We are all probably happy with the rapid rise of the GB Team’s medal count today – but one of the more interesting aspects of the games for me is the determination on the faces of the cyclists I have seen racing at the Time Trials and Road events over the past week.
Yesterday morning I went down to Bushy Park via Hampton Court Palace to get a good spot on the Time Trials route. I particularly wanted to see the Time Trials because they are more a competition within oneself – yes, athletes compete against one another for the fastest time, but there isn’t a ‘chase’ or a ‘race’ to watch in the same sense that there is in a road race where the first to cross the line wins. Nobody knows who wins until most of the riders have finished and all of the times are compared. The athletes have to focus more inwardly on doing the best they can over the course, and they are – over that course – competing against and with themselves.
The entire area around Hampton Court Palace was ticketed and gated off, but I went around to the other side, near the finish, and got a spot that was so good that the zone across the street was ticket only.
I wanted a good spot – but more importantly, I wanted to be on the finish side of the ticketed zone. There is something about the determination to succeed that is expressed so much more clearly in the faces of the athletes near the finish of competition than at the start, and it was this I wanted to see. I saw some impressive looks of determination in the road race, and I was interested to see how they compared in a different kind of ‘race’.
The spot was a good one – approximately 270m from the finish, along the barrier. There was a great view of the athletes, and a large screen on the corner of the road at about the 150m mark – I could just see it over the very tall German fellow who was next to me. There was also a fabulous little Italian cafe called La Fiamma right behind me, which promised amazing coffee but actually getting any was hopeless – it was simply too crowded. I had to get there two hours early to get that spot, and had to bear out a bit of drizzle…and didn’t dare move as the crowds crunched in. I usually don’t like large crowds, but everyone was good tempered, pretty coherent, and enthusiastic.
Crowds cheered as the cyclists were let loose at 90 second intervals….and as the last one of the group was released to start her journey, the first few were starting to approach the finish. The crowds were exuberant and enthusiastic – particularly for the British Riders, but they were loud and supportive of every single athlete who participated in the event. One rider broke a chain just metres off the start – and the crowds around the finish were groaning with him.
The women’s race saw Armstrong (US) taking Gold – in the final race of her career at age 38. Arndt (GER) won Silver and Zabilinskya (RUS) won another Bronze as she did in the Road Race several days previous.
The men’s time trial saw Great Britain take two more medals, with Wiggins (GBR) screaming past for a Gold, Martin (GER) taking Silver and Froome (GBR) winning the Bronze. The crowds screamed ‘WIGGO!’ for a good 15 minutes, until the Victory Ceremony was held. They opened the road so that we could all fill it and crowd closer to see the screen a bit better.
To some it is a list of names and medals – but for the first time, I was very close to the action – I saw the faces, the sweat, the pride, the determination. And I saw Armstrong lift her young son into her arms as soon as she could, and was clearly showing deep pride in both her involvement with her family and with her sport. It was a special day and I’ll never, ever forget it.