I love sport. Moreover, I love live sport.
To a fault, I get very involved with sport, to the point where the Liverpool result at the weekend can, rightly or wrongly, dictate my mood for the next few days.
But it isn’t just football that I love.
For over half of my life, I have played competitive cricket. At school I was a high-jumper and competed in regional ‘meets’. I can watch a Test match on TV for five days straight, I’m obsessed with Wimbledon each June and with the Six Nations and international rugby whenever it is on.
In 2002, I got my first taste of live athletics. I spent two days with the family at the Manchester Commonwealth Games. It was a magical experience. The atmosphere within the stadium sticks with me more than the events of the day. I was only 9 when I went, and I don’t remember the competitions we saw, or who evented, but I do remember the thrill of being there. The sense of anticipation as the athletes stood in their blocks.
When the Olympics came to London in 2012 I didn’t manage to get tickets. It was my first summer working full-time, and though not being there in person was a disappointment, it was great to be involved, even from the other end of a satellite-beamed image.
But the London games did something to London, particularly Stratford. The Olympics was a resounding success. Unlike many other host cities, the purpose built stadia are not desolate shells, void of investment and character. They thrive, be it under the thump of the drums at West Ham home games, or the whip-crack of a shuttlecock between two beginners at the sports hall-come-gym.
London created a legacy.
People swim in the same pool that Phelps dominated; some may have never swum before 2012 and now hope to be the next Adam Peaty. But more than this, the Olympic Park still holds that sense of achievement. You know that Team GB delivered on those grounds, people come to walk around the stadium that saw Jess Ennis, Greg Rutherford, and Mo Farah produce what is now synonymously known as Super Saturday, that day when gold after gold after gold was delivered into the hands of great athletes, roared on by 66,000 people in stands.
So, when the athletics roll back into town there, is sense of nostalgic anticipation. Brits know their athletics, they know how individual it is, and they know that this is the stage, the pinnacle of their profession.
It was Hannah’s idea to get tickets to an evening. We didn’t get an A-grade ticket, we didn’t see Mo Farah, or Bolt, but what we did see was unbelievable. In many ways, the evening is more eventful than a 90-minutes of football, or T20 game; the action just never stops.
We saw the 800m heats, and as Lynsey Sharp chased down the leaders with 200m to go, the sound in the stadium grew, and grew, until everyone was on their feet, all 66,000 people cheering on a single person. It was unbelievable and awesome to experience. She came fourth, and qualified for the finals.
But the highlight of the evening was the Womens-3000m steeplechase final. It was a lesson in tactical racing. Three Kenyans stormed off from the start, the favourite was so wrapped up in taking charge that she completely missed the first hurdle and water obstacle and had to loop back around or be disqualified. She was gone.
A little way back, two Americans fell into rhythmic step; one leading the other before the other took over and led for the same distance. You have to understand that Brits love athletics, and as the first few laps were ticked off, everyone knew that the two Americans were tactically keeping themselves in contention. One was a medal hope, the other a hopeful, but realistically a pacemaker for the former.
The fourth, the fifth, and the sixth laps went down, and the two Americans drove on. They kept pace with the Africans, they moved in tandem with them and stuck to the leading group.
Six laps down, they leading group of five were the only realistic medal hopefuls and the Americans were right in the thick of it. They worked as the perfect selfless team and the crowd appreciated it – boy did they appreciate it.
Two laps to go and now the crowd was involved. The hammer event took a backseat and all eyes were on the steeplechase; on the Americans. They were still there swapping and handing each other positions and protection. With about 200m to go the Africans were off, they made their move for the finish line. Who was where? I can’t remember, I can barely remember what nationalities they were, but the Americans were going too. Only, their move was tactical, they were leggy but they had reserves to burn.
All of a sudden, through field burst a bolt of blue, two athletes long. The Americans stormed through to no effective response. The crowd was incredible, every extra step seemed joined by another voice in the stands. Brits love an underdog, the two Americans may not have been seen as official underdogs, but with 800m left, in the context of the race, they were. They were uncatchable, they were next level. This was the reason people watch athletics. The pinnacle of achievement, whether this was the Olympics or a local meet in a rival county back home, it just did not matter to anyone, and the two Americans stormed to gold and silver. The crowd were spent but still the noise notched a dB or two higher to greet them at the finish line. The women were spent too, collapsing into the arms of each other. But they had done it, they had achieved. And I like to think that in the crowd, my voice helped them just a little.
Sport is wonderful. I hate it when my team loses, but like an addiction, I’ll be there next time expecting better. I’ll leave you with this: the definition of insanity is repeating the same process and expecting a different outcome. Maybe that’s why I love it so much, maybe I’m insane. But hey, I’ll be there next time, and the time after. After all, when your team wins, it just makes your day!