Saturday, 28 July 2012

Going for gold

Good evening, gentle readers. For this week-and-a-bit only, I'm blogging 'on location', namely my delightful cousins' delightful home while I do my bit at the Olympic fencing event. The cousins are hilarious, and very glamorous… clearly my side of the family got the end-of-season chromosomes. Most of my siblings have lived with them for extended periods… like Blitz kids being evacuated for feeding up and mental recovery. True to form I got back today and found my sister swigging Pimms in the back garden. Also in the garden is a flock of wild London parakeets, which are fascinating - gregarious, quarrelsome and flashy. Like my family, in fact.

As to the Olympics… It's a funny mix of incredible ceremony and familiarity: take away the uniforms, formality and security, and it's a fairly small competition - no more than 64 per day and no seeding rounds. In theory very little will go wrong. Though of course fencers wander off, technology fails, referees make wrong calls and coaches lose their tempers. Which is all part of the fun. Being backstage is brilliant - most of us officials know each other and a lot of the fencers, so there's a kind of village atmosphere, only with massive amounts of added tension. It's fantastic to wander through the pre-warm up area and see my fencing heroes getting lessons or having sparring fights. I'm certainly trying to memorise nifty little moves to practice at home.

Today was the women's individual foil competition. People moan about the women's game - they reckon the quality's not there, or the aggression, but I like it: it's slower but they put more thought into it. On today's evidence, we're both right: lots of matches ran out of time with low scores on the board, but there were loads of great strategic fights. For the UK fans: sadly two of the three British women fought each other in the first round, and the third lost at the same stage. The big news of the day was all-conquering Italian Valentina Vezzali only claiming bronze this time - beaten by two other Italians.

It's a cruel format. In previous years, fencers fought a seeding round, so they'd get a few fights before the direct elimination stage. These days, you get one 15 point fight, lasting up to 9 minutes (not often reached). Lose and your Olympics is over. In the case of the sabre, your Olympic career might last no more than a minute. No wonder it's tense out there.

All the things people moaned about actually worked out fine - transport (though admittedly I was up and out before 6 a.m.), the weather, security (hilarious hearing the army relentlessly teasing the G4S lot) and crowding. Still not impressed by the uniform mind. I keep expecting to be asked to mop up a spillage in Aisle 3. Some great photos from various sports here, including the fencing.

I suppose I should mention the opening ceremony, not that I can add anything to the superlatives offered by everybody else. I could have done with a little less militarism, but it had something to offer everybody. I loved the references to the industrial revolution, the suffragists and union movements and especially to the NHS. Very pleased that Danny Boyle took government money to put on an essentially anti-Tory pageant. Loved most of the music and cultural references (no Smiths or Dr Who though), and fantasised about Mark E Smith lighting the torch. Ah well - the whole thing was a triumph. I was particularly pleased by Shami Chakrabarti's role in carrying the flag. In a perfect world, she'd be dictator for life. The fact that the usual bunch of reactionaries hated it (Nazi-partying Aidan Burley, Toby Young, the Daily Mail) was simply proof that Danny Boyle (living proof of the quality of Bangor University's English degree) had pitched it just right. Slightly weird, warm-hearted and imaginative.

Right, time for bed - another very long day tomorrow, though hopefully easier now we know what to expect.

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