First Race Excitement

In 2008 I left my native New Zealand for the very first time. Three years after becoming a Formula One fan I was finally able to fly to Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix. My first race gave me an excitement I’m not sure I’ve felt in the six years since even though I’ve done a lot of exciting things.

I was at the track every day when the gates opened, trying to see absolutely everything. I spent hours walking around the track and I can still remember how much I was shaking when I got to talk to my favourite team’s drivers for the first time even though I don’t normally get star struck.

Rookie sensation and a replacement Finn

Rookie sensation and a replacement Finn

After moving to Melbourne later that year I celebrated finding a job by booking tickets to the Singapore Grand Prix. My excitement hunt began. I never thought my second race would be the same year as my first, and that it would be the first night race ever. Seeing something that had literally never been done before was awesome.

Water is very important in Singapore

Water is very important in Singapore

Again I was there early every day, trying to see everything. I was so early I was the first one there.

I know it's not dark yet but where is everyone?

I know it’s not dark yet but where is everyone?

2009 was pretty high on the levels of excitement. I had joined Twitter at the start of the year and with the F1 Twitter community being very small at the time I was noticed by McLaren’s Group Brand Director. He put my name on the entry list for a promo event so I was one of a small number of people who got the chance to watch the new world champion and Heikki playing cricket in the park.

That weekend I also got my first trip into the paddock as a membership perk from Team McLaren. The rules on photography were strict – only in front of the garage, not in the garage, not in the paddock. I never forgot the bleep-bloop of the electronic paddock gates. What a noise.

In 2010 I got a Team McLaren paddock tour again and this time I got to bring my friends! It was exciting, but not as much as the first time. Uh oh.

When you get a chance to merch up, you take it.

Wow, my hair was short then

Later that year I went to Spa with the Sidepodcast crew because internet people are the best. That was exciting because hello, Eau Rouge, even if it took me three years to mentally recover from the rain that weekend.

You're going the wrong way

You’re going the wrong way

Two weeks later I went to Monza by myself and thanks to Twitter again, I got into the paddock with Virgin Racing. This was my first one-on-one paddock tour and also the first time I’d ever seen the motorhomes. That was exciting.

Motorhomes!

Motorhomes!

I swung by Singapore on the way home. I didn’t get into the paddock but I did find the paddock entrance. High on the night race atmosphere I harassed a lot of people for photos. That was exciting.

Everybody loves Rob

In 2011 the Australian Grand Prix learned how not to use Twitter and while I was seeing Eddie Vedder with my phone switched off a campaign was growing online which resulted in two paddock tours for me. With my favourite driver now at Team Lotus getting a one on one tour from them was fantastic. I even got to see inside his driver’s room. That was exciting.

Even my bathroom is bigger than this

Because 2010 taught me that doing races back to back is awesome I went to the Malaysian Grand Prix. I got a Team McLaren paddock tour and enjoyed bleep blooping again. This wasn’t one on one and there were no motorhomes but it was the first time I got to go under the circuit via tunnel. It was exciting.

I went back to Singapore in 2011 because Singapore is awesome. It’s hot there and I’m generally really over Melbourne winter by the time it rolls around. We splashed out on our hotel, staying so trackside I could watch Sebastian Vettel do his trackwalk from my balcony.

The good ol days before he made F1 boring

The good ol days before he made F1 boring

 

There were a lot of drivers in our hotel, and running into Timo Glock in the elevator was a novelty. The Amber Lounge was just around the corner and at an ungodly hour on Monday when we were checking out to go home we saw a drunk Fernando Alonso coming home from the night before. He’d just been eliminated from the championship, so why not have a big night? That was exciting.

Then, thanks to a Facebook competition, came the weekend that may have ruined the rest of my F1 watching life. I went to Korea and watched free practice in the carpark because I couldn’t get into the circuit.

RIP Fanvision, I miss you so much

RIP Fanvision, I miss you so much

But after that things improved. I got a paddock pass that I didn’t have to give back.

I got to watch qualifying from the garage where the live timing goes to an extra digit. I got to wear the fancy headphones that let you hear team radio.

I swear I could actually see through this

I swear I could actually see through this

I got to watch the race with my favourite driver’s super nice girlfriend. I got to stand under the podium and come within inches of Lewis’s champagne. How could another race compare?

Missed it by inches

I could have done with some free champagne

I went to Germany in 2012 and took advantage of Santander offering paddock tours to promote females in motorsport. The bleep bloop noise had changed. The new one wasn’t as fun. This was the second time I got to see the motorhomes but this time I actually got to go inside Ferrari and McLaren’s. That was exciting, but not Korea exciting.

"Invited Guests Only"

“Invited Guests Only”

Thanks for sponsoring two teams, Santander

Thanks for sponsoring two teams, Santander

I haven’t been at the Australian Grand Prix when the gates opened for a few years. I’ve seen the support races a lot of times since 2008. I don’t wait at the paddock for hours for drivers to arrive any more because these days I prefer the scheduled arrivals at the autograph stage. From Friday to Sunday I arrive 10 minutes before the F1 activity starts and I leave when it’s over because the weekends are long anyway.

This year’s race in Melbourne was my 15th Grand Prix and as I was sitting there I was thinking about how lucky I’ve been as an F1 fan. I embraced social media at the right time to have a lot of awesome opportunities because of it. I was also thinking about how I haven’t felt an excitement like that of my first race since. I’ve done a lot of exciting things but that first race was something else.

This might be two years in a row of not going to any foreign races speaking. It might be two years without my favourite driver being in town. Maybe the Australian Grand Prix would be more of an adventure if I still lived in New Zealand. Maybe it happens to everyone who gets to go to more than one race in their lifetime. Perhaps the same guy winning four years in a row doesn’t help. I’ll keep chasing that excitement though, there’s still a lot more circuits to conquer and I’ve still never met Mika Hakkinen…

I Wish I Was An Ice Hockey Fan

During my first year in Melbourne I worked with a couple of NHL fans. Time zones being what they are we often ended up with hockey games on the TV in the office. I knew none of the rules and very few of the players but the sport intrigued me. It looked fast, it looked skilful and the crowd looked really into it.

“I wish I was an ice hockey fan” I told my friends. “No one likes ice hockey just a little bit so it must be good”

I told the guys at work and forgetting that they weren’t born as fans, they were quick to rubbish the idea. I got a long list of reasons I shouldn’t watch hockey: you don’t get it, you don’t have a team, if you do choose a team you’ll just be a bandwagon fan, no one like bandwagon fans…

I was stupid enough to listen. Being an Olympics junkie I watched a lot of hockey during Vancouver 2010 and I watched enough sports news to know who won the Stanley Cup each season but I forgot about “I wish I was an ice hockey fan”

That all changed this year. Unlike many locals I did know of the existance of the AIHL but I had never been to a game. A friend suggested we go to a game and knowing that the Melbourne Ice had won the last three Goodall Cups and that “no one likes a bandwagon fan” I declared myself Team Mustangs, and after spotting a competition to win tickets to one of their games we found ourselves at the Icehouse. The crowd was small but passionate and it wasn’t hard to see why. I was hooked instantly and by the end of our post-game dinner both my friend and I had bought Mustangs memberships. In his President Report  for 2013 Mustangs President John Belic said

It is fascinating how things have evolved, how people with no logical reason to be involved have seen the Mustangs beacon and magically been drawn to it.

No logical reason sums me up pretty well. I’ve lost count of the number of times people have said to me “but you don’t know anyone on the team?” as if that is somehow a prerequisite for being a sports fan. I can however see the worlds most useless observation wheel from my street, is this the magical Mustangs beacon? Because I think about how close it is to the Icehouse every time I see it.

I love a good derby

I love a good derby

As the season progressed and I ran out of people to bring to their first game in attempt to get them hooked (success rate: 80%) I realised how much it sucked when the Mustangs were playing away from Melbourne and there were no live streams of the games. I solved this problem by taking advantage of having a hockey loving friend who lives in Newcastle and booked a flight up there for the last away weekend of the season. I had a fantastic weekend watching hockey amongst the passionate North Stars fans on Saturday and then following it up with a game in Sydney on Saturday, where there were possibly more Mustangs fans than there were Bears fans. As a New Zealander I think it is hard coded into my DNA to be drawn to sports teams in black so the Mustangs black away jersey is by far my favourite in the AIHL.

If you don't think this is the best uniform, you are wrong

If you don’t think this is the best uniform, you are wrong

The Mustangs speak often of being a family and to someone who hasn’t been around from the beginning this can feel slightly intimidating because it feels like everybody else already knows everyone. Last weekend I went along to the End of Season Presentation Night and conquered this feeling of intimidation with a bit of Dutch courage. After one or two too many beers I found myself talking to players, staff, sponsors, other fans and even some of the parents of the players on the team. The main thing is that everyone was incredibly friendly, and I’m sure that’s not just the beer talking (and if it is the beer talking and you’re someone who I rambled to, my apologies!)

I can’t believe the contrast between my hockey experiences. My first, with people who weren’t interested in introducing their incredible sport to anybody new and who actively discouraged me from trying to learn anything about it, and my second, with people who kind of terrify me yet are friendly and welcoming to anybody who shows an interest in the game they love. I’ve learned a lot this year, and I regret that I didn’t do it sooner but I’m looking forward to a new NHL season starting next week and for a great 2014 season of AIHL that’ll be here before I know it.

AIHL Finals MVP

The 2013 AIHL Finals MVP, an actual wall.

My Olympics: Water Sports

Rowing

My first water based sport of the Olympics was Rowing and it was the toughest event for me by far. I’d been at the hockey the night before and got home around midnight, and to get 50km away to Eton Dorney in time for a 9.30am start meant leaving the house at 5.46am (very precise, the London 2012 travel planner)

The trip to the lake involved two buses, a train, a shuttle bus, then a 20 minute walk. After getting inside, I needed coffee (see: 5.46am start) but everyone else had the same idea. After moving queues three times due to the promise off ‘the queues are shorter down there’ I gave up because I was going to miss the first event if I queued any more.

As I headed to my seat I reached into my pocket to where I’d put my ticket after getting through the security entrance. Pocket empty. Retrace my steps: no ticket. Ask at ticket booth if it’s been handed in: no ticket. It was about this time I realised that only A and B ticket holders had seats in the grandstand and the cheaper tickets were a free-for-all along the river bank, so if someone dishonest with a cheap ticket had found my A ticket, I was probably out of luck.
I went back to the ticket booth for a first-hand demonstration of the shortcomings of the international reseller system used for Olympics tickets. If I’d been a UK or European resident who had bought my ticket directly from LOCOG they would have been able to look up the details and print me another one. Because my ticket was from Cosport, the Australian reseller, this option wasn’t available to me. Tears started welling up. I couldn’t believe I’d come all this way and now I was going to have to watch the rowing from the riverbank, where the tickets were 1/4 of the price I’d actually paid.

Eton Dorney

Eton Dorney

Then a man called me over. LOCOG had managed to sell tickets starting in Row 1 but the actual grandstand started in Row 8. They’d printed a lot of contingency tickets for customers who were in the non-existant rows, and due to the majority of these customers being in groups of two or more, they had one lonely contingency ticket left. Thanks to my lack of rowing companions I got the ticket. The day was saved! Even if it was an ugly paper ticket! It ended up being even closer to the finish line than my original ticket. Good thing I didn’t cry.

One of these things is not like the others

One of these things is not like the others

Sadly it was only the heats but seeing as how we kick ass at rowing, I still got to see lots of Kiwis in action, including our eventual gold medallists in the men’s single and double sculls.

Mahe Drysdale

Mahe Drysdale

Live verdict:
When a rowing lake is 2km long and you can see 200m of it at most, there’s a lot of watching on the big screens going on. It was exciting being at the finish line though, and I was very impressed with the announcers ability to start a successful 2km long mexican wave.

Swimming

I headed to the swimming straight from rowing,, excited at seeing my first medal session of the Games. This was one of the few tickets I got in the original ballot and my only D ticket of the games. To get to the D seating in the Aquatic Centre involved a lot of stairs but it was so well designed that even right at the side and right at the back, I could see all of the pool. There was also a TV screen and a timing screen mounted up there.

The view from the cheap seats

The view from the cheap seats

I couldn’t have been luckier with the session I got. I was there when Michael Phelps took a silver in the 200m butterfly to equal the “most medals ever” record and then saw him take a gold in the 4x200m freestyle relay with the rest of his US team.

Relay start

Relay start

By the end of the Olympics Phelps would have a career total of 22 medals but it was pretty cool to be there at the actual moment he got to 19 and broke the record.

Medal 19 for Phelps

Medal 19 for Phelps

As well as seeing Olympic legends it was always a highlight to see any Kiwis so I cheered pretty loud for Glenn Synders in the 200m Breaststroke semifinal. He came home in 14th and didn’t advance to the final.

Kiwi!

Kiwi!

Live verdict:
Swimming is awesome to watch live. It’s easy to follow, you don’t miss anything by being there and the atmosphere in the crowd is fantastic. There’s a reason its one of the hardest tickets to get your hands on.

Diving

48 hours before my flight home diving was my very last Olympic event, and it came around far too fast. I would have preferred a 10m platform or a synchronised event for a bit more of a spectacle but I was still very excited to be at the 3m men’s springboard final and checking one last sport off my list.

My B category tickets had me sitting a lot lower down than my D swimming tickets, but I was surprised at how far away I still was from the diving pool. It would have been fantastic for synchronised swimming but I can’t say I was in a hurry to get tickets for that.

Diving set up

Diving set up

The diving finals involved the top 12 men making six dives each and it is incredible just how much height they can get from just one jump on the board. The people around me kept going ‘ooooh,’ not in a “that’s impressive” way but more of a “ouch” way so I kept thinking that people had hurt themselves. It was really odd. This was also the worst event for people breaking the “no flash photography” rule. Grrrrr.

Upside down you turn me

Upside down you turn me

The 3m springboard was won by Ilya Zakharov from Russia and was one of only two diving events not won by China. They had to settle for the silver and bronze this time.

Chinese podium sandwich

Chinese podium sandwich

After the diving had finished I spotted the one diver in the world that those of us who don’t follow diving actually recognise. I thought it was pretty cool the way so many athletes came out to events to support their team mates but I guess if you get in for free, why wouldn’t you?

Tom Daley in a rare 'shirt on' moment

Tom Daley in a rare ‘shirt on’ moment

Live verdict:
It turns out I need commentary and slow motion replays when I watch diving. Who would have thought it could be so complicated?

My Olympics: Racquet Sports

Aside from tennis, I managed to get myself to a couple of other racquet sports in London (things I learned today: table tennis is classed as a racquet sport even though they play with a batty paddle thingy.)

Table Tennis

After four days in a row of double sessions, table tennis on August 1 was my only event for the day, and my first chance to catch my breath a bit. After my first trip on the DLR (yay!) I found myself at ExCeL for the women’s singles medal matches.

Dramatic lighting in the table tennis arena

The first thing that struck me watching the table tennis was just how small the table is. I’ve played badly on many basement/backyard/work break room tables and I’m sure all of them were a lot larger than the 1.52m wide table used in professional competition. I guess it didn’t help that being the final there was just one solitary table in the middle of the arena. For the earlier rounds they have multiple tables in play at once. The second thing I noticed was how much time they spend chasing after the ball, would ball boys look stupid in such a tiny field of play?

It is a very quick game to watch. They play the best of 7 games, first to 11 points with a 2 point lead wins the game. I have no idea how competitive it usually is but both the bronze medal and the gold medal matches were rather one sided affairs.

The bronze medal match was up first and Tianwei Feng from Singapore beat Kasumi Ishikawa from Japan in just 26 minutes.

Bronze medal match

I was cheering for Singapore simply because I’ve really enjoyed my Grand Prix trips there. As it turned out the Singapore Olympics team were on my flight home from London and Singapore Airlines had a celebration at the departure lounge in their honour. I never realised when I was watching the match that just over a week later I’d be drinking champagne and eating cake thanks to Tianwei!

Thanks for the party, Singapore

The gold medal match was between Ding Ning and Li Xiaoxia of China. One thing I found quite fascinating was that because they were from the same country, no coaches came out for the match. I wonder if China has one coach for the whole team or if they have individual coaches for each player? I always enjoy choosing a country to support when I’m not watching New Zealand so having only one country in contention took a little bit of the fun out of it, in the end I put my support behind Ding Ning because I thought that was a better name. After 45 minutes she was beaten four games to one, and went home with a silver medal. During the match she was shown yellow and red cards (I didn’t know these existed in table tennis) and given point penalties for not throwing the ball to the allowed minimum height on serve and for leaving the table to go get her towel too early. It’s quite funny watching table tennis players towel themselves off, they don’t quite do the same amount of running as tennis players do!

Table Tennis podium

Live verdict:
I think table tennis is easier to watch on television. The table is really small and even the closest seats didn’t have the clearest view of what was happening. I think I needed the slow motion replays to get a full understanding of the match and commentary would have really cleared up the drama in the gold medal match because we didn’t get told why Ding Ning was penalised until after the match.

Badminton

I headed to the Badminton on August 3 and even though it was another day with just one session, it started at 9.00am over at Wembley Arena so I had quite an early alarm to get me there on time!

Early morning badminton

First up was the two women’s singles semi finals. In the first one Wang Yihan of China beat Saina Nehwal of India 21/13-21/13 in 39 minutes. It seemed that the badminton schedulers expected the matches to be won in two games because the first match was scheduled to start at 9.00am and the second at 9.45. If the match had gone to a third game there was no way they’d be able to stick to the schedule! This was the order of the day with both the other matches ending just as quick, with Lu Xuerui beating her fellow Chinese Wang Xin to the second spot in the final.

The final match I saw was the bronze medal match in the mixed doubles where Denmark beat Indonesia. The crowd were incredibly behind the Danish team, perhaps because in a sport so seemingly dominated by the Asian countries they appeared to be the underdogs.

Danish medallists

I found watching badminton really strange. I struggled to turn off the part of my brain that watches a lot of tennis so every time someone would go for a smash I’d think ‘they got them!’ only for the shuttlecock to quickly slow down because they don’t fly anything like tennis balls, giving the opponent plenty of time to reach it. I did appreciate the really quick play though, it meant the matches never got boring and it meant the occasional long rally was something to marvel at.

I also really liked this guy, who just sat there with towers of shuttlecocks to give to the players every time they wanted a new one.

Shuttlecock guardian

Live verdict:
Badminton was great to watch in person and was easy to follow without commentary, although sometimes I struggled to see whether things were in or out of the sidelines. The doubles was more enjoyable than the singles because it seemed like there was a bit more action and watching the team tactics bought in a different variable as well.

My Olympics: Tennis

I had good intentions to blog during the Olympics. Really, I did. It turns out though it’s quite draining spending most of the day out and about, travelling to sport, watching sport, travelling to another sport, travelling home from sport! On the brief moments I had on the couch I just wanted to relax, and watch more sport on TV.

I’ve now been back in Melbourne for a week and during my prime blogging hours in the evening I’ve tended to be asleep. It’s taking a while to get back on the right time zone! I think I’m finally ready to sum up the sports I’ve seen and I’m planning on doing so in a series of posts. I will combine some sports but this one deserves a post of its own because I took 700 photos of it.

Tennis

Tennis Wenlock!

First and foremost, my favourite sport without an engine, the sport that made me plan this whole Olympics thing in the first place, tennis. I had five very awesome days at Wimbledon but from the first time I arrived it was clear this was not your ordinary tennis crowd.

My main tennis experiences have all been at the Australian Open, where there are two ticketed show courts, then one large free for all ground pass court that also gets great matches. On a weekend when the grounds are packed this court will fill up quickly and remain like that all day, with long queues to get in at each change of ends. I expected something similar at the Olympics. Kim Clijsters, John Isner, Andy AND Jamie Murray? Turns out no, my expectation of needing to get in when the gates opened an hour before play was about as wrong as you can be. A large portion of the tickets had gone to people who were just happy to be at the Olympics rather than actual tennis obsessives, and this was reflected by the number of empty seats on all the courts.

The emptiest Clijsters match I’ve ever seen

On a selfish note, knowing I’d always be able to get a seat it was nice to be able to come and go from various courts and check out all the people I wanted to see. On day one I saw Kim Clijsters, John Isner, Feliciano Lopez and David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco, Li Na, the Murrays, John Isner again, playing doubles with Andy Roddick, and Jo Wilfried Tsonga playing doubles against David Nalbandian. Normally at tennis doubles aren’t my priority but it was really enjoyable at the Olympics to see so many people playing doubles who don’t usually do so. It was also nice to see Kim for the last time with the knowledge that she is going to retire in a couple of weeks because she’s my favourite female player and when I saw her at the Australian Open it wasn’t 100% certain that she wouldn’t be back.

Feli + David. I wish they’d won bronze.

My second day at Wimbledon was with a Court 1 ticket but I only watched one full match there. Too much to see outside again! I started out watching the sole Kiwi representative, Marina Erakovic, who was easily beaten. Sadface. Then I saw a little of Pico’s match, all of Serena’s, a little of Tipsy, and a little of Serena again, playing doubles with her sister. This was to become a recurring theme, I saw an awful lot of the Williams sisters over my five days, but that’s OK because I love them! I was quite sad I had to leave as Roger and Stan were scheduled to play their doubles match after the Williams match but as it was I was running terribly late for the hockey, so I had to put my faith in getting to see Roger another time.

Kiwi

Day three was Court 1 again, and started with Andy Murray. Prince William and Kate were there which excited me more than it should have, but I do adore her wardrobe.

Royalty

Then it was Serena again, and finally Juan Martin del Potro. I cheered him on as a proxy for Kait. By this stage Roger and Stan had lost their doubles and I was thanking the tennis gods that I got to see them play in Sydney at the Davis Cup last year because Roger playing doubles isn’t something that you get a lot of chances to see. I also hadn’t seen him play any singles matches because he kept being on Centre Court of course. So at the tennis I’d seen the second in line to the throne, and I’d seen the First Lady of the United States but I hadn’t seen my favourite tennis player. Brilliant.

This one is for Kait

Day four was my first visit to Centre Court and every part of it was glorious. First up I saw Andy Murray in the mixed doubles with Laura Robson, making him the only player I’d seen in all three draws.

Future silver medallists

I was going with it since he was the local favourite and I was swept up in Olympics love because otherwise I’d think the tennis gods were spiting me. They beat Hewitt and Stosur from Australia, it was really weird for me seeing those two play together! The first medal match was the Women’s Singles.

My first tennis final

Then Serena got a gold medal, the Bryan brothers got a gold medal, it was a good day for the USA and a good day for me, especially because I knew I’d finally be seeing Roger the next day, and I’d see him get a medal!

Women’s medal winners

French sandwich

Sadly day five did not bring a gold medal for Roger but that was OK, it was still awesome to see him get a medal full stop. I actually think it might have been harder to watch him lose on TV because the medal ceremony made it all OK for me! I had really good seats, just a couple of rows behind the players boxes. I doubt I’ll ever be that close to Centre Court again!

A great view of my favourite player

That day I also saw the Williams sisters win their doubles gold medal (told you I saw a lot of them!)

Winners of their THIRD Olympic gold medal in doubles

I did not stick around for the mixed doubles final. Due to Andy Murray being a machine and wrapping up the men’s singles final so quickly I managed to get to the athletics 15 minutes before the session started which was brilliant, I’d spent about a year assuming I would have to miss some of it and considering it was the dearest ticket of my whole Olympics it was nice to see it all!

All I wanted out of these Olympics!

I did find the crowd a little infuriating at times. I’ve never heard so many crying babies, ringing cellphones, and general chit chat during play. I understand that they weren’t necessarily tennis fans, but I would have thought it was common sense to be quiet during play! I also suffered from that common tennis problem of sitting in front/behind/beside a couple of people who spend the whole time asking each other basic questions about tennis that the other person can’t answer. It might sound snobby but it really does hurt to hear someone telling all their friends that Caroline Wozniacki is the number one player in the world.

Another downside was the ridiculous queues for food and drink. This was by no means exclusive to Wimbledon, every event I went to had queues of up to 40 minutes just to get a coffee. You shouldn’t have to make the choice between eating and drinking and actually seeing all of the event you’ve paid to see, but this was the norm everywhere and despite promises it didn’t get any better as the Games went on.

My friend Kate pointed out to me that the normal Wimbledon crowd is nothing like how it was during the Olympics. To me it kind of felt a bit like Wimbledon meets the Australian Open meets people who’ve never watched tennis in their life. It was at Wimbledon, and it was all grass and lovely, but the crowd was a bit more boisterous, a bit more drunk, and there was lots of flag waving Serbs around. I do love the atmosphere at at the Australian Open so it made me feel at home. It was a really, really great week.

Overall, a jolly good podium

Live vs TV verdict:
I love live tennis, it’s so easy to follow that you don’t miss anything by actually being there although at the Olympics I did miss seeing players being interviewed on court after their matches! As great as the Olympics were however, I think overall I prefer attending Grand Slams.

My Olympic Ticket Journey

There is now less than 24 hours until I get on a plane to Europe for what is possibly my most anticipated holiday ever. That’s quite a high honour because aside from going home to New Zealand I’ve never taken an international trip that wasn’t for a sporting event!

First I am flying to Frankfurt to spend a few days at the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim. Going to F1 races is always something I enjoy and its especially exciting when its a new venue to me. Hockenheim will be my 13th race and my 7th different track! F1 is just a tasty bonus for me this year however, its just luck that after the FIA revised the 2012 race calendar in July 2011 a race actually coincided with the dates I wanted to be in London for the Olympic Games.

I can still barely believe I’m going to the Olympics. The first Olympics I remember watching was the Barcelona Games of 1992 and I’ve been hooked ever since. While I was in Europe in 2010 I was already planning on coming to London for 2012 so I made it a point to get to Estadi Olímpic de Montjuïc.

Estadi Olímpic de Montjuïc

I spent a long time staring at its new blue running track and at the famous cauldron that was “lit” by an archer in 1992.

1992 Olympic Cauldron

I tried to imagine what it would be like to be in the much larger, more modern stadium in London while it was full of people. In a little over two weeks, I’ll get my chance to see it for real.

It’s been 470 days since I first put my name in the ticket ballot. I initially applied for 10 tickets – two days of ground passes for the tennis at Wimbledon and both days of Centre Court finals, and one event each for finals of the most popular Olympic events – gymnastics, athletics, track cycling, rowing, swimming, and a ticket for the Opening Ceremony.

Like pretty much everyone else I seriously underestimated the demand for tickets that was out there and was disappointed when the ballot results came out on the 26th of May and I only had three tickets – one tennis ground pass, the womens tennis final, and the swimming ticket I applied for. In hindsight this was a fantastic haul – two tickets to my favourite sport, including gold medal matches, and a cheap ticket to a swimming final which I later learned was one of the harder tickets to get. I actually never saw another ticket to that session on sale again.

The first in first served sale for all remaining ticket inventory started on the 23rd of June. My approach was quite different to my inital one. Instead of only applying for the cheap seats I easily justified the more expensive A and B category tickets with “I’m going all the way to London, I might as well see as much as I can”

In one foul swoop I’d spent $1000 on five tickets – rowing heats, mens handball, hockey and volleyball and one of the most expensive tickets to anything I’ve ever bought – AT005B. My chance to get into the Olympic Stadium itself, a night at the athletics including the most famous of all Olympic events – the mens 100m final. Even with a year behind me I don’t regret what I spent for that seat, its one of my golden tickets!

The next day I added two more – badminton and table tennis medal sessions and then a week later I added a Court 1 tennis session.

My credit card was then given almost half a year to recover because it was December before Cosport had another sale. I added my final two days of tennis – another day in Court 1 and a ticket I’d applied for 8 months earlier – the mens singles tennis final! Having this in hand meant I would be at every gold medal tennis match in the Olympics at Wimbledon. Incredible! This is another of my golden tickets and annoyingly the session overlaps with the athletics! As far as I can tell first up at 12pm is the mixed doubles final, followed by the mens singles, then the womens doubles. As nice as a nailbiting five set mens final would be I think I need it to be a one sided affair just so I can see it to its conclusion then possibly some of the womens doubles then get to the other side of London without missing too much of the Athletics that starts at 6.50pm!

My hockey and handball sessions earlier in the Games also overlap with days spent at Wimbledon so at least by the 5th of August I should be well practiced in getting between the two.

In December I also picked up a mens basketball ticket, womens gymnastics qualifying and the mens 3m springboard diving final. I used to work with someone who is now a FINA judge so if he is judging that night it would be quite cool to see someone I know “at” the Olympics even if they’re not “in” the Olympics!

Earlier this year my friend Pat floated the idea of going to watch GB take on NZ in the very first Olympic event, womens football in Cardiff. I jumped at this chance and am really looking forward to kicking off the games cheering on my team while sitting with my British friends cheering on their team! I read today that 37,000 tickets to this match have been sold and that the upper tier of the Millennium Stadium will be closed so it should be a great atmosphere down in the lower tiers. I’m especially excited to go to Wales, as brief as my visit may be. My maternal grandfather was Welsh so the country has always had a special significance to my family and I’m sure my grandmother would be really happy that I’m going there – her lifelong love of everything Welsh was a major theme at her funeral.

Another long stretch of Cosport silence followed before I bought my final Olympics ticket earlier this month. After 15 months of trying I finally got a ticket to see Olympic Track cycling in the velodrome. I had quite a full schedule by this time so there weren’t a lot of cycling sessions that I could squeeze in and I’d never seen them on sale before. Like swimming finals they were snapped up within seconds of going on sale. CT002 was my dream session due to the appearance of the womens Team Pursuit as I grew up across the street from New Zealand’s Individual Pursuit World Champion Alison Shanks and 15 years ago I used to cycle to school with her younger sister! It would have been excellent to see someone I kind of know competing but alas, the only ticket to this session I ever saw on sale was over $680 and I couldn’t spend that on less than 3 hours of cycling.
The ticket I did get my hands on in the end was CT008 – the first round and repechages of the mens Kierin and the Individual Pursuit of the womens Omnium.

Due to never expecting to actually get a track cycling ticket to get my fill of velodrome action I attended the World Championships in Melbourne earlier this year.

My first Velodrome

Even though I won’t be seeing them in London I did get to see our team pursuit girls in action then, and I also got to see Simon van Velthooven take a bronze medal in the kilometre time trial. He’ll be riding in the Kierin in London so I’ll definitely have my New Zealand flag in my bag that day.

Bronze for New Zealand

After 8 separate orders I’ve finally got tickets to every sport I requested in April 2011, as well as plenty of other ones. I spent more than I intended to, and I will be seeing 16 different countries in the team sports I’m attending, including the host nation in Hockey and Basketball so I’m expecting these matches to have very lively atmospheres!

The final dream ticket would still be an Opening Ceremony cheapy but I’ve spent enough time staring at Cosport to know they never had many of these in the first place so chances were always slim. I do admit I’ve spent a bit of time wishing I was a LOCOG customer after seeing how many C and D tickets they’ve sold recently! It will still be amazing to watch from the couch in London, knowing that its taking place not too far away and that the following morning I’ll be heading to Wimbledon for some tennis. Incredible!

Here’s my timetable in full (click to enlarge):

My London 2012 Schedule

I hope to go and see the Olympic Torch Relay on July 26th and spend the day on August 3rd at Kiwi House after my morning at the badminton. I leave London on the night of August 9 so I have quite a bit of spare time to be travelling/watching at live sites/watching from the couch. I didn’t want to completely burn out at the Olympics because as it is there will be quite a few late nights and early mornings to make sure I’m at the venues on time.

The Art Of Lurking

From what I understand the paddock entrance in Melbourne is unique among Formula 1 circuits. Of the tracks I’ve been to I’ve seen tracks such as Spa and Sepang where F1 personnel can drive straight into the middle of the circuit via tunnels under the track, and some such as Singapore and Monza where fans can gather at the paddock gates, hoping to grab a glimpse of their favourites as they walk to the carpark. Melbourne is the only track that seems to make the paddock entrance a feature, with colourful barriers to keep the crowds back, and layers of concrete bleachers enabling even those at the back of the large pack to be able to see.

It gets vicious. $20 if you can find where I'm buried.

These bleachers attract a few different types of fan. There’s the dedicated few who are there Thursday to Sunday as soon as the gates open and who stay every night until the gates close.  There’s a small bunch who are clearly there to make a quick buck from eBay, they can be easily identified by the large bags they bring containing photos and memorabilia of every single person to set foot in an F1 paddock. There are people who were bought over by curiosity, they tend not to stay long after seeing just how long people are willing to stand in one spot and these people can be scared by the apparant viciousness of the crowd. I consider myself as one of the tactical few – we may not be there every day, but we’ll show up every year with a well thought out plan and we’ll get a good spot. No matter which type of fan anyone is the crowd as a whole can only be described as a fickle bunch.

Crowd and Amy favourite

My plan most years is to sometimes stop by in the morning if theres nothing else to see with my mornings but I never stay very long early in the weekend. Sunday is a different story, Sunday is the day I get to the track before 8am when the race doesn’t start until 5pm. I get a spot early in the queue at the gate. Theres always a few doing what I do, they’re the same people you recognise year after year. When the gates open rather than veering to the right like we’re supposed to, we head left, over the overpass  and straight to the paddock entrance. I heard some people this year saying they should have trained for it because there’s a lot of people making that sprint and everyone wants to be first to get there. When we got there some of the security guards at the paddock told us we had to leave  but even amongst the guards themselves this was causing arguments. The regular guards know the regular fans, they know who is there every day, every year, and they’re well aware that we’d never ever been asked to leave before. The Australian Grand Prix twitter was posting photos of fans waiting there well before the gates had opened earlier in the weekend! The issue died quickly and everyone stayed where they were, settling in for the long wait before the first driver arrived.

The only team that I’ve seen recognise the opportunities of having massive numbers of fans patiently waiting for your drivers to arrive is Red Bull Racing. Every year they come visit the crowd before the drivers arrive and hand out driver profile cards that each team has.

Red Bull Driver Cards

This means that every person in the crowd actually has something for the Red Bull drivers to sign and aside from getting my usual Kovalainen cap autographed (and a new-for-this-year Kimi squiggle on my Finnish flag) Sebastian Vettel was the only autograph I bothered with. I would have gotten Mark to sign his card too but he never made it down to our end of the crowd. I think the first team to provide coffee and anything to eat to the people who’ve been standing in one spot since early in the morning would win a large number lifelong fans. We’re a hungry bunch by lunchtime.

It always amuses me to see who the crowd is interested in and who they’re not. They want all the current drivers of course, third and reserve drivers are very hit or miss and it’s impossible to predict which ex-drivers get the call. I found it incredible that Buemi and Alguersuari were ignored everytime they walked in and out of the paddock yet Alex Wurz gets called over to sign repeatedly. The two ex Toro Rosso boys both sat in a car a lot more recently than Alex did!

In more popular times - Melbourne 2011

I call the crowd a fickle bunch because their favourites change day by day. I saw Kimi get an awful lot of boos for not signing on Saturday morning, but Sunday morning after he came and signed for a bit he got some of the loudest cheers of the day. The people around me had asked me to keep out my Finnish flag until he arrived “because they always come over when they see flags” and they were right! I know that Heikki comes over when he sees my flag, he commented himself as he signed it “I’ve already signed this one lots” but I wasn’t sure it’d have an effect on Kimi. He must be used to seeing plenty of fans with plenty of Finnish flags everywhere he goes.

Kimi came for the flag

The flag also made its way into the background of a piece Finnish broadcasters MTV3 were filming. They had come over to the crowd looking for Kimi fans and haters to interview about his F1 return and afterwards filmed what I can only assume to be a piece explaining how nuts the Melbourne crowd is. Pamela asked if they’d like to film it with our flag in the background and they thought that was a great idea. I don’t know what they said but I do know that Finnish sounds like a fantastic language when its spoken by a native at high speed and that their reporter is really nice!

The fans are always trying to interview the drivers as they sign, any driver with a sense of humour is quickly adopted as a crowd favourite. Charles Pic didn’t say a word at all, but fellow rookie (and my new favourite) Jean-Eric Vergne was fantastic. After being thanked by someone he replied “no worries” and the crowd was quick to ask him what other Australianisms he’d picked up. He tried out a “g’day mate” and told us he’d “put some tinnies in the fridge.” Funny, cute and fast. It’s a good thing he’s not Finnish or I’d have to rethink my entire F1 strategy.

Welcome to the big time

My highlight of the day was spotting Heikki’s girlfriend Catherine, who I watched the race with in Korea last year. She smiled when she recognised me so I called her over for a photo and a chat. She even remembered the purple handbag I had in Korea with me and said she would have stolen it if I’d had it on me. She asked where we were sitting and said she’d get Heikki to wave and throw us some chocolate on the drivers parade since we were hungry after standing there so long. She was only kidding about that of course so I won’t hold it against her that no chocolate was produced! She stood and talked to us for so long that she lost sight of Heikki and thought he’d headed into the paddock without her and after she left everyone around me agreed that she was incredibly friendly (after they’d asked who she was and how I knew her.)

Smiley Catherine in awesome shoes

It really amused me that Catherine remembered my bag from Korea –  and she later tweeted me to say I had another beautiful bag with me that day – because in my life I have two expensive hobbies – F1 and handbags. One of the main reasons I follow the likes of @F1ladys is because I love seeing what bags women in the paddock are carrying. Catherine often has a lovely Chanel on her shoulder, and in Melbourne I was incredibly envious of the Mulberry Oversized Alexa being carried by Paul di Resta’s girlfriend Laura. Expensive bag of the day award went to Louise Goodman who was carrying a red Hermes Birkin!

A Birkin and an Eddie

The scrum of camera people and photographers was the largest I’ve seen this year but one quickly learned how to get on the wrong side of the crowd. After Bruno Senna had been and gone a man in a ‘support race photographer’ bib asked us who the driver was that just went past. “Bruno Senna” we replied.
“Bruno Santa?”
“……Senna. Seriously?”
He just looked bewildered. How do you get a job photographing motorsport if the name Senna rings no bells with you!

He sees you when you're sleeping...

The last driver of the day to arrive was Jenson Button, who had wisely spent his morning at the beach. After he signed a few autographs and headed into the paddock  the crowd quickly dispersed and I could finally get my hands on some food. After a really long day at the track I didn’t try my luck at the paddock again after the race but I’m sure many of the regulars did, and I’m sure I’ll see many of them again in 2013.