All posts filed under “Olympics

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Friday wrap-up

Friday for us was Gymnastics and Beach Volleyball day.


Our first event was the Women’s Gymnastics Individual All-Around Final. Since it started at 11am, we managed to get there with plenty of time to spare so that we could experience a bit of the Olympic Green before going in. Since it had rained the day before, the skies were clear and the bright sun made it VERY hot outside.

We had nosebleed seats, just 4-5 rows from the top of the arena, but because it wasn’t terribly big, we still had great views of the action. The American women were predicted to do very well, as were the Chinese women. All of the 24 competitors were but into four groups for the four “stations” (vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercise). The Chinese and Americans were in the same group along with the Russians.

The first two events for the Chinese/American group went okay, with no girls clearly winning. But after the balance beam the eventual winner, Liukin of the USA had a BIG lead, something like 0.4 points above the next (Chinese) girl. The floor exercise was okay for the Chinese girl, but went very well for both American women. Liukin took the gold and Shawn Johnson the silver.

It was actually pretty difficult to watch gymnastics effectively. There are four events going on simultaneously, so it was good that the top girls were all in the same group. But the worst part was that spectators had so little information. The scoreboards just showed the total points for the top three athletes, and little else. Even the scores that were displayed after judging each event were only shown for the briefest of moments, in some cases literally seconds, before they were cleared to display the name of the next competitor. In the end I had to hand write the scores down so I could figure out who needed what to win. Spectators at home miss the spectacle, but have so much more and better information!

After gymnastics we made our way to the Olympic Green “Super Store” where we managed to find a few things (pins, flags, etc.) that we’d been looking for. Though it was a huge space, there was still a good 20-30 minute queue to get inside!

Beach Volleyball

As my previous post mentioned, this sport kicks ass. It’s a serious sport, with both technical ability and physical prowess/stamina required, but it’s also just SO MUCH FUN. A few reasons why:

  • Great action: There is a lot of back and forth, lead changes and the like. Though a lot of matches finish with one team winning two sets to none, it certainly doesn’t seem like that during the match. It’s much easier to stay interested when leads can change so quickly.
  • Quick matches: They rarely last more than an hour.
  • Lots of action: Little time in between points/sets, and when there are breaks in the action they’re short.
  • Perfect size court: Small enough that two people can cover it effectively, but big enough that it’s still possible for teams to find holes.
  • Entertainment: Organisers go above and beyond to make it fun. Dancers during the breaks (more scantily dressed than the athletes, by the way) and announcers that really try to rev up the crowd. Even the Fuwa’s get involved (the Beijing 2008 mascots). Simply an awesome time.

I HIGHLY recommend seeing it in person if you ever can. After that match we are definitely going to try and catch as many beach volleyball matches as we can during London’s 2012 Olympics!

Other stuff

Friday was also American food day… unintentionally. After the gymnastics we went to the Super Store, and by the time we came out it was getting really late and we still hadn’t eaten. The exit of the Super Store was about 10 meters away from the entrance to the McDonald’s. It has been about 3 or 4 years since I last ate at a McDonald’s, but then we go to one in Beijing. Oh, well.

Dinner was at the Hard Rock Cafe. It was just around the corner (in Beijing terms) from the Beach Volleyball venue and they served dinner late, which was good because Beach Volleyball runs late. So I also had a chance to get a really good quality hamburger in Beijing. We forgot until we were there that it was a Friday… because we were there so late an American-style cover band kicked off just after we sat down. If you follow me on Twitter (check it out here), you’ll have read that it became particularly surreal when they busted out with a Pink Floyd song.

I realize I’m posting this a bit late, but hope to catch up shortly with today’s (Saturday’s) action!

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Wrestling Day

Thursday was wrestling day for us. Unfortunately, freestyle wrestling (the traditional US style) takes place next week, so we saw the Greco-Roman competition. We had tickets for the heats up to the semi-finals in the morning, and then the medal rounds in the evening.

It was surprisingly interesting. At first it was a bit difficult to work out the rules and scoring, particularly when neither of the wrestlers could flip each other. We managed to get a little brochure from the info booth that did a decent job explaining it, though. (I’d summarize it here, but doubt anyone is that interested.)

Future Olympics spectators take note: ALWAYS stop by the information booth before the competition! That’s the place where you can get brackets, race times, and brochures to explain the sports. Highly recommended!

The medal rounds were our first of the Olympics and were quite emotional. The ceremonies were immediately after the matches, and well done. Wrestling is a bit odd in that there are two bronze medallists. In the 84kg category ceremony, one of the bronze medallists (from Sweden) took off his medal and threw it to the mat just after he received it. Pretty poor form if you ask me, even for the most hyper-competitive of people. All of the rest went off without a hitch.

We saw the rounds and medal ceremonies for three weight classes: 84, 96, and 120kg. It was fascinating to see the differences in how each wrestled. The 84kg guys were really nimble, and there was a lot of action on the mat. The 120kg guys didn’t move nearly as quickly but were incredibly powerful. It was great to learn to appreciate a new sport.

As I write this, we’re on the train to the city to see gymnastics and beach volleyball. Gymnastics is supposed to be the women’s all-around final with an American girl as the favorite. Needless to say, we’re really excited! (And the rain yesterday cleared the skies… We can see blue sky today!)

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Day 5 of competitions

Today was the fifth day of Olympic competitions. We spent the morning doing our tourist stuff and the afternoon watching some great rowing.

Tourists on the Prowl

Today we met up with a couple friends from Thames Rowing Club and their friends to tour the Forbidden City, eight of us in total. While it was a bit unwieldy to see the sights with that many people, we managed to work it all out.

The Forbidden City is really impressive. It’s a mammoth complex, and has a really rich and interesting history. I enjoyed just walking around the huge structures and plazas, imagining how life must have been five hundred years ago during the emperors’ time. The architecture is interesting, and the buildings are richly decorated.

We went through a few different exhibits that were recommended by the guidebook. While they were kind of interesting (museum-style presentation of old clocks, jewelry, artifacts and the like), I felt like they just filled the time and space. My favourite mental pictures are of the little courtyards and trees and buildings scattered away from the main buildings, but how they integrated into the city as a whole. While the gates, entrances, and plazas were certainly on a massive scale to impress, there was also a very human and day-to-day dimension, as well.

After our visit we caught a cab to one of the main shopping areas to walk around and grab lunch. We tried a duck restaurant which told us they had a table for us (we thought). But after going to the floor they specified, we realised that they didn’t, and in fact there was a massive queue on each floor for lunch. We went across the street to a different restaurant, which seemed a little dodgy at first but turned out okay.

At the Races

Lunch and finding a taxi afterword took a while, so we missed the first bit of racing. Luckily we just missed the C/D semifinals for the men and women’s singles, but made it just in time for the A/B semifinals. Michelle Guerette of the USA did really well in her single, and there were some surprises on the men’s side. Most of the usual suspects made it through to the A final, except Marcel Hacker. We heard later that his father passed away last week, and the funeral was literally the day before the first heats. That must have been a terrible thing to deal with on top of the Olympics stresses, so it was admirable that he made it as far as he did, considering. It looks like it should be an exciting final.

The GB men’s four was really great today. While they weren’t miles ahead at the finish, they just kept right on paddling back to the warm-down lanes while all of the other crews looked like they were dead. They’re clearly a fast boat, though they’ll have to prove that on Saturday in the final.

Perhaps the oddest final today was the C final of the Men’s Double Sculls. It featured two competitors: Iraq and the United States. The United States took it with a good margin, but the Iraqi crew clearly rowed their hearts out and got a lot of hearty cheers from the crowd. After crossing their line and getting their breath back, they raised their arms in triumph and it was clear that even though they were 14th out of 14 double sculls, they had achieved their dreams.

The scariest race today was the women’s eight. Five boats raced, and four of them went on to the A final. Essentially: don’t come last. The GB eight, which has two Thames Rowing Club members (Ali Knowles and Beth Rodford) was last at the first 500 mark. I’ve heard they don’t have the most consistent start, and it didn’t seem to go well for them today. But they dug deep and made up for lost ground. By the end it was still quite tight, but they crossed the line in third place and will be in the A final on Sunday. Both the German men’s eight and the German women’s eight lost their repercharge races, which has got to be a bit of a shock to their national rowing team.

Other stuff

Finally, our flatmate for the week arrived today, and that’s going well. We had dinner at a local restaurant and enjoyed chatting to someone who knows a lot about British rowing. Starting tomorrow we’ve got a bunch more events scheduled (wrestling, gymnastics, weightlifting, athletics and triathlon) so I have a feeling this week is going to fly by.