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"Our Man at the Games " ...So its all over..."
The Last Day – “...So it’s all over...”
I had two days off (10th&11th) went back home to Hampshire returning with my wife on the 11th – I have been staying with my cousin – Solly - who with his wife – Uma - have made me very welcome – a big “thank you” to you both for putting up with me and Uma get well soon. I leave early on the 12th morning – a lovely summer day is up and running as I make my way for the last time from West Ham Station to the Olympic Park. It’s warm, clear with the smell of early morning dampness in the air – the “Gamesmakers” are still full of cheer urging us to enjoy the “last day”. There are not as many people around this morning as the main bulk of the venues have completed their tasks; so I quickly go through security arriving at the “workforce check in”. I have on this, the last day, found a shorter route which takes nearly ten minutes off the walk into the Park – not that it will be of any use to me now! At the check-in I am given our last gifts, a “shiny metal relay baton”, including a nice certificate which we can put into it, with a “thank you pin” form the Chair of the IOC and as much chocolate as we can carry. The mood is active but a little subdued.
I have been at pains, when writing the earlier blogs not to give away where I have been working – BUT as we are nearly at the finishing line I can reveal that I have been working at the “Water Polo” (WP) venue. It is behind the Aquatics Centre which is staying but the two wings will be removed – the WP arena is an excellent temporary building which is apparently going to be packed up and sent to Rio. My role is (was) to be part of the team that looks after the “Olympic family”, which we have all done diligently with tact, charm and patience. There are two shifts that do this, I am on the earlier shift, and the final being played in the afternoon. Before volunteering for the Olympics I knew nothing about this sport - some quick research on the Internet was required, but even at the end of my eleven shifts at the Park I still have a very vague outline of the sport. Team GB have two teams – male and female – (the final of women’s WP was earlier in the week) the first time ever – they play many games but although showing promise never outplay their opponents. I am informed by those in the know that WP is the “rugby” of water sports requiring a high level of skill, speed, brawn and fitness – all this was amply displayed!
We were all relaxed – some colleagues looking tired – there was a picnic on the Saturday (11th) attended by many volunteers and their families – much food and drink was consumed. A Face book site was now working well - this will keep those who want to in touch with each other as many new friends have been made. It was going to be busy as these were now the final set of games which would decide the Medals – our shift was soon over with the second crew taking up station efficiently. I changed out of my uniform now ready for the last two WP games of the 30th Olympiad – excitement mounting everywhere. It seems that WP was invented by the Scots who played it astride wooden barrels trying to make the link with land Polo where horses are involved – this evolved into what we now have with goals at each end into which a ball is thrown – think football in a large pool of water where players cannot touch the bottom having to tread water continuously. The sport although being played by the USA & Australia is really big in Central Europe – why – is a real mystery.
The Bronze battle was between Serbia vs. Montenegro – it was fast, very physical with at one stage five Serbian players being excluded - you generally come back after 20 seconds in the “sin bin” unless you are a persistent offender. The Serbian crowd were very noisy, not just good natured noise, but it was almost intimidating in its fury – it was an exciting match with a last second goal giving Serbia the Bronze – 12/11 was the final score. As for the final between Italy vs. Croatia – a Doctor with the Croatian team sat next to me – he was not too happy as surrounding us were many Italians – he moaned constantly – about the huge support for Italy – his was only a small country –WP was full of Italian officials – much politics – Italy too closely linked to the Ref – but the supporters on both sides roared constantly – very equal if noise was an indicator. As for the match it was not very high scoring – swung one way then another – the passion with much raw emotion made up for the low score – there were exclusions , the good Doctor stood to his feet and screamed abuse at the Ref – but in the end a score of 8/6 to Croatia was fairly clear. The medal ceremony was moving, particularly when the medal/flower crew in their purple suits marched to one end of the pool and the RAF flag team to the other – all very disciplined. The Bronze and Gold WP teams – having not long come out of the water were in their track suits, the Italian team looked very stylish (no stereotype here!) in lovely black suits. It was good I saw the final – having seen so many games fought with huge commitment, it was important to experience the conclusion of this entire struggle. But although I found Water Polo exciting, it is not a sport that I feel motivated to follow up – the football season starts soon!
It was time to go – it has been a real joy meeting so many interesting, varied, lovely people from all corners of Great Britain. These many lives brought together for a fleeting moment intertwined, around a single purpose. As I mentioned at the start, it was like my first day at secondary school –a real mix of emotions not knowing what to expect. Today while I write this there is a personal realisation that I have been part of something that is unique; as a nation used to “second best” we (all of us!!) have delivered something really special. London 2012 like an invisible virus infected us in more ways that we thought possible; yes a “mass” event having this kind of captivating effect on a cynical nation so often disappointed, is something that we don’t do; the people that have come together are the reality of what GB is, every colour, faith, age, male & female without prompting, instinctively inviting everyone into the “front room” of our lives – what these guests have found is a genuine open, warm, emotional welcome which will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Yinnon Ezra MBE