My Spectator Report: London 2012 Olympics – Women’s Triathlon

Going into this weekend we only had one pair of tickets for our four days of Olympics in London: The Women’s Triathlon.  I had gotten lucky last January when I managed to purchase them through the US distributor of Olympic Tickets.  So for this post I’ll focus on the Women’s Tri, and then tell you about all the rest of the events we’ve managed to snag since arriving.  Consider this like a race report – except, without me having to race.

Our hotel happens to be on the edge of Hyde Park, the same location as the triathlon venue itself – making for an easy morning walk to the stands.  Though, we weren’t sure what the security screening situation would look like – so we got there a wee bit early.

The good news in that was that screening only took a couple minutes, and once we were through we got incredible 4th row seats (you were assigned a vertical section, but it was first come first served from row one to the top row with that section).

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As we got ready, there wasn’t much to do, except watch other people get ready.  Including, the media.  The below photo is only 1/4th of those in this pocket of people – plus tons of others in wandering elsewhere.

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As we neared the start- the course officials marched out.  Though, their outfits made them look more like the volunteers helping us to our seats, than the international officials they are.

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Speaking of international peoples – here’s the legit front row spots that a bunch of the ITU (International Triathlon Union) got.  To the left of them was the media spot.  10 feet in front of them were where the athletes bikes were.

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With that, let’s get on with the race!

They announced all the athletes, which than ran the length of the transition area – waving to the crowds – and out onto the floating pontoon.

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From there they lined up and got ready for the sound of the buzzer:

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As is always the case with triathlon – the actual start is rather anticlimactic.  None of this countdown stuff we see in age group triathlon.  This is more akin to the swim start of the aquatics center.  Just buzz and go.

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With that, they were off!

(Side photographic note: Unlike the mass-media pros, spectators were limited in camera lens length (10 inches).  So I had to make due with a much smaller lens than I might otherwise have.  And given the distance – some of the photos aren’t quite as sharp as I’d like.  Sorry!)

Now, you may have thought that those ITU officials had the best seat in the house.  But in reality, this family of ducks clearly bested them.  Note the bottom of the photo.

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The challenge with spectating the swim event is that while you stay put, and they swim far away. This means that in general – it’s rather boring.

It’s not that I don’t like swimming events such as those in the pool (I love them), or even the 10K openwater swim (towards the end) – but the reality is that in a single-loop course such as this, there’s not much to see other than a bunch of little bobbing dots out in a lake.

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So instead, we got other things to watch.  Like these Olympic guys messing with two of the women’s bikes.

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I wasn’t sure exactly what they were doing.  As the gentleman was completely taking apart the two girls saddlebags.  I thought this was strange for a few reasons – first, who wears a saddlebag on an Olympic-distance triathlon in the Olympics?  And second, why were they going through them – especially with the athletes already out on the course.

In reality, the letters “OBS” on the guy kneeling above should have given me a clue. OBS is the Olympic Broadcast Service, which is the sub-organization of the IOC (International Olympic Committee) which provides all audio/video services that in turn you see through folks like NBC or your local country provider.

At any rate, about 30 minutes later the answer became clear (unfortunately).  It so happened that when the below athlete fell coming around a corner, they had a view from her bike of the crash (she went on to finish though, but you can see her wounds on her back).

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In doing so I realized that the saddle bag was to support the wireless components that transmitted to the nearby motorcycle (which was always nearby her).  In turn, the saddlebag was connected to the video camera mounted on her front fork via wire and zip ties:

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With our distraction complete, back to the race.

Less than 20 minutes later, the lead pack of women came flying out of the water:

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Followed shortly thereafter by the first chase group:

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As a side note, it was interesting to see that nobody received a penalty or DQ for departing their bike stand without their helmet on (it’s a DQ based on my understanding of ITU rules).  As this did occur with one athlete.  I won’t name the athlete, but all of those around us caught it as well.  She had her helmet on her bars, and then grabbed her bike and started to run, at which point the helmet fell to the ground.  At this point she realized the lack of helmet, quickly grabbed the helmet while holding her bike, put it on and strapped it, before heading out.  It doesn’t appear that was broadcast either, as given the high profile nature of the athlete – someone would have said something on forums like Slowtwitch.  And no, it was not one of the three on the podium.

Meanwhile, it was like the high school bell went out – crazy rush traffic with everyone trying to leave at once:

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The bike course consisted of 7 loops of 6.2KM each.  This is an important note – because this actually makes the course closer to 43KM, and not the standard 40KM that all ‘Olympic-Distance’ triathlons actually are.

Quite frankly – I don’t get this.  It’s the OLYMPICS, not a local one-off 9K fun-run.  Distances should be standardized (cause they are), otherwise it defeats the point in comparing times, etc.  I understand based on what they said during the event that it was done to accommodate seeing more sights in the city during the course.  Perhaps they could have just extended it a touch more and then made it 6 laps instead.

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The bike became pretty fragmented into a number of groups.  Primarily the lead group and then two chase groups.  Remember that in ITU pro races, the bike leg is draft-legal – hence the lack of long aerobars and time-trial style helmets.  If you’ve never seen ITU-style racing before, check out my ITU primer post.

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Seven laps later, and they were slipping off their bikes over the dismount line.

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The speed at which T2 is done is incredibly impressive.  I’ve seen it on TV, but to watch it in person is astounding.  Mere seconds.

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Of course, it helps that transition is so spread apart and directly on the course.

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To give you perspective on how far ahead the lead group was, they already all the way across the lake/pond (seen below) by time the above two photos were taken.  A commanding lead.

The run course was 4 loops of 2.5KM per loop, around the pond where the swim was held.  The spectators on the far side did not need tickets (and thus where we’ll likely be come Tuesday for the Men’s Triathlon).

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When they came back towards our side, they’d run through transition – just like they did on the bike.

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One had to feel for Paula Findlay (Canada).  You could clearly see the pain each time she came through – be it bike or run.

She was also the athlete that received the most cheers as she came in upon her final lap into the finish.  Complete standing ovation from the crowd.

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Also of note was that we saw that she rode her bike back to her apartment/hotel after the race.  We were walking about a mile away from the venue she she pedaled on by solo, out on the open London streets in traffic with busses and cars.  Sorta surprising to see her out there.  Here’s a photo I took then on my phone and posted to Twitter.

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As we neared the finish of the race it looked like a USA athlete might sneak onto the podium, but in the last 400-600 meters she fell back and unfortunately just out of medal contention.

Meanwhile, the top three was shaping up to be an amazing 100m sprint to the finish:

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And here – the final finish photo seen around the world, only, from my perspective (not with the massively expensive 2,000 frames per second photo gear…I only get about 16FPS).  The cheering was unreal in the stands as they came through to the end.  Couldn’t have asked for a better finish.

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Even though Jorgensen wasn’t in contention for the podium, she and another athlete gave us quite the show going down the stretch in front of the stands – an all out sprint for the finish:

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As the last few runners finished up their last loop – the event organizers began moving bikes out of the way for the awards ceremony.  I really like that they do all of the awards at the given events/venues.  That’s one thing I haven’t been a fan of at some of the winter Olympics is where they bunch them up and do a nightly awards ceremony.  This is much better.

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Speaking of which, soon a bunch of guys (they didn’t clarify which branch this was – though I’m sure someone here can help clarify), came marching out with the three flags representing the podium athletes.

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And then the athletes themselves came out:

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As you’ve seen countless times before – they first present bronze, then silver and then gold.

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Finishing up with the ‘all-together-now’ shot:

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No more than a minute or two after the above photo, they were ushering us out of the stadium.  Waste no time!

We had a great morning there though, watching an amazing race.  It was great to see the massive crowds on the course, despite the sketchy weather (including a few random bits of rain).  Totally awesome!

To catch more of our couple days at the Olympics – I’ve posted a few photos of other events to Facebook, and have been Tweeting tons of photos as well.  Enjoy!

And thanks for reading!  Have a great weekend ahead!

(P.S. – If you enjoyed some of my shots from these Olympics, check out all my Vancouver 2010 posts – tons more photos there from a wide variety of events)

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17 Comments

  1. They may not have shown the athlete that grabbed her bike without her helmet on NBC, but they did on CTV (Canadian TV) and believe me – we screamed and shouted for her to put her helmet on and assumed there would be a penalty. Lucky? Or didn’t matter anyway?

    Reply
  2. The helmet incident was included in the Eurovision Sports Live feed, which various broadcasters use. You can still see the replay in the Triathlon playlist at link to eurovisionsports.tv

    It takes only a couple of seconds around 32:15, most folks (like moi) probably didn’t think it was such a big deal.

    However @richardmelik tweeted right then:
    “Woah – is that a Xxxxx Xxxxxxx DQ – bike off rack before helmet? #triathlon #london2012″

    Reply
  3. Benny Bargain

    Hi Ray, the soldiers look like Gurkha’s to me.

    Reply
  4. MickyC

    Aussie commentators commented on the incident as it happend too. If I was a Canadian I would have been yellout out at the tv too….

    Reply
  5. I understand it’s not a DQ at the olympics but a stop+go 15 second penalty, which I believe she served (she was shown standing during the run in the penalty box)

    And yes the soldiers are in the dress of the Royal Gurkha Rifles – link to army.mod.uk

    Reply
  6. Those soldiers in Khaki are from the Gurkha Regiment. There was a big controversy that happened some time back, you can read about it here:

    link to dailymail.co.uk

    Reply
  7. Awesome! The Women’s TRI began at 3am Chicago time, so I just caught the last lap of the bike and the run. Love all the photos!

    Enjoy!

    Reply
  8. The helmet incident made the NBC feed here in the US too. The commentators didn’t say anything- but I was screeming at the TV. I had wondered if she received a penalty or not. Where was the penalty box located and could you guys see it from where you were sitting? We didn’t get much of a look into that part of the race from the TV coverage and I wondered how many penalties were given out.

    As a live spectator- did you guys have much insight into what was happening out on the bike course? In particular- there was one corner with lots of crashes.

    Reply
  9. The penalty box was just prior to the dismount line (coming into/towards transition), on the grandstand side. Tough to see from most of the stands.

    That said, they did announce to the crowd that there were no penalties coming out of T1 – and we didn’t see anyone serve any penalties. Of course, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen – we just didn’t hear about it in the stands.

    As far as the bike course goes and our view of it – they had it all on massive video screens (you can see them in some of the photos above), and did indeed replay the crashes/etc for us. I thought this was interesting as when we went to a football game later in the day – they would never replay anything. Nonetheless, all was good from our viewpoint in the stands on the screens.

    Reply
  10. Anonymous

    Ray, so pleased you’re calling football football. This is a big step in your transition to the old world :)

    Reply
  11. :)

    Reply
  12. They usually don’t allow replays at the football venues to avoid questioning the referee’s calls (which are often wrong). That way the match supposedly isn’t influenced and the crowds don’t get agitated.

    Reply
  13. Yes they are Gurkas from Nepal/Himalayas

    One note on the distance on the bike. The NBC (streaming) commentator noted that “Olympic” distances do vary which is why there is no official World Record. I had a quick look online and that seems to be the case?!?

    Reply
    • Anonymous replied

      Ray- Great stuff! Which camera equipment did you use?
      Thanks

      Jeff

      Reply
  14. Thanks Jeff!

    I used a Canon 7D DSLR with a EF-S 10-22mm lens and a 75-300mm lens.

    Enjoy!

    Reply
  15. Chris

    Nice review but it eould have been nice to hear a little more on your view on the finish and also a little more of what happened with Laura Findley during the race, it seems you assume we already saw the race…

    Reply
  16. Thank you for mentioning Paula. She was so disappointed in her performance, and said she felt she let Canada down. She did NOT. She finished, despite the pain and the hard mental battle of being so far behind where she wanted to be. She exemplified Canadian and Olympic spirit. We all sent her many, many hugs.

    Reply

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