechnics, pumping music and energetic crowds. You don’t need fireworks to go off everytime Missy Franklin sets a world record, but it’s a great way to let an international crowd know just how enormous an achievement like that is.

    There’s a lot organizers of the 2016 Games in Rio can learn about both design and atmosphere by watching Saturday’s final night of swimming at the Aquatics Centre.

    London organizers have done a great job of contemplating how venues will be used after these Games. The Aquatics Centre will have portions of its exterior stripped away after the Games and be converted into a community facility that is expected to attract 800,000 visitors a year.

    But it’s important that the design process isn’t so focused on what a venue will be after the Olympics that it sacrifices its purpose and function during the Games.

    When it comes to atmosphere, London organizers nailed it at Horse Guards Parade. They created a venue for beach volleyball that’s fun and vibrant — a true celebration of sport. USA Swimming did the same at its trials in Omaha in 2008 and 2012.

    It wouldn’t be the worst idea if Rio took its inspiration from both events. Swimming, after all, has become the first week’s showcase sport. It’s time it got the celebration it deserves.

  • On The Ground: Three days, three historic venues … game, set, match

    Three days, three historic venues. That was my goal this week.

    I wanted to hit Lord’s Cricket Grounds, Royal Artillery Barracks and Horse Guards Parade for archery, shooting and beach volleyball, respectively.

    The idea of going to see archery or shooting never occurred to me until I got here and heard all the talk among Olympic executives about the history of their venues.

    China may have had its fancy new Bird’s Nest and multi-color Water Cube, but it didn’t have a single venue like London. Nothing had history adding an extra layer of texture to the competition on display. It’s what has made London a truly unique host, and the organizers deserve credit for taking advantage of it.

    Draw, Release.

    Lord's Cricket Ground
    TRIPP MICKLE PHOTO
    Archery was my first stop. Lord’s Cricket Ground is 197 years old and is considered the world’s home of cricket, but it was converted into an archery venue for the Olympics. The move surprised a lot of Londoners because the club that runs the venue is very conservative and didn’t even admit women until 1999. But the decision to hold archery there was a great one.

    London organizers set up stands made of scaffolding and wrapped in purple tarps in the middle of the green grounds. Archers stand with their backs to a Victorian pavilion and let rip their volley toward targets set up 76 yards away.

    Not being a fan of cricket, the magic of the place was lost on me, but the history wasn’t. I passed a plaque outside the grounds that read, “Stones laid in 1889.” It was older than Fenway, older than Wrigley, older than the oldest venues in the U.S.

    Pull, Bang.

    Shooting at the Royal Artillery Barracks
    TRIPP MICKLE PHOTO
    The next day I went to shooting at the Royal Artillery Barracks. The venue dates back to 1716 when two artillery companies were authorized at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich. The barracks were opened in 1775, right around the start of the Revolutionary War.

    Just like Lord’s, there were temporary stands wrapped in purple looking out onto a wide, open, grass field. A semicircle where the competitors stood looked out across the field. A high purple house on one end and low house sat on the other, launching skeet into the air at different heights.

    The barracks stand off in the distance to the right of competition. They have the longest unbroken building façade in the U.K., and the brick face of the building stretches on forever.

    It’s a funny sport, shooting. It’s been part of the Olympics since 1896. The skeet competition is punctuated by shouts of “Pull,” a three-second pause, the blast of a 12-gauge and then the explosion of an orange clay disc.

    Band of Lifeguards perform at the shooting event.
    TRIPP MICKLE PHOTO
    Vincent Hancock of Eatonton, Ga., blew past the competition on the day I was there, nailing 25 out of 25 targets on his final round. When an Italian did the same thing an hour earlier, he roared and pumped his fist like he’d just sank a birdie putt to win the Masters.

    The in-venue entertainment there was unlike any I’ve seen in sport. Between rounds, a 25-person military brass band named Band of the Lifeguards, one of two mounted bands, showed up decked out in red coats and silver, Victorian-era helmets topped by flowing golden string that looked like a ponytail. They had spurs on the heels of their boots.

    The band has been around since it escorted King Charles II into London in 1660. Now that’s old.

    Parade. Set. Spike.

    By far the best venue in London is Horse Guards Parade, which is playing host to beach volleyball. In fact, it’s the best venue and sports experience I’ve ever had at the Olympics.

    To get to the venue in St. James Park, you pass under Admiralty Arch and walk down The Mall — a wide vacant street flanked by alternating red, white and blue Union Jack flags and white Olympic flags.

    Beach volleyball at Horse Guards Parade
    GETTY IMAGES
    Organizers set up temporary scaffolding and a sand pit in a small patch of the park sandwiched between Admiralty House, an 18th century government building where JFK met with British officials, and the prime minister’s home at No. 10 Downing. The London Eye lights up the banks of the Thames in the distance.

    All of that creates a bizarre backdrop to the most raucous — and late night — Olympic venues I’ve ever visited. London 2012 hired bikini-clad dancers to prance around with beach balls during Katy Perry’s “California Girl,” and roam the stands forcing men in suits to do the conga. In the concession area outside the stands, men drink beer and complain that the players aren’t wearing bikinis because it’s too cold.

    And then there’s the Scottish emcee, who’s perhaps the best announcer I’ve ever heard in sports. He has patented phrases for when the sand is raked between sets — “It’s time for the historic art of sand raking,” or “It’s rakey, rakey time” — and has a running list of jokes:

    “I just called the office and spoke to the boss. The good news is: You’re taking the tie off tomorrow.”

    “You’re going to be out of here by 3 a.m., but look at the bright side, you’ll save on hotel room”

    His underlying message is simple: “Let’s party. You’re in the mood.”

    And that’s what beach volleyball has become — a giant party on the doorstep of the British government. A celebration of new sport at another site that’s very old.

  • London's Tube: Don't sweat it, it's a world away from Beijing

    In Beijing, I took the subway once. In London, I take the Tube everywhere.

    The contrast between my experiences below ground in the two cities says a lot about just how different these Games are for the average American.

    In Beijing, I boarded the subway after a full day of meetings in one of the city’s business areas. The moment I stepped into the train and the doors closed, everyone turned and stared at me. I looked around and realized very quickly I was the only foreigner on the train. I also realized I was a novelty.

    In a recent episode of public radio’s “This American Life,” they did a whole episode about how fascinated Chinese people are with Americans. They’re so fascinated, in fact, that American expats are asked regularly to be on TV there. Children, animals and foreigners get the best ratings on Chinese TV, and Americans on the show said they felt like performing monkeys every time they were on TV there.

    And that’s exactly the way I felt. The Olympics were in Beijing, and it had delivered a worldwide freak show.

    London couldn’t be more different.

    Sunday night I jumped on the Tube to go up to north London to get dinner. I was at King’s Cross and three people piled into the train from the Olympic Park area. They were in their 30s and all had their faces painted with Olympic rings. One guy had a giant, inflatable hand with the Union Jack on it and kept trying to high-five people.

    They hadn’t actually been to Olympic Park but had spent the day at Westfield mall on the edge of the park — just to soak up the atmosphere of the Olympics. The Olympics were in their town, and they were having fun with it in a campy, tongue-in-cheek way. It was both mocking and sincere.

    There was a lot of hand-wringing before the Olympics about what a disaster public transportation would be. The extra 3 million journeys expected for the Olympics — on top of the usual 12 million a day — was expected to wreak havoc. But three days into the Games, there’s been none. In fact, the Tube has been so easy that Rio 2016 CEO Leonardo Gryner reportedly gave up his private car and started taking the Underground everywhere.

    “What a great legacy is that for the system and the system we’ve created,” said Chris Daniels, who manages Lloyds TSB’s Olympic sponsorship.

    I’ve taken the District Line in morning rush on Monday, the Picadilly Line in the evening rush, Victoria in the lunch hour and the Northern Line in the middle of the day. Trains arrive quickly, crowds are manageable, and I’ve run into no delays.

    The only problem that I’ve run into came on one of the 80-plus-degree days last week. I rushed into a car on the Tube ready to get a blast of air conditioning only to be hit by dead, still, hot air.

    “Excuse me, “ I said to the woman beside me. “Is there air conditioning on the Tube?”

    “No,” she said, squinting at me.

    I explained to her that in New York, the subway had air conditioning but occasionally you could sit in a car that didn’t. All you have to do when that happens is move down a car.

    You can’t do that with the Tube, but it’s cooled off in London since then. The Tube has been comfortable. Instead of sweating on it, I’ve been able to watch the people and enjoy not having anyone stare at me.

  • After a nice start, will these Games be the greatest of our time?

    Last March, Michael Lynch predicted the London Games could potentially be the greatest Olympics of our lifetime.

    We were talking before SportsBusineess Journal’s World Congress of Sports, and at first I wasn’t sure what the former Visa executive meant. The Olympics are so big and ambitious that they often prompt grand statements, and I wondered if Lynch had fallen victim to that.

    But his reasons convinced me he hadn’t. Lynch, who has worked on 11 Olympics, said that the London organizers had managed the run-up to the Games well. The venues were on time. The sponsors were being serviced. Everything (up until the unforeseen G4S debacle) was smooth.

    That meant that the focus at the Olympics could be on sports, and he thought this Olympics would deliver more great sports stories than any in recent memory, and maybe more than any in the coming quadrennials.

    Two of the most high-profile Olympians in history are returning. Michael Phelps is poised to break the record for most medals ever for an Olympian, and Usain Bolt is looking to reclaim his title, lost due to a false start at the 2011 world championships, as the fastest man in the world.

    And they have a compelling supporting cast: Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva would be going for her third gold; Liu Xiang, the Chinese hurdler who was hurt four years ago, would look to fulfill his promise; Missy Franklin, the energetic teenager with the brilliant backstroke; Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas, the serious and lively heart of the U.S. gymnastics team; Britain’s men’s and women’s cycling teams were favored to medal; and the American and Brazilian beach volleyball teams would be back.

    Long before the Games began, Lynch seemed to buy into the vision of London Olympic Organizing Committee Chairman Seb Coe. The two-time Olympian wants these Games to be about the athletes first. That’s why the Athlete’s Village is conveniently located within walking distance of venues, and it’s why he often reminds the media that athletes spent half their lives working to reach this stage.

    Now that the opening ceremony is behind us and the sports have begun, I’m going to be watching to see if Coe and Lynch are right.

    Is this going to be an Olympics remembered for great sports moments? Is it going to be about the duel between Phelps and Ryan Lochte? Is it going to be the time that Bolt became the first sprinter to repeat the double? Is it going to be where Isinbayeva won her third gold?

    And when it’s all over on Aug. 12, will we call it the greatest Olympics of our lifetime?

  • On The Ground: Outside the Olympic bubble, London gets ready to party

    GETTY IMAGES
    I spent my first two days here in the Olympic bubble. I was in London, but I was in Olympic London — the land of temporary venues, Europe’s largest mall and a redeveloped industrial area.

    Don’t get me wrong, the Olympic Park is very nice. The organizers, as the International Olympic Committee members noted Wednesday, did a very impressive job and may set the standard when it comes to developing sustainable venues for an Olympics.

    But the Olympic Park doesn’t offer views of Big Ben, the Thames or Buckingham Palace. Those are in real London. And it wasn’t until Wednesday that I finally saw it.

    It was 11 a.m., and I was stopped at a crosswalk after a Procter & Gamble press conference in Westminster. A red, double-decker bus was right in front of me. Big Ben towered behind it, ringing its bells at the top of the hour. A pack of tourists stared upward at the black and gold clock.

    This was London. The London of postcards and royal coronations and the British government. Maybe not the heart of London for residents, but it is for visitors.

    I looked down at my watch and realized I had an hour to spare before my next meeting. Rather than go early, I spun away from the Tube station and headed across the street toward Westminster Abbey.

    Westminster Abbey
    GETTY IMAGES
    Sixteen pounds later, I had an audio tour pressed to my ear and was standing inside a church that was built more than 1,000 years ago. I stood before the golden altar that framed a Victorian painting of the last supper and absorbed one of the city’s most historic landmarks.

    This, after all, is what excites everyone about the London Games.

    It’s the rare convergence of one of the world’s oldest cities with one of its most modern events. Sports like cycling will be held on the doorstep of Buckingham Palace in the coming days. Two thousand years of history and contemporary sports will collide.

    It wasn’t until Wednesday that I experienced that collision myself. I spent 45 minutes at Westminster Abbey, pausing longest in Poets’ Corner to see the resting place of writers like Dickens and Lawrence and poets like Cooleridge and Eliot. There’s a statue to Shakespeare there, too, though he’s not buried there. That didn’t stop a tour guide wearing a London 2012 polo shirt from telling visitors that he would be a major part of the opening ceremony.

    The anticipation for that event is building steadily. Everyone is ready for the opening ceremony because they believe that is when the complaints will recede and the party will begin.

    “It’s going to be an immense party,” said Nick Keller, a native Londoner who founded Beyond Sport, a non-profit designed to improve society through sport. “That’s the one thing this country knows how to do.”

    Olympic insiders and London 2012 Chairman Sebastian Coe have been predicting for years that London would be like Sydney, which is still remembered for the legendary party atmosphere in Luna Park. The question that no one’s been able to answer is: Where will that party be?

    “Soho and Trafalgar Square,” Keller said.

    If he and the insiders are right, we could be in for one special Olympics. History, sport, Olympic-style parties. It all sounds good to me.

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