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Letters from London - Mitchell Garner’s Blog from London #6

London, England - July 30, 2012

“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” - T.S. Eliot

Life in London is settling into a routine.  Each day I answer my alarm and head to Hyde Park for a morning run of 6-8 miles. Sunrise here is still well before 6:00 A.M. because of England’s latitude. My run consists of loops on the path that goes along the park’s perimeter.  Londoners are avid runners.  I am never lost for company during my runs.

Monday’s primary activity was beach volleyball.  The venue for beach volleyball is in central London, very close to the Prime Minister’s office at 10 Downing Street.  It seems odd to be attending a sports event in the middle of London amidst all the government buildings.  The oddity is further enhanced by the nature of the competition:  athletes in bathing suits competing in a sport that is played on sand.

Once inside the stadium, you are in a different world. Rock music blares as the athletes do their warm-ups.  The female athletes are dressed in skimpy bikinis.  There are cheerleaders dressed in beach attire who go through various crowd-revving routines.  As at many Olympic venues, a local celebrity gets the crowd going in chants and waves.  By the time the first match started, the crowd’s excitement had risen to a frenzy.  No United States teams were playing during the afternoon session that I attended. The last session, however, featured a women’s team from Great Britain.  The crowd cheered wildly for its home town heroes, but on this afternoon, they were not able to bring home victory for “Team GB,” as they say.

After the beach volleyball matches, I walked to the VISA VIP Lounge on Pall Mall Street.  If you are a Chase VISA card holder, you are entitled to free admission to the lounge, where you can receive free drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, and watch the Olympics on big screen televisions.  If you have registered, you are entitlted to attend a buffet dinner that consists of small plates of various types of food, including salad, entree, and dessert.

On Tuesday evening I was registered for the dinner, and I came across some American Airlines flight attendants who are Chicago-based and had arrived in London that morning.  They had tickets to a diving session and immediately went to their event upon their arrival in London.  They were very tired but very happy to be in London for the Olympics. They made frequent trips to the bar and were thoroughly enjoying themselves.  They noticed that I had a high quality camera, and we took some group photos.  At one point I went back to the buffet for more food, and when I returned, they informed me that they had used my camera to take some more pictures on their own.  When I later reviewed the pictures they had taken, I was quite amused. There were some rather wild shots among them.  I can see that flight attendants are very talented at partying!

At around 8:30 P.M., I left the VISA VIP Lounge to return to the New Cavendish Club. As I neared the Charing Cross underground station at Trafalgar Square, a young man approached me and asked me if I was American. I replied in the alternative. He said that he was Dutch, and we began chatting. I asked him if he had sold paints when he was a boy, but he did not get the joke.  In any case, after some preliminary conversation, he offered to sell me for face value a ticket to the men’s basketball game on Tuesday evening between the United States and Tunisia.  The only catch was that the game began at 10:00 P.M. at the Olympic Park on London’s far east side, and my mind was set on returning to the New Cavendish Club for some needed rest.  After pondering his offer for a few seconds, I accepted and bought the ticket for 30 pounds (about $50).  My rationale was that I would be attending the evening athletics sessions during the second week of the Olympics and that I might never have this opportunity again.  Spontaneity is an important quality when you are at the Olympics.  You never know when a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity may present itself.

After purchasing the ticket, I proceeded immediately to the Olympic Park, which is located near the Stratford Underground station. The Olympic Park is convenient for me because it is on London’s Central Line, which is the same line on which Marble Arch, my home Underground station here in London, is located.  I can get to the Olympic Park from Marble Arch by subway in about 30 minutes.

The deceptive part about going to the Olympic Park is that it is huge, and the venues are widely separated.  The basketball venue is probably about 1.5 miles from the entrance to the park. Upon arriving at the Stratford station, I went through security at the entrance to the park and started walking, arriving at the basketball venue about 20 minutes before tipoff.

As I went to my seat, located in the row below the top row, the teams were just warming up.  It felt strange to see all the American players from the National Basketball Association on the court.  Having traveled to Tunisia as a college student in 1970, I know that lamb is a staple of the Tunisian diet.  On Tuesday evening, the Tunisians were a sacrificial lamb, and the outcome was never in doubt.  The Tunisian team stayed with the American team for about ten minutes, and then the American team’s depth and talent came to the fore.  The Americans pulled away to a comfortable victory.  There were many Americans at the game, and we felt great pride in the prowess of our American basketball stars.

For the American men’s basketball team here in London, anything less than a gold medal would be failure.  We are the prohibitive favorites to win gold.  I am old enough to remember the controversial men’s basketball game during the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics between the United States and the Soviet Union.  At the end of the game, the Soviets, through some disputed officiating, were given three opportunities to inbound the ball and score the winning basket.  On the third try, they were successful, and the Soviets won by a point.  The Americans protested the officiating, but to no avail.  The American players were so upset about what had happened that they boycotted the medal ceremony.  To this day, they have never collected their Olympic silver medals, which remain unclaimed in an International Olympic Committee vault in Switzerland.

My Olympic journey continues tomorrow.  Every journey involves some degree of risk.  I am enjoying the risk of going too far on my journey.

Keep climbing that mountain and have faith.
Mitch “Iron Bulldog” Garner

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