Athletes train for years to get into the Olympics, and travelers plan for years to attend the Olympics. But frequent guest blogger Jill Martin Wrenn decided to make a trip from Atlanta to London to see the Olympics when they were already in progress! This is an even more impressive feat than braving Disney World during Thanksgiving or finding pizza topped with French fries in Italy.
I never thought I would end up at the Olympics, even as a spectator. I grew up watching the Games, but always figured that tickets were earmarked for corporate sponsors, coaches, athletes and their friends. But when I noticed empty seats at several events in the early stages of the London 2012 Olympics, I started to think that maybe I had a chance.
My family and I had considered a London visit in August, but we thought the flight prices were prohibitively high. I decided I could see the Olympics from a television in the US. But watching the Opening Ceremonies, I was overwhelmed. They were so quirky and British. The crowds in and around the Olympic Village were so loud and cheerful. As someone who lived in London for nearly eight years, I wished I was there. Watching images of athletes and fans descend on a city I knew so well made me want to see the Olympic Rings on Tower Bridge in person.
Each time a British friend posted a photo on Facebook showing themselves at an Olympic event, I thought that maybe I could get in, too. I checked flight prices on a whim, and realized that they had fallen considerably from the last time I had checked. I was even able to fly to London on British Airways using frequent flyer miles during the second week of the Games. I booked a one-way ticket back on Expedia.co.uk, finding it was cheaper than its American counterpart.
And I set out on an Olympic ticket treasure hunt. I emailed all of my friends who had managed to get into events. While most had organized theirs through the lottery several months earlier, a few had found some last minute tickets online over the past several days.
I decided to try my luck the day I arrived in London. I went to the Czech House, one of several so-called hospitality houses scattered throughout London, celebrating the cultures converged on the city. After standing in line for about half and hour, I managed to buy two tickets to the men’s volleyball semifinals, at 50 pounds each. While the event wasn’t in the Olympic Village, I was happy to see anything.
The atmosphere inside Earls Court, eight and a half miles west of the Olympic Stadium, was amazing. Fans were draped in flags from an array of countries. They cheered, sang, and even did the wave. Outside the arena, everywhere I went, I ran into smiling volunteers, offering directions and tips on what to see. And the transportation around the city was incredibly efficient. The Olympic Javelin train from St. Pancras International to the Olympic stadium area took about ten minutes. And it was free! While I didn’t have a ticket to get into the Olympic Village, I went to the Westfield mall nearby. Browsing alongside teams from Senegal and China felt incredibly international.
I was living in London when it was announced that the city had won the honor of hosting the Games, beating out Paris, which many had considered to be the likely victor. The celebrations were short-lived, because the next day was July 7, 2005 — the day of the London subway bombings. London’s rebound from that atrocity, and from the riots last year, made the efficiency, charm and cheer of the 2012 Olympics even more amazing.