Unlike the Coronation crowds, we were lucky in having no rain to contend with. It was perfect weather, dry and warm, and the growing crowd was agog. We could see the flatbed trucks on which the athletes would travel lining up down Prince’s Street, we could see two enormous scarlet dancing lions getting ready (not real lions – they presumably don’t come in the right colours), I think there may have been a steel band or drummers or some such, since such things are now obligatory on public occasions, there were definitely dancers. And then! The parade started!!!
And we were in a fine position to see everything, right on the curve in the road where the trucks would turn to pass in front of the Mansion House. Normally the athletes would be on both sides of the truck in order to wave to the crowds on either side, but because we were opposite the cordoned off bulk of Bank station entrance, there were no crowds opposite us and all the athletes were on our side. They passed only a couple of dozen yards away, giving us the best possible view. And on one of the first trucks were the rowers.
Now, you may remember that we did rather well in the rowing, and indeed, the Gamesmakers from Eton Dorney were going bananas at the sight of their victorious sportsmen and women. During the Beijing Olympics when we were triumphing in rowing, cycling and equestrianism, an Australian colleague used to tease me about our success at “sitting-down sports”. I thought this was pretty funny, particularly in light of Matthew Pinsent’s admission that he regularly used to throw up during hard training sessions. She obviously didn’t really think that Steve Redgrave, who nearly killed himself winning five gold medals in five Olympics, is less of an athlete than Usain Bolt, or that Chris Hoy is less outstanding than Michael Phelps, who after all, won all of his medals lying down. (She did get a bit tight-lipped during the London games, though, when we were consistently beating Australia in the medals table…..)
But I digress. The appearance of the athletes had sent the crowd into a frenzy, and the athletes were waving and grinning back. In my enthusiasm, rather than cheering I punched the air and shouted “Whoop whoop whoop!!!” at the top of my voice. Yes, I know. On the downside, I probably looked ridiculous. On the upside, a clip of me doing it apparently appeared on national TV. Or is that an upside? Hmmm….
No matter. On the rowers truck, one of the athletes saw me doing it, grinned, punched the air and “Whoop whoop whoop!!”ed back. A tall brunette with a huge smile and a gold medal around her neck. Katherine Grainger.