Friday, 3 August 2012

A Golden Day: X&HT Went To The Olympic Time Trials

The following has been crossposted, with minor alterations, from my main blog, Excuses And Half Truths. I write there about SF, horror, comics, food and film. Do drop in if any of the above interests you.

Sometimes, you just get lucky. Fate, which so often conspires against you, shifts the balance in your favour. Just for a little while. As long as you're aware of it, then fate can give you a moment that you will treasure for a very long time.
The other day, fate put me close enough to the legendary Bradley Wiggins to feel the slipstream as he rocketed past. And that was just one part of an amazing, dizzying day.
Contrary to popular opinion, your humble writer does not live at the end of a pier jutting out into the river Thames, fed by Guru Ian on fish and the occasional beer if I've been a good boy. I live about an hour's drive away, in a house by a cemetery on the borderlands of three different counties.  The company, and the homes of Ian, Super Sandi, Gerry the Voice and Ali the Mascot And Future Boss is sunny, charming Thames Ditton, This just so happens to be a spit and a whistle away from the Olympic cycling time trial route, which winds through Hampton Court and Kingston. We (that is, yr. humble writer and his delightful wife TLC) invited ourselves over, hoping we might catch a glimpse of the action.
Readership, we had no idea. Ian and Sandi's gaff is a two-minute walk from Hampton Court Way--part of the course. Better yet, it was quiet enough that we could set up comfortably right on the roadside. With a set of folding picnic chairs in tow, we had the sort of grandstand view that people wouldn't get if they paid big bucks for a ticket by the finish line.
We made the sensible decision to sleep over the night before, knowing that the roads around the course would be closed from early morning. It was wise indeed. We had a chance for a leisurely breakfast, a jug of coffee, and a morning in front of Ian's big fat telly, all the better to enjoy the rowing.
Which meant, of course, that we had time before wandering down to the trackside to watch Heather Stanning and Helen Glover win Team GB's first gold in the sculls at Eton Dorney, maybe ten miles away from Thames Ditton. A remarkable achievement, carried out with aplomb and cool style. We jumped up and down and whooped as the girls swooped onto the finish line, nearly a length ahead of everyone else. I had no idea that most of the Olympic rowers are based just up the road from our house in Caversham. Another source of pride.
Already euphoric, we headed down to Hampton Court Way, where the neighbourhood had set up gazebos and flags. We were literally at roadside. A burly, cheerful Olympic steward paced up and down, keeping us updated as to who was off first and next. The poor guy could have done with a megaphone. He was seriously husky by the end of the day.
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Suddenly, he bellowed at us to stand clear, and just like that, the race was on. Every ninety seconds, a police bike swished past (occasionally offering a wave to the punters) followed by the riders. Sleek and bullet-quick in shiny lycra and stormtrooper helmets. Unsmiling, except when they caught sight of a national flag. Which should have meant that Liz Armitstead and Emma Pooley would have been grinning all the way round. It was hard to tell. They were moving that fast. But every inch of the ride was thronged with union flags and people like us, roaring our lungs out, willing our girls to glory.
Sadly, all our screams and yells and flag-waving weren't enough to get them onto the podium. An amazing effort, but we knew that wasn't the end of it.
Back to home base, a snack and a look at some more rowing, before we were back at the roadside for the men's time trials. By now the threat of rain had passed, and Hampton Court was bathed in sunshine. Our friend with the foghorn voice paced up and down. Kids scrawled encouraging messages on the road in chalk. I settled back in a fold-up chair, in a nice clear spot, lined up my camera for the perfect shot and waited.
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There were twice as many male riders, but the line-up seemed to go just as quickly. To be brutally honest, although we cheered and clapped dutifully, we were only there for two reasons, and they were close to the end of the pack. The cheers as Chris Froome span past were easily twice as loud as for the rest of the pack. There was only one man who could top it, and he rocketed past ten minutes later, to a fanfare of yells and shouts. The guy was moving. Look at the pic. He's bending light. My poor camera barely had the ability to catch him. And he was close. A footstep away, an arm's length. Half a blink, and he was gone, powering away.
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Twenty-five minutes later, Bradley Wiggins made history, blasting into Hampton Court Palace nearly two minutes ahead of his nearest rival. A gold medal, his fourth, not quite a month after he became the first Brit to win the Tour De France. Either one would make for a lifetime's achievement. Together--well, let's just say the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year Award is something of a one horse race this year.
By that point, we were back at home base, popping the champers, raising a glass as Bradley conducted the masses in the National Anthem.
The sun was out, and all of a sudden it was very, very nice to be British.

For more pics of the day, check out TLC's Flickr set.

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