Seeking and Finding the Olympic Spirit in London

London OlympicsLondon is bustling for sure, but aside from the Olympics-only traffic lanes and occasional five-ring flag, you wouldn’t necessarily know from wandering around that the Summer Games are in town. There are, of course, reminders such as the display of flags in the shadow of Big Ben (pictured to the right). But overall, London and its tourists are going about business as usual, it seems. Even the taxi drivers are saying that the expected traffic nightmares have not materialized.

Find yourself in any Olympics-related place, and the story, of course, is entirely different. For me, I’ve experienced it up close at the P&G Family Home, where athletes and their families gather to relax and socialize. Many former Olympians are around, still connected to their former teammates and to the Games as a whole (and, truth be told, paid to be there as spokespeople). The Olympic spirit, a sheer enthusiasm for all things Games related, pervades the place. And I’ve been privileged to spend time here, thanks to Procter & Gamble, which is funding my trip.

The athletes and their families may come to the Home to escape the intensity of the Games, but they still gather at the omnipresent TV sets to watch, clap, and cheer for their fellow athletes at their events. No one’s gawking at the many celebrities around, but no one’s oblivious to it all, either. There’s Gabby Douglas’s mom! Shawn Johnson just walked by! Did you hear that Michael (that would be Michael Phelps to the rest of us) broke the record? And is that girl who just passed by wearing a silver medal?!

I’ve had my share of these moments—that was a silver medal around that unidentified girl’s neck—and it’s impossible not to be swept up by it. I rode the van back to my hotel with the mom of weightlifter Sarah Robles, and we chatted about her daughter’s accomplishments and what it feels like to be at the Olympics. Though at home I am glued to the TV for any Olympics, I am not by nature a fanatical Olympics fan. Here there are only fans, and happily so.

Tonight I got to see the actual Olympics. You know, the sporting events that take place between the pomp and ceremony and festivities. It was awe-inspiring to walk through Olympic Park, the site of many of the Games’ biggest events, on my way to the Aquatic Center to attend an evening of swimming. There was a different race every few minutes, plus a couple of medal ceremonies thrown in.

I got to see familiar names win their semifinal (Lochte, Phelps), and someone new to me, Nathan Adrian, take home gold for the U.S. (pictured at right). Hearing our national anthem playing and seeing our flag rising to the ceiling gave me goose bumps. I loved seeing fans from around the globe waving their own flags in the audience and hearing small pockets of cheers when an athlete from, say, Hungary or Columbia was introduced.

We hear so often that the Olympics bring the world together, and that phrase can lose its meaning from the repetition. Being here, though, I feel its meaning deeply. And for me, I’ve come to understand what it means that the Olympics is something larger than a series of athletic competitions.

 And, just for fun, a few more pictures from today:

Olympics Rings

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