Olympic Rowing – London Olympic Games 2012

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Eton Dorney

29th July 2012

I am a MASSIVE fan of rowing.

I have to admit that when I first started on this little leg of mini adventures.. I was just a MASSIVE fan of rowers. But after a brief bash at coxing and a few turns of rowing Bow in an 8 (plus a few too many days spent sipping Pimms at Henley Royal Regatta), I am definitely a convert.

Being in a boat when it’s working.. it’s like flying.. and for me, just watching is mesmerising.

When tickets opened for London 2012. There was only one ticket I wanted to get my hands on. The rowing. I, like everyone else I hear who tried for tickets, got carried away. Olympic fever. Boom. £180 for 2 tickets. Ouch.

It was, however, a very memorable experience. A day I will never forget. Watching Hunter and Purchase fly past, even for a few seconds, gliding as if their blades were merely stroking the water.. beautiful.

Ashleigh Whitfield - "Girl about London Town"

Ashleigh Whitfield – “Girl about London Town”

When “Girl about London Town” (also affectionately known as ‘my wife’), and I arrived – fashionably late of course, (despite the expensive tickets), the crowd was already roaring. We could hear it from the entrance.. a good 15 minute walk from the actual stadium. Whipped up in the frenzy and feeling like excitable kids we made a quick pitstop to the nearest bar – a glass of champers was in order. Of course.. daaaaling!

We made our way riverside – £90 per ticket did not stretch to stadium seating and we craned our necks to peer over the hoardes of people who had already beaten us there. At a mere 5′ 2″ each, we could barely see a thing.

Then.. as if sent by god, and out of no-where, appeared “the volunteers”. Two old gents with incredibly british accents and old boy charm swooped in beside us. “Do you know anything about rowing girls?” beamed the tallest of the two, who I later learnt was ‘Alan’, a rowing vet from London Rowing Club in Putney.. and soon to be my hero.

After a few exchanges about my limited knowledge of rowing, love of the river, but inability to commit to a club due to work schedules and the fact, that though I hate to admit it, a little skinny 5’2″ slip of a girl like me was never likely to compete – Alan unleashed his extensive knowledge of the sport. His years of competing, his yearly “old boy” trips to Henley Regatta, his love of London Rowing Club. I no longer wanted to be Indiana Jones when I grew up.. I wanted to be Alan!

As we turned our attention back to the rowing, Alan explained everything that was happening on the river, everything that had happened the day before, his predictions for the coming days, the vital statistics, strengths and weaknesses of the next two oarsmen we’d be cheering – Hunter and Purchase, the British Men’s Lightweight Double sculls. Again I craned my neck and jumped up and down trying to get a better look. With that, Alan scooped me up and held me aloft so I could see the race.. this man must have been in his 60’s but his strength was incredible! He held me up long enough to see the duo take the lead, and almost as quick as they had appeared in sight.. they were gone again, with a few graceful strokes they quite literally flew past.

Alan dropped me back down again and summarised their technique, before turning his attention to my wife, shivering in the cold. “Here you go” he said, whipping off his purple London 2012 jacket and hanging round her shoulders.. before he and his companion proudly showed off the full extent of the uniform – The London 2012 umbrella, the London 2012 socks. These guys were loving every minute of the volunteer experience, we could tell. This was just one of the many moments over the Olympics I felt very proud to be British. People like Alan as the games makers.. what’s not to love?

Several races and another glass of champagne later, another games-maker arrives. “Sorry Alan” she says. “We have a situation at the start-line, we need your help”.

“Yes of course” Alan beams. “Girls, you will excuse me won’t you? It was lovely to meet you both”, as he whipped the jacket from around Wife’s shoulders and straightens his cap.

“Bye Alan!!” we both chorus.

“Bye! – Don’t forget now, join London Rowing Club, we have the ‘irregulars’, no pressure, just fun”.

And with that.. my hero.. Alan, was gone.