|PRC's Liz Anjos inside the Olympic Stadium in London. A gallery follows her story.|
On Friday, August 3rd, I had the opportunity attend the first evening of the Track and Field events in the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Approaching the stadium in the Olympic park, everywhere I looked was a sea of red, white and blue. People everywhere were waving British flags, donning face paint, and wearing over-the-top patriotic costumes. Interspersed throughout the UK enthusiasts were fans from a multitude of countries around the world. I wore my souvenir shirt from the US Olympic Track & Field Trials thinking it was somewhat festive, but I would have fit in much more had I dyed my hair in stripes of red and white, painted my face blue, and covered myself head to toe in glittery, glittery stars.
Entering the stadium itself was truly an experience to remember. I was in THE Olympic Stadium, where epic history was surely to take place! The space was not as vast as I imagined it would be, which was a welcome surprise. I was expecting the athletes to be the size of ants from my point of view, but even from the 55th row of section B, I felt quite close to the field. The stadium had an intimate feel, which is a feat considering it seats 80,000 spectators.
Early on in the evening was the first round of the men's 1,500m. When the announcer began introducing the competitors of the first heat, the first being Olympic Gold Medalist and World Champion Asbel Kiprop, it began to sink in that I was about to witness some truly high-caliber athletes in action. I was proud to see US runners Leo Manzano, Andrew Wheating, and Matt Centrowitz qualify for the semi-finals.
One highlight from the event was witnessing the sheer adoration the fans from Great Britain had for their star heptathlete, Jessica Ennis. The crowds went wild every time the camera so much as panned on her, let alone when it was her turn for the shot put or her heat in the 200m.
Later came the main event of the evening, the women's 10,000m final. I was thrilled to see Americans Amy Hastings, Lisa Uhl, and Janet Cherobon-Bawcom lining up, and I was especially excited to witness the outcome of what was dubbed to be an epic duel between Ethiopia's defending champ Tirunesh Dibaba and Kenya's Vivian Cheruiyot.
The race did not fail to impress. Amy Hastings held on to the lead pack and ran a gutsy race. Though she eventually fell back, she was joined by her fellow American teammates. They stuck together and pushed each other until the finish, each running personal bests. The supposed epic battle between Dibaba and Cheruiyot ended up being no contest. Clearly Dibaba was the better runner, as she seemingly breezed her way through most of the race, then gapped the field by a terrifically huge margin with just over one lap to the finish. When she made the break, I think the entire stadium gasped in unison. Immediately everyone was on their feet, cheering wildly as Dibaba accelerated around the track. I had German fans to my right and Portuguese fans to my left, but no matter their nationality, everyone in the stadium was ecstatic. We knew we were witnessing one of the greatest female distance runners of all time in a legendary performance. She would end up being the first ever woman to repeat as 10,000m Olympic champion.
I had many other memorable experiences during my time in London this August, including watching the women's marathon in the pouring rain and visiting the Olympic Village for a day. The underlying theme that I learned from each of those experiences is that the Olympic Games are about so much more than winning medals. Anything can happen in a race, and all an athlete can do is give his or her best on that day. In some cases, a stunning victory will come of it. In other cases, a horrible fall or a broken leg will come instead. Through that understanding, I have a new respect for all Olympians for having made it so far.
Liz Anjos is category manager of apparel and accessories for Portland Running Company. She attended the 2012 Olympic Games in London this August.