the world's smartest travel social network
Before the Olympics started, I wondered here on tripatini if Londoners knew how lucky they are right now. Well, it seems having the torch relay in London the week before, then the spectacular opening ceremony, and finally landing in third place in the medals tally have brought some positivity to the masses. That and a break from the near continuous rain we had endured for months.
Team GB fans cheered up when we got our first gold in women's rowing on 1 August, and Bradley Wiggins gained gold in the time trail claiming a record seventh Olympic medal. On "Super Saturday", the men's 4x100m swimming would have been news for longer, after Michael Phelps competed for the last time of his career, and won his 18th gold medal, but shortly after there were three Team GB gold medals in less than an hour. Jessica Ennis won the heptathlon, proving she is the best all-round athlete in the world, and while she she was on her lap of honour, Greg Rutherford gained another Team GB gold for the long jump. Within minutes, Mo Farah set off to win the 10,000 metres. Many watching said they felt like they'd died and gone to athletics heaven. Even William and Kate got caught up in the fervour (below right).
After a night like that the Olympics news coverage in the UK was quite rightly focused on Team GB's achievements and you would hardly have known there were any other countries competing until Sunday night and the 100m men's final and suddenly we all found our Jamaican roots and desperately wanted Usain Bolt to win. With Jamaica achieving 1st and 2nd place, it has given the Jamaican community in London even more to celebrate today on the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence. National pride is bringing out all the stereotype outfits and Australians wearing hats with corks hanging and Mexican wearing sombreros have been seen on the Olympic Park. Everyone's an armchair sports expert and even many of the cynics are now aglow with national pride and wishing they had bought tickets sooner.
Speaking of tickets, as you may have heard, in the opening days there were complaints about empty seats at Olympic venues due to sponsors not using their allocations and some countries not returning their unsold tickets in time (certainly not because of a lack of fans wanting to attend!)
Also, as all tickets have to be ordered online in advance, UK citizens have had frustrations with the London2012.com website (click on the tickets you want, get to the checkout to pay, tickets disappear, start again, etc) and fans from other nations had bigger issues as the tickets seem to have to be sent to their home addresses - even though they may already be in London.
And as I mentioned above, a growing number of Brits now wish they'd bought tickets sooner - but at least this gives them something to still complain about without actually costing them any money.
The big test of the transport network was not over the first weekend but on the first Monday morning, when London's workers did their first Olympic commutes and we could see how many had taken the advice to alter their travel times and routes, or even to work at home. Thankfully, it went really well for all transport, including cycling, and there were lots of positive anecdotal comments. It should also be noted it is the school summer holidays (six weeks) so we always have a drop-off in numbers when parents are not commuting and many families go abroad on holiday. Tube journeys are up 10.5% on what would be expected at this time of year yet journeys into the West End have been at the same level as this time last year.
On the roads, dedicated "Olympic lanes" have caused confusion as everyone was at first told not to use them. Then that they could be used at certain off-peak times. Now, with the lack of congestion, drivers are being told to check the matrix signs to see if they can use the lanes during the day. But get it wrong and it's a hefty fine, so naturally many are cautious even when the sign states it is OK.
While an increase of 25% in public transport passenger numbers was predicted, so far we've only seen a 5% increase on weekdays, although Sunday 29 July had 30% more than normal due to people traveling to Olympic venues and the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) had the most passengers ever on the first weekend of the Games. All in all, evenings are working out to be the busiest time on the transport network, due to spectators heading back from later Olympic events. Records have been broken on London Underground with 4.25 million on Wednesday, then another record high on Thursday with 4.31 million journeys and by Friday the record number grew to 4.4 million.
Athletics events at the Olympic Stadium started on Friday 3 August, so Westfield Stratford City shopping mall had a planned closure to non-Games ticket holders for Friday and Saturday to deal with the 200,000 expected at the Olympic Park (the mall is on the edge of the Park and all spectators entering at Stratford Gate have to pass the mall).
But Surprisingly Quiet in Town
As Londoners are staying out of central London and tourists are also fewer (since it seems many were scared away by reports of imminent chaos and crowds), businesses have been reporting a significant drop in takings during the first week which has encouraged them to offer discounts (such as 20.12% off), bringing prices back down to pre-Olympics rates. Even many near Olympic venues are finding spectators ushered away from them so they aren't benefiting locally. Some business owners had extended hours and hired extra help so they were especially unamused by this turn of events. On the plus side, surprisingly, many of the visitors who did come are saying they're finding Londoners friendly - which is certainly nice but sort of weird to hear.
Athletes and Social Media
As expected, London 2012 is the first full-fledged "social media Olympics," particularly when it comes to Twitter. Athletes increase their follower numbers whenever they do well, but every once in a while there is an ugly incident, such as a Greek banned from the Games by her national Olympic committee for a racist tweet and when Tom Daley of Team GB was harassed by malicious tweets from a 17-year-old when he didn’t win a medal in diving, which led to police arresting and releasing the kid, plus further tweeting foolishness from Daniel Thomas, a Welsh footballer who should have known better.
The London Eye is displaying the public's feelings towards the Olympics by then lighting up the Eye every night between 9pm and 10pm to show the level of positivity by analysing the use of positive and negative words on Twitter. Each night there is a 24-minute display with a minute representing an hour of tweets that day.
My Experience in the Opening Ceremony
Over a week after the opening ceremony, I'm still feeling upbeat after my turn as a dancing nurse in the segment celebrating Britain's NHS (National Health Service) and children's literature. (See more photos.) It had taken three months of rehearsals, but the 10,000 volunteers proved extremely good at keeping a secret and we didn't know everything about the show until the day such as James Bond and the Queen's "skydive". We had two technical dress rehearsals before the 27th with large audiences both times (50k and 60k) so by the big night we weren't really nervous.
We worked with the beds for over 100 hours, and there were long days of 'blocking' which is when we had to practice the formations (GOSH, NHS, and crescent moon) and plan our routes so we didn't collide. We also had many dance sessions to learn each section which all came together to create the amazing show you saw that Friday night. We didn't always get time with the professional dancers as we often practiced apart, but one day we had a note from the 'Mary Poppins' aerialists to meet after a show run-through and they brought chocolates, flapjacks, brownies and more sweet treats along with a note saying the NHS doesn't always get thanked so they wanted to say thank you and were giving us all a "spoonful of sugar". They brought enough for all the 600 dancing nurses, which goes to show the kind of community spirit we had on the show.
I worried a bit about how the opening ceremony would be received around the world, as it was, I admit, incredibly bonkers and British - but I was so am thrilled it was loved by nearly all. I'm immensely proud to have been part of the biggest live show in the world. The only downside has been a bit of a feeling of loss at coming to the end of our own Olympic journey but fortunately many of us have created strong friendships that will continue into the future.
I am looking forward to seeing friends perform in the closing ceremony and the Paralympics' two ceremonies, as well as attending Olympic events this week - such as synchronised swimming on Thursday. Indeed, the fun's far from over!
Laura Porter writes the About.com London Travel site (part of the New York Times Company) and is also a Visit Britain Super Blogger. She fits in further freelance writing while sustaining an afternoon tea addiction to rival the Queen's. You can follow Laura on Twitter at @AboutLondon.
photos: Shimelle | www.tickets.london2012.com | Charles McCain | @MarDixon | Laura Porter