It’s not all hi-nrg pop and gay icons at PopLifer, you know. While Neil has been working out new ways to say “lovely tune” in the Pet Shop Boys rundown and thinking about Gore Vidal, Chris has been an embedded reporter prowling the Olympic Village and playing his major role in the “greatest show on earth” (or as major a role as you can from the cheapest of the cheap seats). Here are five things about the Olympic experience which you can’t pick up from watching on TV.
1. ‘Look at the size of that thing’ comments Luke Skywalker as a band of renegade rebels approach the Death Star. Similar jaw dropping awe is stirred as you are first guided into the Olympic Park in East London, though there are marginally fewer people in uniform awaiting you. A sweeping velodrome, dramatic half-pipe aquatics centre and a giant, looming main stadium are the three totems of a park dotted with temporary venues and littered with the usual paraphernalia you can expect from hundreds of thousands of people gathering to enjoy themselves – overpriced food stalls, bad coffee and warm lager. This half of PopLifer used to reside a mere Mo Farrow 5000 metres from the Park and the transformation from desolate Warriors-style urban wasteland is enormous, complete and extraordinary.
2. The Olympics is like a sporting e of fuzzy warmth. You constantly chat to people about other events they may have seen, where they are going and trade tales of toilet lines – often while in toilet lines. Not unlike Glastonbury I suspect, except London is the playground rather than a field in Wiltshire and you are more likely to be talking to someone who reads the Daily Mail rather than Spiritualized liner notes. Great social divides are genuinely crossed.
3. Athletes are in good nick. No revelation perhaps but I’m not talking about the athletes you see from the gods but the ones you bump into in and around the park taking in the atmosphere either side of competing. There are lots of people in tracksuits walking around with accreditation but you can tell which is an athlete because he or she is supremely primed, their skin alone emitting a smug superiority. With not a single blemish or suggestion of a late night, they pad about smiling generously at us odd workers who’ve escaped from the anthill with our pasty faces and awkwardly fitting tee-shirts. In each caught eye you can see that, in this moment and in this place, their decision to forego fun, friendships and normality is fully justified.
4. The corporate dominance of the Olympics isn’t the over-bearing presence that people feared. A band of Coca-Cola funded, red t-shirted drama students flash mobbing supporters with uneasy and hastily assembled Olympics commentary (umbrellas for horses and easy jibes at Zara Philips) were a bit ‘in yer face’. However, competition and corporate rub along in that familiar, uncomfortable way we have all tolerated for some time now. No one with Nike trainers was stopped from entering the park and you could eat food that wasn’t made from 100% McDonald’s beef. We all attend gigs in O2 Academies or watch football matches in stadiums sponsored by airlines. The Olympics has neither escaped or been swamped by the corporate dollar.
5. There is something special about a line of flags fluttering in the wind. Poplifer saw competitors and supporters from every corner and continent on earth – a slightly surreal but not surprisingly uplifting experience. However before every event begins, we are reminded of the unique Olympic ideal. After gushing about Danny Boyle’s healthy, reaffirming take of nationalism, this Olympic take on internationalism is somewhat limited – basically, by competing without killing each other we are achieving something extraordinary. This is a good thing but far from an ideal. We can do better than that surely…..