Sunday, August 5, 2012

Having a Ball

Yesterday we participated in the Olympic Biathlon -- two events in one day!  Our first event was at Wembley Stadium, which seats 90,000 people.  It seemed like all of them were on their way in at the same time. 
The crowd makes its way to Wembley
Josh takes a breather on the way to the stadium
We were going to see a football (soccer) match between Mexico and Senegal.  I'm not a huge football fan, but these were some of the few tickets we were able to get in the UK -- all of the events we attended so far were tickets Sonia bought in the US -- and I didn't want to miss an opportunity to be at the Olympics or to visit Wembley Stadium for the first time.
Are you ready for some football?!
There were lots of Mexico fans in attendance.  We were a little taken aback to see so many people who were clearly NOT from Mexico decked out in sombreros, ponchos and fake mustaches that had clearly been purchased from a costume shop.  Fortunately, we did not see any Senegal fans in blackface.
Mexico fans (from Mexico)
At Wembley with 81,453 other football fans
Unlike some of the other (much smaller) venues, there didn't seem to be many empty seats in the stadium.
The teams stand on the field for their national anthems
The crowd does the "Mexican Wave"
 In the first half of the game, Mexico scored once.  Ho hum.  It was fun to be there, though, especially when the crowd started doing the "Mexican Wave" -- or what we Americans would just call "The Wave."  I did a little research, and while it's believed that this practice originated and evolved at various North American sporting events in the 1970's, the first time anyone outside of North America ever saw it was at the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico. 
Halftime score: Mexico 1, Senegal 0
The halftime show consisted of a bunch of men in black poking at the field with sticks.  I complained to Josh that it wasn't very entertaining, and he explained that they were just tamping down the divots.  Oh.
World's most boring halftime show
The crowd was clearly behind the Mexican team.  There was an exuberant group of Mexican fans in front of us, including some very attractive ladies.  The little British boys next to them were yelling "MEH-HEE-KO!!!" at the top of their lungs, and one lady kept blowing them kisses to thank them for their support.  By the end of the game, the smaller of the two boys (probably age 5 or 6) was getting his picture taken on the lady's lap wearing her sombrero.  Work it, kid!
Mexico fans cheer for a gooooooooooooooal!
 The second half of the game was more exciting, with Mexico scoring another goal, and Senegal scoring two of their own, resulting in a 2-2 tie game and 30 more minutes of play.
Mexico (in green) tries to get the ball away from Senegal
Mexico emerged triumphant!  It was the highest scoring football game I've ever seen!  Of course, I've only seen four or five games, but still...
Final score: Mexico 4, Senegal 2
On our way out, we saw the Olympic cauldron from the 1948 Games, which were held at the old Wembley Stadium -- the current incarnation opened in 2007.
1948 Olympic Cauldron
Mariachi Band!
Nice head gear!
After grabbing a quick bite, we arrived at our next venue: Horse Guards Parade. If you aren't familiar with London, it's hard to explain how surreal it is to attend a sporting event in this setting -- especially beach volleyball!
Josh is very excited to see beach volleyball
We had two extra tickets, so we invited our friends Bethie and Jason to join us.  Jason had to go to China on business (bummer!), so Bethie's friend Mary took his place.  We checked the schedule in the morning and were thrilled to discover that we would be seeing two different US teams play during our session.  Considering we bought the tickets over a year ago, we were feeling pretty darn lucky!  We told everyone to make sure to dress in red, white, and blue and we brought our big American flag.
A beautiful evening at Horse Guards Parade with Mary, Bethie, Josh, and Sonia
The beach volleyball venue is temporary and seats about 15,000 people, so it is much more intimate than Wembley stadium.  We saw lots of other people with American flags, as well as several people dressed in beach-themed costumes. 
Inner tubes and snorkels
Lifeguard t-shirt and shark hat
Add in the bathing-suit-clad dancers that performed before the competition and between sets, the DJ, and a dude that kept leading the crowd in cheers, and the whole event took on a real carnival atmosphere. 
The beach volleyball dancers
There really aren't any bad seats at Horse Guards Parade.  We were sitting on the Downing Street side, so we were probably keeping David Cameron (the Prime Minister) awake with all our cheering, since his house is just behind the stands.
The view from our seats
First up, the reigning queens of beach volleyball, Kerri Walsh and Misty May!
Misty and Kerri warm up
They were playing against a team from the Netherlands, who they beat in straight sets.
Team USA defeats the Dutch team
We knew our friend Katie was also in attendance, and after much texting back and forth, we finally located her on the opposite side of the court.  She's just to the left of the woman in the hot pink sweater taking a picture in the middle of this photo.
We see you, Katie!
We were a bit easier to spot, since we had a big flag and some crazy British kids behind us wearing Union Jack bodysuits.  After the women's match, US basketball player Maya Moore came out on the sand and worked on her volleyball serve to cheers from the crowd.
Maya Moore hits one over the net
Next up, Americans Jacob Gibb and Sean Rosenthal went up against the Russian team, one of whom is 6'11"!
Team USA vs Russia
 The US men also did well, beating the Russians in straight sets, 2-0.  USA!  USA!
Gibbs and Rosenthal are victorious!
Meanwhile, a spontaneous conga line broke out in the stands.  So many people joined in that during the next break in play, the woman who was presenting the match for the BBC ran up and started another conga line herself for the TV cameras.  You can't make this stuff up!  Beach volleyball is definitely the most entertaining Olympic sport to watch in person.  What a party!
Come on everybody let's do the Conga!
After celebrating our double win with all the other Americans in the stands, we met up with Katie and caught up as we all walked back towards the tube/train.  A great end to a long but very fun day!

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