Life in the Olympic Village

Cedella Marley and son
Around the Olympic Village
By Clare Forrester


All the talk here in London over the weekend has been about the spectacular Olympic opening show.


They were under immense pressure, given the gigantic standard set by Beijing in 2008 but, as the world knows by now, the producers delivered – big time.


One can empathise with the Mayor, Boris Johnson, who rated the show a better production than Beijing.


However, while I too give the production high ratings as one of the best ever, I‘m less certain that I would go as far in saying that it surpassed Beijing’s effort.


I think this would be like comparing a love story with an action thriller.


The London 2012 organisers did well and deserve the kudos they are getting. Let's not go overboard.


Village people


While the production deserves its favourable comparison with Beijing and other previous shows, there are other strong points which ought to be noted.


The British must be among the most warm and friendly people on earth, when they set out to be.


Everywhere, people are welcoming and accommodating, wanting to exchange words, to wish your team well and to wish you a pleasant stay in their country.


I find this especially so when wearing my Jamaican branded T-shirt or blazer.


The organisers also expended a lot of effort in generating atmosphere.


They had cheerleaders all around the stadium area on Friday evening before opening time, and when people headed for the trains, they were properly directed.


Where they have fallen down so far, in my opinion, is in not preparing their official guides with proper information for directing visitors and especially by not providing effective signs directing members of the Olympic family, such as journalists, to their various locations, especially to the stadium and media centres.


While at past Games, you only had to follow the signs once in the Olympic plaza compound, to get where you are going here in London, you have to stop all along the way to ask for directions.


The 'right' pass


Worse, the guidance you get can only be compared to when we in Jamaica visit various rural parishes and stop to request guidance, which is often incorrectly given as "round the corner".


Even directions to the Main Press Centre (MPC) or the International Broadcasting Centre (IBC) are a challenge until you become familiar with the place.


I must have covered no less than a dozen miles on Saturday when trying to get to the stadium for the opening ceremony.


In my case, it was even worse, as we were required to have a special pass for the opening, as in the case of all events rated as "premier".


This meant that I had to double back to the MPC, where happily, colleague Brian Cummings had had the presence of mind to leave mine at the information desk.


Just as I was settling down to watch the show on one of the monitors in the MPC, along came another colleague, RJR/TVJ’s Kayon Raynor, who wisely guessed what Cummings had done.


The thing is that moving around the Olympic venues is especially challenging, as you simply can’t imagine the number of steps one has to mount to get where you are going.


This is compounded by the fact that most journalists have to lug with bags loaded with computers and cameras, besides other accoutrements.


It was a blessing in other ways for me that I caught up with Raynor, who helped me out for part of the way. He also rescued me when I nearly got lost navigating my return inside the stadium after leaving my seat briefly.


To the world


The cheers for Bolt and Jamaica’s Olympians when they entered the stadium, the 91st team in the procession, was some indication of the team’s popularity, and certainly Bolt’s.


Jamaica’s popularity at these games was like nothing I have experienced in any of the previous world Games I have attended.


Another indication of this was the prolonged cheering when the image of Prime Minister Portia Simpson appeared on the giant stadium screens during the team’s march past.


The major attention we are getting here is, in no small part, due to Bolt. There can’t be many people here who are betting against his winning.


And it is good that he appears so confident, as I can’t imagine the aftermath of a Bolt defeat for us, his fans, if not for the man himself.


You have to be in London to really appreciate the impact this affable Jamaican has on the UK and the world.


His trademark “to the world” pose, born in Beijing, was an inspiration of pure genius for what was to come and has come.


Bolt’s image is ever-present on the streets of London, in shops, the media and in various other public spheres.


Premium tickets


It will be a huge letdown for many if he loses in the 100 metres.


I am reliably informed that up to Thursday evening, you would only be able to purchase a ticket to see the 100 metres finals if you were prepared to dish out at least US$39,000 (£25,000), and only from informal vendors.


Further that, he is the face of Flow and Visa, two of the major officially designated sponsors at these games - something which has cemented his superhero image.


Advertisements using his image cover huge walls and display boards all over the place.


In addition, one of the UK’s best known graffiti artists has done an impression of his face that dominated the Brick Lane (East London) area in the vicinity of the Puma/Jamaica news conference held on Thursday evening, mere hours after my arrival in London.


I was accompanied to that news conference by two friends (just to make sure I wouldn’t get lost). One of them is my host, a very attractive and brash 29-year-old medical practitioner with maternal links to Jamaica.


The other is a retired club football star with Nigerian roots, Izzy Iriekpen. Izzy is a former West Ham and Swansea player.


Hug a Jamaican journalist


On the way to the news conference, we linked up with CVM’s Wayne Walker, who is again showing his energy in moving all over London in search of material for his Postcards from London series for Jamaica's CVM TV and Power 106.


My young physician friend had earlier threatened to get Bolt’s attention while there, but none of us paid her much attention.


As the event was winding down, most of us were positioning to get some shots of Bolt.


It is always a good thing to stick close to Wayne, since he is on such great terms with Bolt, Asafa, Brigitte and a couple of others.


Even the UK journalists have caught on to that reality and "hug him up", just to make sure they are within talking distance of our stars.


During the rush, my host, who was fetchingly attired and not easily avoided, even in a room filled with more than 500 journalists, public relations practitioners and other event organisers, bolted to the front and convinced Bolt to allow her to pose with him.


“Do it for England," she urged, and that he did.


The thing is, she posted it to friends on Facebook that same evening, with the caption: "Mr and Mrs Baxter Bolt."


Within the first minute of posting, she got 10 hits and ended the day with about 100 more.


Comments were posted from nearly every corner of the earth: some congratulating her, some asking her to help them get a ticket to see the 100 metres, a few inquiring whether she was pregnant. Most thought they made an attractive couple and wished them the best.


Wayne, Izzy and myself were quite amused by her brashness, but acknowledged that while Bolt does have an eye for beautiful women, he also supports his sponsors well, by embracing the right opportunities to shine.


After all, he did it "for England".


Meanwhile, back to the reality of the Olympics. My first inkling of problems concerning internet availability (at least in the Games environment) came at the weekend, when I discovered that there was no wireless access.


If, as I do, you have a modern Mac Air, which can’t take the dated cable connection that is provided in the media centre, then "you corner dark".


The in-house pharmacy was all out of portable converters, assuring us that they had tons on order and expected them to arrive, “hopefully tomorrow”.


My best bet is to source this at one of the shops away from the Olympic Park.


Today I may get lucky.