Editor's Note: Spider diving coach Erika Matheis will pen a blog over the course of her visit to London for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Below is her fifth entry.
Friday, Aug. 10
After getting the hang of the Tube today, we decided to wait to go to Olympic Park since it was such a zoo the day before.
On our way there, we stopped in Canary Wharf to mail a box back to the States (too much shopping!). This is a fairly new part of London, evidenced by the many business buildings and people dressed in suits. When others say that Europeans dress nice, they aren't lying!
We decided to have lunch in Canary Wharf and ate bistro style outside. One thing that was particularly cool was the broadcasting of the Olympics on a huge screen in the middle of the park in this business area. Lots of people were picnicking on the lawn for lunch as a means of catching up on Team GB's medal count. Of course, when the medal count was announced, an uproarious cheer came from the crowd. I found it quite funny that even the super serious business people could take time out of their day to be in tune with the Olympics.
We headed east on the Tube to the Stratford station, where Olympic park was built to try to revive the East London area. We heard through the locals that this area was originally not a tourist attraction at all and that the IOC intended for the Olympics to be a way to revive the area. They built a huge shopping mall adjacent to Olympic Park where I'm sure the sales rocketed throughout the Games. The mall rivals The Mall of America minus the indoor theme park and LEGOLand. Imagine how many countries were represented by all the people trying to buy souvenirs for their families.
What was neat about the mall was that you could take a leisurely stroll through it and find about 10 Olympic athletes in your general vicinity. Talk about rubbing elbows with athletic talent! Sometimes I think some may forget that the Olympic athletes you see on TV do actually lead normal lives. Our shopping trip was a good reminder of this.
As we meandered into Olympic Park, it was dusk and thus a much different setting. Our other events yesterday were held during the day, so we did not get to enjoy the spectacle of Olympic Park lit up at night.
Women's 10-meter semifinals were tonight and featured Brittany Viola and Katie Bell of the United States. We picked prelims so that we could see more diving for the price of our tickets. This time we were sitting with Americans, and every time Brittany or Katie got up we waved our flags.
It turns out that we were really close to Brittany's family as well. Since she had attended a fellow ACC school in the University of Miami, I dove with her during my collegiate career. As luck would have it, I also ran into one of my other friends who used to dive in our conference. It was one big diving reunion!
The competition was intense, and the crowd was really amazed at the gusto it takes to dive from 10 meters. Both Brittany and Katie dove well and made it into semifinals. The atmosphere in the natatorium was indescribable as sport overtook all other differences.
When we walked out of the aquatic center, my mom and I had the bright idea to be obnoxious Americans and have flashy, blingy jewelry on to find each other if we got lost -- the kind of jewelry that is bought at night at an amusement park or in Disney World. Apparently the Brits had never seen anything that exciting, and all the volunteers commented as we were walking through the park. Who knew all it took was blinking lights to make an impression?!?
As we exited the park, I looked to my right and the police officers had made a line and were high diving everyone as they walked out. This sight was especially moving because everyone, including the local authorities, was super enthusiastic. The spirit of the Games had affected everyone!
We met up with a fellow diving coach of the UK for dinner and were of course chatting all about the Olympics. He said that he had never seen so much unity in his home country. There were sporadic cheers of "Team GB" on all the streets of London, which apparently had never happened before. He said that in his lifetime he had never seen a United Kingdom despite the obvious literal interpretation of the country's representation.
Overall this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I am so happy to have experienced it firsthand. I hope that the USA gets a bid next so that you too will have an opportunity to feel the electricity of competition in the air.