Wednesday, April 09, 2008

"My First Angry Mob!"

The Olympic Torch Relay ran through London Sunday, finishing at the Dome in Greenwich, and we were lucky enough to see it. But it wasn't quite the experience I thought it would be.

My only memory of an Olympic Torch Relay was in 1984, when the torch went across the continental U.S. before the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. It was a very happy event, and people were thrilled to see the torch. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case here.

Here in London, 24 years later, "Free Tibet" protesters lined the route and some tried to grab the torch, put out the torch, and otherwise disrupt the proceedings. I spent the morning and afternoon watching the afternoon with an increasing sense of dread: what if something really terrible happened at the end, where we would be? I told Mr. MarathonMum, "The Dome is either going to be the absolute worst place to be, or the safest."

As it happens, we were in an area outside of the Dome, and you had have a ticket to get in. I had won the tickets from Greenwich Council, which thrilled me to no end when I won them, but in retrospect, it wasn't that great of a prize. I foolishly thought there would be loads of other Olympic-type things to do before the concert and the torch arrival, like they did for Leap for London 2012, but they had nothing. So Thing One and I spent a lot of time (about two hours) waiting around on a VERY COLD day (it snowed earlier) for the torch to arrive.

The Sugababes (I know, Who?) were set to perform at the concert, but they cancelled. Apparently they were well enough to do the relay itself, but not the concert. Two very nice 20somethings next to me were VERY disappointed. I said to them, "Why can't they show up to lip-sync, which they undoubtedly would do?" So instead we were treated to three local bands we never heard of, and will probably never hear of again. So more waiting in the cold.

Finally, Ellen MacArther arrived on the boat with the torch. The people cheered, but I don't know if that was for Ellen, the torch, or that the waiting was over. They had all sorts of officials on the stage (Princess Anne, Sebastian Coe, Ken Livingston), and then the torch, now carried by Kelly Holmes, arrived.

A very smilely Chinese official, who I later learned was Jiang Xiaoyu, executive vice president of the Beijing Olympic organizing committee, made a speech. It was in Chinese, so I didn't know what he was saying. For all I know he was telling us, "And we will crush those who disagree with us on Tibet," all with a smile on his face.

Since our area was ticketed, there were no protesters nearby. Frankly, for me, that was a relief, since Thing One was with me and I was nervous enough as it was. Occasionally, we could hear chants on the other side of the stage, "Free Tibet! Free Tibet!". Another man behind us yelled, "Shame on you!" when Jiang Xiaoyu was speaking.

Then it was all over. All in all, it was very disappointing. The celebration was probably dampened by the ongoing protests throughout the day. At least the torch stayed lit through the day, unlike in Paris.

As we were leaving the ticketed area to get our bus home, we had to walk through about 100 Free Tibet protesters, who were chanting and waving signs. Thing One turned to me and said, "My first angry mob!"

One for the baby book, I suppose.

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