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Olympics2012Visiting Olympic venues no walk in park

Posted: Monday, July 30, 2012 | 11:29 AM

Categories: Olympics2012

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Horse Guards Parade has been transformed into a beach volleyball venue for the London Olympics. (Ryan Pierse/Getty Images) Horse Guards Parade has been transformed into a beach volleyball venue for the London Olympics. (Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

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Getting to every venue during the London Games will be an Olympian task. They are just too spread out and, in most cases, too sold out.

Getting to every venue during the London Games will be an Olympian task. They are just too spread out and, in most cases, too sold out.

But for all of the intrigue surrounding higher profile stadia like the Aquatics Centre, Lord's Cricket Ground and Wembley Stadium, it's the Horse Guards Parade I'm most keen on visiting.

For starters, it's the home of beach volleyball. Really, who can argue with the aesthetic of this sport? Some of the fittest athletes at the Games whose uniforms are so, err, unimpeding that there's little room for more than the athletes' national flag on them.

The grounds don't look so bad, either.

Normally, it's a horse-marching area between Prime Minister David Cameron's residence at 10 Downing Street and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Architects dumped in more than 4,000 tons of quarry sand and set up some temporary seats and scaffolding with London's classic architecture as the backdrop. The huge ferris wheel, The London Eye, adds a modern touch.

If you're finding sitting in the sun watching players set, spike and dive a little arduous, refreshments are served early. The on-site beer taps open at 8 a.m. Perhaps that explains the fast pace of some of the fans I encountered en route to the grounds.

Exiting St. James Gate tube station, I was surpassed by three young men clad in alligator costumes. They were singing "Here We Go, Here We Go, Here We Go" over and over again to the tune of John Philip Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever. It's an archetypal English football song, though this group hardly seemed interested in details. Near the entrance gate to the volleyball courts, they approached a police officer who told them that their costumes were actually crocodiles.

"Look at the mouths," he said. "The fourth tooth is sticking out -- that's a crocodile!"

How the policeman knows this, I have no idea.

The three reptiles all turned toward each other sizing each other up.

"Right! Thanks, mate!"

And off they went.

These three were only the second-most popular group of fans I encountered on my walk to the grounds.

A group of four fit young men wearing togas were the subjects of most people's attention, especially two groups of girls from Colombia and Japan. With all the pics being taken with them, I still don't know whether Caesar and his gang got to the match.

I was trying to make it there myself. And it was no easy feat. The pathway to Horse Guards Parade is epic. It winds through a beautiful wooded area where ducks and geese do good business. Nearly every set of fans I saw had a pack of crisps they shared with the local fowl.

But to borrow a Mark Twain quote, it "was a good walk spoiled."

A short bridge would have taken me directly to the ticket office. However, this bridge -- as it seems so much of London is right now -- was just for members of the "Olympic family," ie. dignitaries, athletes, sponsors etc. A helpful volunteer pointed out the alternate route, a path that was about a kilometre long forming a U back to within a few metres from here I stood.

"But the match is about to start!" one American fan objected.

"Sorry, sir. You cannot use this bridge," was the reply.

After finishing the long trek and encouraged by at least three sets of violet-clad volunteers that my ticket booth was just a short jaunt ahead, I came across an angry group of men and women -- Aussies, Americans and South Africans being told that tickets had sold out a long time ago.

"But less than an hour ago, the London 2012 Internet site said there were tickets available!" one woman insisted.

"Sorry, miss," the ticket attendant offered.

And so I joined a large disgruntled crew on the long return to the tube station on the way back to my hotel. The three crocs passed me again, still singing "Here We Go, Here We Go, Here We Go" on the way to the stadium.

That's what you think, I mumbled as I passed by them.

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