Because dammit, she did and she loved it!
And that you’ll be relieved to hear is the only time you’ll hear me referring to myself in the third person, I am always a bit spooked when people do that or like their own Facebook posts. What is that all about? You wrote the post doesn’t the ‘like’ go without saying?!
The Olympics has been amazing for London. I know it’s not been perfect, but when a mind-bogglingly huge event is being planned how can it possibly be? Yes, there was the faff with the tickets, yes the Olympic lanes cheesed off drivers, yes they could have handled the way they marshalled folks away from the markets more thoughtfully, yes you should have been able to take your picnic into Hyde park and watch it on the big screen, yes the Olympic logo was shit – a five year old could do better, yes that bloke should have been able to stick 5 bagels on his café window without some doofus telling him to take them down due to some sponsorship contravention. None of those things were cool and I wish they’d been handled better.
But bloody hell, did London get it right or what? How amazing were the parts that went right?
And the thing is, I’ve always believed in the Olympics. I am a great romantic about the whole thing. I have vague memories of Moscow in 1980 and Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett, Daley Thompson and Alan Wells, but my memories of Los Angeles in 1984 are emblazoned on my memory in vivid technicolour. I was obsessed, I watched the morning coverage right through to the night highlights until I fell asleep. It changed me completely. I took up athletics and dance, I ran everywhere and I was actually very, very good. Unfortunately those dreams were knocked dead by my dad and the ramifications for me were heart-breaking.
But it is pointless to dwell on that. Except for this fact, if I was that inspired and I was eleven years old back then, think about how cool it is for the kids of 2012, who have Jessica Ennis, Victoria Pembleton, Tom Daley, Chris Hoy, Mo Farah (surely Sports Personality of the Year?) and Gemma Gibbons out there telling them they can be anyone they want to be?
That they can strive for excellence and make their dreams come true. These are true role models. Not dodgy footballers stuck in seedy vice cheating on their wives, or WAGs, or reality stars. Olympians are people who’ve grafted and bust a gut to reach for something, for themselves, for their country. It is good to have a dream, to have something galvanised in you. To have a work ethic.
Despite what happened to me, I carried on being a fan and I even worked on our bid to win the games! I worked on the Marketing to get volunteers on board for Newham Council back in 2004.
That made me happy. When we actually won the bid I was working for United Biscuits, I remember a TV being wheeled out from Meeting Room 2, and we were all crowded round it waiting for the IOC decision, and the cheers that went out were deafening when we got the nod.
I immediately signed up for London 2012 updates. When the ticket ballot opened, I applied for six events including the Opening and Closing ceremony and I put in a wildcard. I put in the Greco-Roman wrestling. I thought how mad and surreal would it be to go to something like that?
And guess what?
I got my wild card! I got a confirmation that I’d won a £20 ticket to watch men in leotards or giant babygros as I cheekily called them, man it out, in a circle. And frankly, I was delighted.
What I didn’t know back then, was that the Olympics was going to coincide with the most frenetic period of literary activity in my writing life!!! That I would be finalising my debut novel, Gunshot Glitter for publication; trying to get my head around formatting it and what epublishing vendor options to pursue.
**Update: last night I completed my first FULL draft format and it is so far, looking good. It will be out on Amazon for Kindle worldwide soon. I will update you all on release date in the next blog, I promise! **
But I was stoked nonetheless that I was actually going to get to go to the Olympics.
That I, Yasmin Selena Butt, had a guaranteed seat for my sweet hiney to sit on in the ExCel arena to watch some fellas thrash it out from all around the world. So when the day came, I was so excited I woke at 5am and my event wasn’t on until 1pm! My ticket had arrived months earlier by Special Delivery in a giant envelope and the inclusion of a Zone 1-9 Travelcard was a genuinely, lovely surprise. I had no idea we had a Zone 9 in London! London had been warned about the security precautions employed and the possibility of traveling like sardines on public transport during the duration of the Olympic Games, and it put a lot of people off going in. But can I just say, that I made the most effortless journey to Excel. I got seats on my bus, train, tube and DLR. And the staff all the way were fantastic. They’d really got into the spirit.
The other thing that was nice was embarking on the journey with fellow ticket holders, there was a buzz in the air. But the coolest thing of all was sharing the tube journey with athletes, officials and venue staff clad in uniforms and national regalia. I loved that. I couldn’t stop smiling and staring at them the whole time. I knew I’d never see anything like that again. And if I do, I’ll probably be too senile to twig what’s going on. And there was this lass on the train sat next to me with the best nails. She’d painted flags and Olympic rings all over them. Proper cool. I told her so and she was delighted.
I live in a cosmopolitan city. London is one of the nicest melting-pots for cultural diversity in the whole world. I love my capital. I was lucky enough to live in the Maldives twice, but I tell you flying over the London Eye coming home made me melt both times.
So seeing my city play host to the most special, meaningful sports event of my life and witnessing it being done so well made me intensely proud. I took snaps at the DLR station of the signage because I know it won’t always look that way. And the Olympic volunteers, in one word. Amazing. Just amazing, bear in mind I’d gone on Day 10 of the Olympics, you’d think the volunteers might be a bit tired, a tiny bit jaded even, but no, they were buzzing like a kid on SunnyDelight and they too were a melting pot of diversity. So pro-active and engaging. London often gets accused of being a bit of a cold city, if you are an outsider, with the whole British stiff upper lip reserved thing unless we’re drunk off our tits and then we’re obnoxious hooligans. But the volunteers not only knocked that stereotype on its head, they kicked it and sent it flying.
The route to ExCel was exciting, because besides the Greco-Roman wrestling, Irish darling Katie Taylor was boxing that day and the Irish fans were out in full force dressed up in the most spectacular fashion.
And I’ve never seen so many people from foreign countries in one place with their nationalities printed on their backs, crayoned on their faces, flags brandished so proudly. It was aces. People from Finland, Ireland, Kazakstan, Ukraine, Sweden, Poland, Bulgaria, Georgia, Iran, Egypt, USA and it was lovely. And men, women, families all getting into the spirit of things. Just good vibes all round.
Security checks were thorough and with it being Great Britain it had to rain a bit during that, but there were even volunteers every step of the way to keep people cheery through the wet. One girl was taking a photo for some girls and I spotted her Olympic nails and asked if I could take a photo, as soon as I did that a whole heap of people who’d been too shy to ask flocked over and asked if they could do the same. It was so funny! She was chuffed to blushed.
ExCel was rigged out really nicely inside. Yes, the food was pricy ( £3.50 Baked potato with butter), but your clever, impoverished writer here had enjoyed two fine peanut butter and home-made jam (thanks Steve) sandwiches before going in. I had a good wander, talked to people and had my photo taken next to some signs that touched me and more importantly, draped over the cardboard cut out of one of the Greco-Roman Wrestling blokes. Come on it had to be done! And before you think I’d just gone to ogle, I’ll have you know, I actually spent the morning swotting up on all the rules on Wikipedia so I’d know what the hell was going on!!
Entering the auditorium was pretty breath-taking. I paused to take this shot.
It was strange and trippy to see something I’d only ever seen on TV, but from the inside – to see the crowd, the camera crew, the speakers, the screens. It was vivid and day-glo in a full-on, knock you for six way. I was really pleased with my view. There were three weights I was watching 60k, 85kg and the big boys at 120kg. The Goliaths were right on the other side of the arena, and it was weird as the bouts were ALL going on simultaneously, sometimes I would be struggling to decide who to focus on when there were so much high-drama going on.
Basically in Greco-Roman wrestling all your attack points have to be above the waist and if your opponent gets you on your back and your shoulders are pinned down to the floor for a few seconds you’re done for. So there were men on their bellies staying down with super-human determination, resisting with all their might. If their opponent couldn’t turn them over they lost points.
The most vociferous support came from Georgia for Lakshii, it was deafening, the Iranians closely followed in second place. The men were cheered like heroes. This big Egyptian bloke, Karam Ebrahim, in the 85kg band got booed when he lost his bout badly, but the bout ended after a time out so he won it on a technicality, he didn’t care at all! Look at him, he should be in the movies.
But Ebrahim lost in the final to Russia’s Alan Khugaev who beat him with a nasty cut above his eye.
The maddest thing was the height disparity between these two men from the Ukraine team ( I think)
The little one was seriously bossy
And the way after each round they cooled down their men by desperately waving their towels up and down to fan them. They were all doing it. Someone came on to wipe down the mat and whenever there was a challenge on a score, the team would chuck in an oblong box across the matt to demand a review.
It was all over in three hours and went surprisingly fast. And though there wasn’t a Brit to cheer for, I threw myself into the drama of it all. I saw grown men cry when they walking out, their Olympic dreams shattered, and victors walking out to cheers with their chests pushed out like kings.
It was a bit of a privilege to be a fly on the wall interloper at an event I’d never normally have gone to. Would I go again? Maybe, maybe not. But it was an experience and if it was on TV I’d probably watch it because it means something more to me now.
But the thing that is gorgeous about the Olympics is the unity and sharing it with other crazed fans or national supporters. When I was on my way to Wokingham to see my friends Pete, Sally and their beautiful Brady bunch, I shared my DLR carriage with some Irish fans who were looking mystified at a London tube map. I beckoned them over and asked them if they needed help. They had to get to Paddington for the Heathrow Express. I asked them who they’d been to see and they were all shiny-eyed and proud and said Katie Taylor, the boxer. There were about six of them and I said ‘follow me’, I escorted them to Baker St and told them they needed the Bakerloo line. They’d never been to London, but they loved it, said it had been so much nicer than they expected.
I really want people who came to our Olympics to go home and tell their friends and families that. That it was so much nicer than they expected. London bathed in positivity and compliments for two whole weeks. I know the Olympics is over and that gorgeous cauldron was extinguished last night. But hold onto that feeling, that glow. We all need it right now.
It happened, it was wonderful, hold onto it. And the tweets flying about when events were on, meant many of us shared it on social media too. That was a first and rather lovely when people were sweet. It showed me it wasn’t just me and my friends who were excited, the whole world was too. I got to share it with Twitter friends like Juan who woke up crazy early in the USA so he could watch the BBC coverage in real time.
And there is the Paralympics too, to come. You can still buy tickets for the event. So get in! I picked up my ticket for the Athletics final and I am telling you now, I am excited, big-time. By the time I’m sitting in that Olympic stadium in September, cheering my heart out, Gunshot Glitter will be out and I have no idea what my world will look like or how I’ll feel. But remember one thing, like the Olympic motto says … it’s the taking part that counts.
What was your favourite part or moment about the Olympic Games? Did you get to go too? I had a dozen moments which made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, but my personal fave moment was a very emotional Gemma Gibbons winning her silver in the Judo and looking up to the heavens to thank her mum and tell her she loved her. I promptly burst into tears.
Yasmin Selena xx