From sharing umbrellas to learning about Argentinian hockey – my day at the Olympics

DAVE GOODERHAM was fortunate enough to spend Sunday at London 2012, first at the Olympic Park for some hockey before hot-footing it over to Wembley Stadium to see Team GB in action. It was a day which will live long in his memory, as he explains.

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My first memory of the Olympic Games came as an impressionable nine-year-old getting up at some ungodly hour to watch Sean Kerly inspire Great Britain to gold in Seoul.

It was an incredible moment, capped by Barry Davies’ immortal commentary line.

So it was perhaps fitting that I should begin my Olympic day – which would see me cover 500 miles in car, train and tube, step inside two incredible stadiums and see countless more – with the women’s hockey at the Riverbank Arena.

Unlike the football that would end the day, my hockey tickets were won in a Twitter competition on Friday morning – not run by an affiliate of this newspaper, I hasten to add.

I was buzzing about seeing Team GB at Wembley, even if it was minus a certain D Beckham.

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But it was originally soured a touch by the fact that I would not witness the Olympic Park and see how it had developed, 12 months after I was given a tour of a site that promised so much but resembled a building site.

Well, after winning those hockey tickets and getting the chance to go to the Park, I can say what a difference a year makes.

The lavish, spectacular, and occasionally surreal, opening ceremony on Friday night had whetted my appetite and even some good old British summer weather could not dampen my mood as a I climbed off the train at Stratford and caught my first glimpse of the Olympic Stadium.

Outstanding in size and design, the stadium was a perfect introduction to the park but merely a prelude to everything else inside.

There is always this talk about the Olympic spirit. As if sport can bring nations together, cure problems and lift a host country, if only for a few weeks.

Well, I am happy to report I witnessed this at every turn.

From the guy who shared his umbrella with me, a stranger, as I waited for some food to the pair of hockey fans who offered me an item of clothing to dry my seat.

The USA guy, bedecked in the Stars and Stripes, who posed for photographs with us Brits to the guys at Wembley Stadium who desperately tried – but failed – to get the crowd to carry out a rendition of Hey Jude.

Like the surroundings itself, it was quite something to behold and will be my overlasting impression of a special day.

The sport itself wasn’t half bad either. China beat a plucky South Korea in the first women’s hockey match before I caught a glimpse of the Lionel Messi of the sport as Aymar inspired Argentina to hit seven past South Africa and their Ipswich-based goalkeeper Mariette Rix.

It was then a quick dash to Wembley Stadium to catch Team GB and the evergreen Ryan Giggs finally overcome UAE 3-1 to set themselves on course for the last eight.

There were one or two brief downsides – but not the empty seats that have dominated the headlines in the last 48 hours.

We laughed off the weather and even the queues outside Wembley as 80,000 people waited close to two hours for the tubes – I finally climbed into bed at 3am.

But they were just minor flaws that no one can do anything about.

I prefer to reflect on the sheer size and beauty of the Olympic Park, the sporting quality on show and the welcoming nature of the volunteers – reciprocated by every spectator I came across.

For instance, I would never claim to be a hockey aficionado but there was always someone close by in the stands to explain the intricacies of the sport.

But that is the beauty of the Olympics. Over the weekend, I found myself teaching my son about badminton, handball and cycling. I can now add Argentinian hockey to that list.

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