I’VE recently returned to work after a little bit of time off which happened to coincide with the Olympics.
I didn’t plan it like that (or at least that’s what I told my wife). However, I couldn’t have chosen a better time off.
Like millions of people across the country, I became totally engrossed with the Games.
In my last column, I predicted that they would be a success and prove the doubters wrong. I think it is safe to say that they actually far exceeded everyone’s expectations and more than lived up to their billing as “The Greatest Show on Earth”.
I’m sure that even some of the biggest cynics must have been impressed.
The fantastic opening ceremony whetted the appetite for what proved to be more than a fortnight of sport that got the whole country buzzing and left us with a nice warm feeling of pride or perhaps satisfaction deep down inside.
Part of the fun of the Olympics is enjoying sports that you have never watched before.
For me, it was the taekwondo and the water polo (as well as the women’s beach volleyball, obviously).
I was engrossed and could not believe that nobody was drowned during the water polo, it was brutal.
Originally, I missed out on tickets for the main events like most people.
I did get tickets for the football at St James’s Park, in Newcastle, for the first Sunday where my eldest daughter and I had a great time and saw two matches, including the one that knocked one of the pre-tournament favourites, Spain, out of the competition.
The atmosphere was great and it really gave people a taste of what the Olympics is all about.
Football, of course, takes a relative back seat in the Olympics and it is sports like athletics, cycling, swimming and boxing that take the centre stage.
Lady luck was certainly shining down on me as I managed to get a ticket for the velodrome to watch an afternoon of cycling at virtually the eleventh hour.
It was an opportunity I could not pass up and I’m so glad I didn’t.
I could wax lyrical for hours about what a fantastic experience it was, but I don’t have enough words to do it justice. Absolutely everything from the Olympic Park and the surrounding area, the transport links, the fabulous volunteers and Army to the hundreds of thousands of happy faces from all over the world and the incredible event venues, was better than perfect.
The cherry on top of the icing on the cake though, was definitely the velodrome itself.
Everyone on the TV said that the best atmosphere was at the cycling and boy were they right.
I have never experienced anything like it, even at Pools.
The noise was unbelievable, the crowd was absolutely nuts and the excitement was almost unbearable.
I literally spent about three hours with wave after wave of goosebumps running up and down my body.
To top it off, I was lucky enough to witness Jason Kenny win a gold medal in the individual sprint and Laura Trott (pictured) start out on her gold medal winning performance in the omnium.
Even Victoria Pendleton was a support act in her sprint semi final.
My journey home was filled with regret.
Regret that I couldn’t stay longer, regret that I didn’t apply for a load of tickets for some of the so called minor sports.
Anyone who was lucky enough to experience the Olympic Park will remember it forever and if you get a chance to go to the Paralympics, which start very soon, do it. It will be just as good.
The Park itself will be around for many years to come as will a lot of the facilities.
It will be well worth paying a visit on your next trip to London because, even long after the Olympics have gone, the park will still be pretty spectacular.
I was proud to have been able to experience the Olympics, but I am even more proud that Hartlepool was represented by two fantastic athletes in Jemma Lowe and Savannah Marshall who are both true local heroes.
Jemma performed brilliantly in her event coming sixth in the final of the 200m butterfly and although Savannah is disappointed by her performance, she has absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
She is the current world champion and a fabulous role model to thousands of young girls. Her time will come again.
They can both hold their heads up high and be extremely proud of being a member of a very small number of elite athletes who have represented their country at the home Olympic Games.
I am looking forward to hosting a small reception for them both to celebrate their incredible achievements. Well done girls.
Now all the talk will be of the Olympic legacy and what the Government intends to do to build on the success of the Games.
We have already seen a couple of knee-jerk statements during the games from ministers about what we should be doing in schools etc.
That is fine but what we really need is a well thought through plan of investment and priority given to grass roots sports, coaches and facilities.
The re-introduction of the schools sports partnerships would be a good start. But, as I keep saying, funding has got to be made available for local authorities to invest into their facilities.
This funding was stopped a number of years ago and channelled into funding the Olympics.
The Games were delivered within budget so now is the time to divert money back into the community. I’m delighted to see Lord Seb Coe installed as the chairman of the legacy committee and I hope he has similar views.