Gearoid Towey is writing for the Irish Times. He arrives at the Olympic venue
Scene set for fantastic Games
I am writing this on Friday, August 8th, the day heralded as the new beginning for China, the opening day of the Olympic Games 2008.
We arrived 10 days ago and on entering the Olympic village it was plain to see that the Chinese had gone all out to secure the tag of “The Greatest Olympic Games Ever”.
The village resembles a high rise luxury apartment development in Dublin and is staffed by an uncountable army of volunteers, who, almost certainly exhausted, maintain bright happy smiles at all times. I am even on the look out for a grumpy one but so far, I have failed.
The Olympic village is a hive of energy. Right now, it houses the majority of the athletes who will compete at the highest level over the next two weeks, and the sense of anticipation, mixed with excitement, apprehension and extreme focus, which got everyone here in the first place, is definitely felt in the atmosphere around the place.
The variety of different shapes and sizes of people here is mind-boggling; from the neck-craning basketball players to the pint-sized female gymnasts. I look at these little women and wonder what they have been through to get here, and all seem to be under scrutiny at all times, no matter where they come from.
At certain times of the day, the dining hall becomes a Lord of the Flies-esque scene as each person battles to get their food of choice (anything from Asian to Mediterranean, Halal to good old mashed potatoes!). More often than not though, once your own routine has been established, you can slot quite easily into the ‘Olympic Village Machine’, which runs like clockwork, especially the Chinese edition.
Our competition starts this Sunday, with the heavyweight four going into action on Saturday. They will always compete the day before us. The regatta venue is in excellent order. Purpose built rowing courses are like swimming pools, they are the same the world over and it is the installations that make the difference.
I have never seen this degree of attention to detail before, however. We have spotted volunteers washing stones on the banks of the lake and they are permanently cutting grass, pruning trees and ensuring the place is spotless.
As for the famous smog, well, it is here but it is not as bad as many would have you believe. The rowing venue has been shrouded in it the last few days, but this is preferable to being out in the baking sun. Right now, the sun is like a faint yellow disc, the heat is there but the intensity is lower, and as we have been here for ten days, we are ‘at one’ with the humidity.
For these types of conditions you just need a strategy for coping with it and the discipline to carry it out, if you can maintain that, it makes life a lot easier.
We travel out from here every morning (50 mins or so), do a session, rest in a ‘day village’ they have out there, do another session and come back to the village for dinner and rest. We sometimes get to chat to other members of the Irish team but everyone is in their own little bubble at the moment, doing last minute preparations and trying to relax as much as possible.
Ireland will have a small posse going to the opening ceremony, as many compete the following day, and the opening extravaganza can be a long draining evening. It is still undecided if the rowers will go or not.
For myself, my path to the games was definitely the one less travelled. This time last year, I was retired and didn’t want to see the inside of a boat again. Someone asked me around 12 months ago if I was going to the Olympics in Beijing? My answer was that “it will take a miracle to get me on the start line in Beijing”.
I’ve found out over the last year, that miracles are bloody hard to come by!