V Krishnaswamy, a senior journalist has more than 30 years of experience of covering five Olympics, seven Asian Games, five Commonwealth, scores of World Championships and Majors in different sports, including chess and golf. He is also the author of the recently published “Sachin – Hundred hundreds Now”
Vijender Singh has the kind of a following that few non-cricketers have in the Indian sporting firmament. So, when he comes to the ring he does so with an aura and then as the bout ends he raises his arms even before the result is announced – that is seldom done in amateur boxing.
On the first day of competition, a day after James Bond got the “The Queen” to land at the Olympic Park for the Opening Ceremony, Vijender was the face-saver of Saturday.
The first morning was litany of losses.
Glamorous Jwala Gutta partnering the soft-spoken V Diju lost her mixed doubles match; the archery team was edged out at the cricketing Mecca, Lord’s; Shooter Vijay Kumar shot and disappeared; table tennis player Ankita Das and boxer Shiva Thapa - all sank without a trace.
Sania and Rushmi had got more lines when they got a wildcard than what they will or should get after they play their matches. They lost to a Chinese Taipei pair, who also are unlikely to go far.
So, after a morning like that, when you see a good-sized crowd of Indian supporters out to cheers Viju (that’s what his followers call him; but for the record I prefer the full name!) it does make you feel you good.
Till you come to the concession where you meet the Indian selling rice and matter-paneer for 8.95 and asks you if you want ‘pickle’. You say yes assuming it is part of the package. Promptly he adds another ‘expensive’ pound to the bill! Indians are quick to make a quick buck. Believe me, a normal English attendant would have told me it is ‘extra’ before adding it to the bill. But since I am here for Viju, what’s a pound here or there!
Inside I watch Viju make a mincemeat of Kazakh Suzhonov Danubek, about whom we know little – actually nothing – while tucking into my rice and matter-paneer and wash it down with a Coke Zero.
Viju has no problems, wins 14-10 and moves into the round of 16 with the promise that he will do his best to upgrade the colour of his medal from the bronze he won in 2008.
Experiencing the ExCel Centre, home for seven events
But what about the experience of the venue, the ExCel Arena - a cave-like hall more used to Exhibitions than sport.
Situated next to the Prince Regent station on the DLR line, ExCel is as big as seven football fields lined up one next to another. It will be rather busy with no less than seven Olympic events: boxing, fencing, judo, table tennis, taekwondo, weightlifting and wrestling. It is expected to see more than 1.2 million spectators during the Games, many of them who have never been to a Games before.
On the very first day, boxing apart, it saw action in fencing, judo, table tennis and weightlifting. Boxing, as always is very popular, and will attract most crowds. But still on the first day, there were a good number of seats unoccupied, a fact that we snooping journalists seldom fail to miss, so that we can quiz Lord Seb Coe next morning.
The ExCel has a huge mall-like feel with each sport having its own private corner and giving a “self-contained” look. There are souvenir-selling kiosks next to food stalls which among other things rice and matter-paneer – not to forget pickles. You can make out that it still hurts.
Fencers, judo and taekwondo players, lifters, paddlers (table tennis players) jostle with amateur boxers and wrestlers for stardom. They may not be in the same category of Lebron James or Usain Bolt or Ryan Lochte or Bradley Wiggins, but spectators and fans love being close to Olympians.
Pumping up the audiences in a carnival-like atmosphere is an announcer, bellowing at the top of his voice. He throws nuggets about the sport, the sportspersons and cracking a wise one or two or more.
He called weightlifter Soniya Chanu Ngangbam, the 48-kg competitor from India – “a deputy with Uttar Pradesh Police Department who considers herself the strongest female cop in her country.”
The diminutive Soniya originally from Manipur in North East works in far-off Gazipur, Uttar Pradesh as an Inspector in state Police.
Ah, how does that matter! Someone senior once told me with a cheeky smile: Never let facts stand in the way of a good story or a good one-liner! Maybe the announcer had met someone similar.