1-4 August 2012 were great days to be Kiwis at Dorney Lake. We witnessed three gold medals (Men’s Pair, Double and Single) and two bronze medals (Women’s Pair and Men’s Lightweight Double).
Each morning we were up around 5 – 5:30 am (except the first day which was 4:30 am) to drive from Banbury down the M40 to the park and ride at Bray Wick Park (close to Maidenhead) – a one hour trip. Hundreds of double decker buses were on hand to deliver spectators from the four different park and rides to the main entry to the Lake. We never had to wait more than five minutes for a bus and they were never full.
The bus took around 15 minutes and delivered us to the Royal Windsor Racecourse on the other side of Dorney Lake. We then walked across the Racecourse and the river to the grandstands, via the airport security scanners run by the army and the ticket check. The walk was probably 15 – 20 minutes. Hundreds of volunteers lined the walkways to greet everyone. One morning we counted over 20 “good mornings” from the volunteer ‘Games Makers’. If you had a question, five of them might descend, all eager to provide the answer. The logistical organisation was very impressive, but you did need to allow plenty of time to make the journey.
Dorney Lake is a man made lake, privately owned by Eton College, who spent £17m developing the site. It really is a world class facility – would’ve loved a tour of the boathouse!
Once at the grandstand (by the finish line) we would walk down to the 1000m mark to find the least busy stalls selling coffee and sausage. The prices were ridiculous and so were some of the queues – the English seem to love a well formed queue, and there were plenty of volunteers to keep everyone in formation.
Getting there early meant plenty of time to sit in the stands sipping coffee and observing the crews doing their morning rows. This was the best opportunity to see the different techniques and rhythms of various crews and countries – a favourite pastime if you’re a rowing nut. Needless to say, I thought Hamish and Eric in our pair were the best to watch. I also liked the rhythm of the Australian four (they claimed a silver medal behind the Brits).
In terms of the crowd, a large portion were English (lots of kids and families) coming for one day of racing. The ‘friends and family’ of the athletes were mostly in the stand on the other side of the Lake, but there were still lots of people supporting particular athletes over our side. The NZ supporters were easily spotted, sporting t-shirts in support of either Mahe, the Men’s Pair or the Women’s Pair. We recognised a few old faces from the club rowing scene. There was a notable increase in Kiwis at the Lake on Friday for the Men’s Pair and Mahe. Most seemed to be Kiwis living in London – they picked a good day.
The racing began with semi finals and/or B to F finals, with the A finals at the end. Unsurprisingly, the crowd was loudest when there was a Team GB crew coming down. The crews described the noise from the grandstands as a “wall of noise”. With four golds, one silver and two bronzes (from memory), they had plenty to cheer about. The crowd tended to be more subdued when there was no GB crew in the hunt for medals, altogether they did clap politely. The small Kiwi contingent was particularly vocal and the cheers for “GB” sounded very similar to “Kiwi”. My voice was pretty much done when the Men’s Double came flying through for a win. It was totally gone by the last day.
The way tickets were allocated meant that there were pockets of Kiwi supporters dotted around the grandstands. One day we sat with Nathan Cohen’s Aunt. But even if the other Kiwis were total strangers, a medal meant high fives, hugs and handshakes. The best moment was when Mahe won, capping off two golds in 39 minutes. Not since Rome have we won two Olympic golds in such a short space of time. Hearing our national anthem, watching the flag go up, and seeing our medalist crews with their hardware made us remember all the best things about our little country and how we punch well above our weight.
We were very lucky to be able to stay with our cousins close to Banbury and Oxford. They have the most fantastic house, being a 17th century Grammar School House. It is rather large (especially for NZ standards) and although it has been altered and added to by its owners over the years, it still has its original walls and oozes history at every turn. We took a tour of the house (clutching champagne glasses in celebration of the day’s Olympics!), learning of its history, alterations over the years and previous owners. My favourite was probably the cellar…and the fireplace…
We also did a garden and town tour. The garden is stunning, with a large lawn, clever planting and plenty of homegrown veges (beetroots were the highlight and the classic lawnmower was pretty good as well). There were other fine examples of old houses and architecture throughout the town.
Helen and Elizabeth took us on a tour of Oxford. The university and college system is fascinating and rather complicated. We saw Christ Church College, Oxford – notably its Quad, Cathedral and Hall. Christ Church is a very wealthy college founded by Henry VIII and was where Lewis Carroll studied and taught.
We were spoilt with the tours and tasty home cooked meals using fresh veges from the garden. After being on the road for a month, it was luxury to have some space, home cooking, a washing machine, good conversation and plenty of wine and cheese! We were extremely grateful.
London, Banbury and the Olympics was a little brief, but we have lots more of Europe that we are keen to see. Now in Berlin having a ball – will post on that soon.