Early impressions in London


Monday, July 30, 2012    

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All the talk here in London Friday night and on Saturday has been about the spectacular opening show. They were under immense pressure, given the gigantic standard set by Beijing in 2008 but, as the world knows by now, the producers delivered — big time.

One can empathise with the Lord Mayor who rated the show a better production than Beijing. However, while I too give the production high ratings as one of the best ever, I'm less certain that I would go as far in saying that it surpassed Beijing's effort. I think this would be like comparing a love show with an action thriller. London 2012 did well and deserves the kudos they are getting. Let's not go overboard.

While the production deserves its favourable comparison with Beijing and other previous shows, there are other strong points which ought to be noted. The British must be among the most warm and friendly people on earth when they set out so to be. Everywhere people are welcoming and accommodating, wanting to exchange words and to wish your team and stay in their country well.

I find this especially so when wearing my Jamaican-branded T-shirt or blazer. The organisers also expended a lot of effort in generating atmosphere. They had cheerleaders all over the vicinity of the stadium Friday evening prior to opening time, and, many of who had to catch a train ride home afterwards were properly directed.

Where they have fallen down so far in my opinion is in preparing their official guides with proper information for directing visitors, and especially by not providing suitable signs to direct spectators, including members of the Olympic family, such as journalists, to their various locations, especially to the stadium and media centres.

Whereas at past games you only had to follow the signs, once in the Olympic plaza compound, to get where you are going; here in London you have to stop all along the way to ask for directions. Worse, the directions you get can only be compared to when we in Jamaica visit various rural parishes and stop to request directions, which is often incorrectly given as "round the corner".

Even getting directions to the Main Press Centre (MPC) or the International Broadcasting Centre (IBC) is a challenge until you become familiar with the place. I must have covered no less than a dozen miles on Friday when trying to get to the stadium for the opening ceremony.

In my case, it was even worse as we were required to have a special pass for the Opening as in the case of all events rated as 'premier'. This meant that I had to double back to the MPC where happily colleague Bryan Cummings had the presence of mind to leave mine at the information desk. Just as I was settling down to watch the show on one of the monitors in the MPC, along came another colleague RJR/TVJ's Kayon Raynor who wisely guessed that Cummings had left mine along with his at the desk.

The thing is, moving around the Olympic venues is especially challenging, as you simply can't imagine the number of steps one has to mount to get to where you are going. This is compounded by the fact that most journalists have to lug bags loaded with computers and cameras besides other accoutrements.

It was a blessing in other ways for me that I caught up with Raynor who helped me out for part of the way. Raynor also rescued me when I nearly got lost navigating my return inside the stadium after leaving my seat briefly.

The cheers for Bolt and Jamaica's Olympians when they entered the stadium, the 91st team in the procession, was some indication of the team's popularity and certainly Bolt's. Jamaica's popularity at these games is larger than I have experienced at any of the previous world games I have attended.

This was further evidenced by the prolonged cheers when the image of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller appeared on the giant stadium screens during the team's march past. The major attention we are getting here is, in no small part, due to Bolt. There can't be many people here who are betting against his winning. And it is good that he appears so confident as I can't image the aftermath of a Bolt defeat to us, his fans, if not to the man himself.

You have to be in London to really appreciate the impact this affable Jamaican has on the UK population and the world. His trademark 'To the world' pose, born in Beijing, was an inspiration of pure genius for what was to come and has come. Bolt's image is ever-present on the streets of London, in shops, the media and in various other public spheres. It will be a huge let-down for many if he loses in the 100 metres.

I am reliably informed that up to Thursday evening you would be only able to purchase a ticket to see the 100-metre finals if you were prepared to dish out at least £25,000, and only from informal vendors. Further, that he is the face of Flow and Visa, two of the major officially designated sponsors at these games, has cemented his superhero image.

Such advertisements using his image cover huge walls and display boards all over the place. In addition, one of the UK's best known graffiti artists has done an impression of his face that dominates a wall in the Brick Lane community in the vicinity of the Puma/Jamaica press conference held on Thursday evening, mere hours after my arrival in London.

I was accompanied to that press conference by two friends, (just to make sure I wouldn't get lost) one of whom is my host, a very attractive and brash 20-something-year-old medical practitioner with maternal links to Jamaica; also a retired club football star with Nigerian roots, Izzy Irekpe. Izzy is a former West Ham, Swansea player.

On the way to the press conference we linked up with CVM's Wayne Walker who is again showing his energy in moving all over London in search of material for his Postcards from London series for CVM TV and Power 106. My young physician friend had earlier threatened to get Bolt's attention while at the press conference but none of us paid her much attention.

As the press conference was winding down most of us were positioning to get some shots of Bolt especially. It is always a good thing to stick close to Wayne, he is on such great terms with Bolt, Asafa, Brigitte and a couple others on the team; even the UK journalists have caught on to that reality and 'hug him up' just to make sure they get within talking distance of our stars.

During the rush, my host, who was fetchingly attired and not easily avoided even in a room with more than 500 journalists, public relations practitioners, other event organisers besides some celebrities (saw Cedella Marley and her son seated in the front row), bolted to the front and convinced Bolt to allow her to pose with him. "Do it for England," she urged; and that he did.

Thing is, she posted it to friends on Facebook that same evening with a caption 'Mr and Mrs Baxter Bolt'. Within the first minute of posting, she got 10 hits and ended the day with about 100 more. Comments were posted from nearly every corner of the earth, some congratulating her; some asking her to help them get a ticket to see the 100 metres; a few inquiring whether she was pregnant; most thought they made an attractive couple and wished them the best.

Wayne, Izzy and myself were quite amused by her brashness but acknowledged that while Bolt does have an eye for beautiful women he also supports his sponsors well by embracing the right opportunities to shine. After all, he did it "for England".

Meanwhile, back to the reality of the Olympics, my first inkling of problems concerning Internet access (at least in the games environment) came Friday when I discovered that there were no wireless provisions. If you have a modern MacAir like me that can't take the dated cable connection provided in the media centre, then yu corner dark.

The in-house pharmacy was all out of portable converters, assuring us that they have tons on order and expected them to arrive, "hopefully tomorrow". My best bet is to source this at one of the shops away from the Olympic Park. Today I may get lucky.



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