Image Source: london2012Well, it’s a fact. Horse Guards Parade is the Best in Show among Olympic venues. What a great setting! The buildings of Whitehall on one side, the London Eye rising overhead, and Big Ben chiming right at the time of the first serve of the day’s competition – between two German women’s teams. The Games are certainly running on time.
The atmosphere at the beach volleyball venue is upbeat and fun, and somehow manages to not deter from the fact that there are some incredible athletes playing on the sand in front of you. There is no downtime during any of the matches. During time-outs, a troup of dancers/entertainers attired in old school Beach Blanket Bingo wear do their bits, and the sand rakers take care of their business to the theme song from Benny Hill. The music DJ discharges his duty very deftly between points, with an arsenal of musical clips that cannot last more than 5 seconds but are instantly recognizable. The stadium announcer encourages loudness, and the players do indeed feast off of it – you have to love the culture that has grown up around this sport.
The players do a great job of being part of the fun, while at the same time going about their business with world class commitment, knowing that amidst the dancers, music, rakers, stadium waves (which are ecncouraged even during points), their Olympic experience could end at any moment.
One side note to beach volleyball. Yes, there is some justifiable controversy regarding the necessity of recalling 3000 soldiers from Afghanistan to London to help with Olympic security. But on the other hand, for a lucky few, it presents the possibility that one day you are in Afghanistan and the next day you are making the world safe for beach volleyball.
Image Source: flickrFrom there, it was on to Wimbledon (where waves during points are taboo) for the semifinal matches in all divisions – men’s and women’s singles and doubles and mixed doubles – or so I thought and hoped. All the big names would be in action on the same day (sans Nadal, who had to withdraw from the Olympics due to injury). Federer, Djokovic, Murray, Ferrer, Tsonga, del Potro, the Williams’ sisters, the Bryan brothers, Sharapova, Azarenka, Stosur, and more. A drizzle began to fall as we walked from the Southfields tube station – a straight shot from Horse Guards Parade – to the All England Club. “Oh no,” I thought. This does not look good. What I didn’t realize is that it would not be Mother Nature that would disrupt what promised to be a remarkable line-up of matches, but rather a bone-headed decision by the ITF to alter the order of play. For what purpose was unclear, though the cynics amongst us figured it had something to do with loading up the Centre Court play list for dignitaries.
The Olympics, like the Wimbledon Championships, sell separate tickets to Centre Court and Court #1, and if you have a ticket to one court you cannot go to the other. Originally, one men’s and one women’s singles semifinal were to be played on each court. Presumably the Murray-Djokovic match would be the one on Centre Court and Federer-del Potro would be on Court #1. But the latter was shifted to be the first match on Centre Court instead, followed by Serena Williams vs. Victoria Azerenka, then Murray-Djokovic, then the Williams sisters doubles semifinal. This sent the ticket holders for Court #1 into a rage, with a healthy queue forming at the complaint desk.
The alleged explanation was nonsensical. There were signs posted saying that the order of play had been changed because many of the day’s competitors were playing both singles and doubles that day – Serena Williams, Azerenka, del Potro and Murray among them. Okay then, so why would you make the first match on Court #1 a doubles semifinal between 4 players (Americans Raymond and Huber and Czechs Hlavackov and Hradecka) who were not playing singles? Any player who is doubling up will be scheduled for his/her singles match first, so those are the ones you would want to get out of the way early on.
Well, karma is a tough thing to outrun and it caught up with the ITF and whoever else was responsible for this decision. The Federer – del Potro match went to 19-17 in the third set, lasted about 5 hours, and totally threw the schedule out of whack so that many of the doubles matches scheduled for that day had to be postponed.
At one point after the Federer-del Potro epic, they still had a schedule posted that showed del Potro would be playing his doubles match that day. Surely that wasn’t going to happen, I thought, But to confirm, I went to the “Information” booth between Centre Court and Court #1. “Is del Potro really going to come back out and play doubles,” I asked? I enjoyed the reply: “How would I know? I’ve been stuck in this booth all day.” The keepers of the booth had no doubt had their patience tested by irate ticket holders. But hey, as Igor said in Young Frankenstein: “Could be worse….Could be raining.”