My report of the epic August 2008 that started off with Nic, Toni and I boarding a train in London and ended in Beijing watching Anna pick up her bronze medal at the Olympics. One for the history books.
First, things first. Anna Bebington, the girl we remember from her first day at Newnham College Boat Club, won a bronze Olympic medal for Team GB in the Women’s Double Sculls. She kept us screaming until the last, pulling out a truly spectacular late surge to take 3rd place. Tipped as an outside medal chance by the press they were thrilled to pick up bronze and watching her expression as she spotted us in the crowd on her row past was a moment none of us will ever forget.
During our 5 day stint in Beijing we saw 8 GB medals including 3 golds – 2 at the rowing and then we were lucky enough to be in the Birds Nest to see Christine Ohuruogu pick up her gold in the 400m. The Birds Nest was a spectacular stadium which kept our resident architect Simon busy taking photos for hours, leaving us to soak up the atmosphere. Hearing the crowd belt out the national anthem (we were well practiced after our 2 rounds at the rowing… I now know the words… including where “our” Queen changes to “the” Queen… a crucial detail, thank you JP) was something else. Yet again I was amazed by how many Brits made the journey to China, though few took the overland route, and the spirit of Team GB supporters was unrivalled. True to form when it was pissing it down on Day 2 of the rowing finals, the brits were the only guys in the stands, 2 hours early in their plastic macs braving it out singing Rule Britannia…or was in wonderwall? It helped our spirits of course that Team GB were doing so well and pulled out their best Olympic performance in a century.
The Chinese organisation of the games was flawless, it was only a shame tickets were not allowed to he hawked and seats went empty. The Chinese themselves were energetic, welcoming and immensely proud of their country. They surprised us by their interest in foreigners. If I thought bring an English girl in New York was desirable, the Chinese took it to a whole new level. We were stopped on the street, welcomed by school children, and requested to pose in strangers photographs. We obliged naturally, with only a faint concern about how many mantelpieces our pictures would end up on – “yes and here is me aged 23 with a nice English girl whose name I don’t even know at the Olympics”. The full extent of the Chinese preparation for the games was revealed to us perfectly by a six year old girl seated behind us at the beach volleyball (we weren’t into watching so much as the boys). After she had introduced herself and asked all our names and where were from in immaculate English she proceeded to test us on our Beijing 2008 knowledge – the Olympic motto, values, and slogan. We failed her test miserably as every answer was met with a very curt “FALSE” and the correct reply. The Olympic motto was “Faster. Higher. Stronger” not “One world. One dream,” for those interested parties… and I couldn’t help thinking the former summed up China’s future more accurately too.