Not many people get to swim in an Olympic swimming pool where the likes of Michael Phelps, Rebecca Adlington and Ellie Simmonds have won medals, but as part of the London 2012 legacy project, this morning I did just that.
I was lucky enough to get a paid job in the media room at the Olympics and it was truly one of the best times of my life. My colleague, Ashley, who soon became a close friend, got me into the swimming. She talked about her days at her swimming club and her time trials; babbling about the Olympic and Paralympic swimmers like they were gods; infecting me with her enthusiasm and respect for the sport and the competing athletes. She got tickets for the night at the Paralympics when Ellie Simmonds took gold in the 200m individual medly. The roar of the crowd up in the sweaty, chlorine-hazed rafters at the top of the ray’s tip at the Aquatics centre rang in my ears for days, as did Ashley’s vow to be the first person in that pool when it was open to the general public post games.
She was true to her word. I got an excited text from her last week saying tickets were going on sale and would I like to go with her. So this morning I dragged myself up at 6.30am to meet her at 8am at the Olympic Park, which didn’t actually open until 9am, but Ashley was determined to be the first in the pool. I almost thought I would have to restrain her as we leaned over the barrier, eager to sprint inside and into that famous pool. As it turns out she was pipped to the post by her own sister, who jumped into the water while Ashley chatted to a poolside journalist about her vow to be the first one in. I shuffled in later to find out just how much harder it is to swim in a 50 metre pool than the 25 metre ones I was more used to. A lot, as it turns out.
As I lay on my back, stroking leisurely up the central lane and avoiding the over-zealous butterflyers with their swinging haymakers, my eyes were drawn to the undulating roof of the centre, pierced with pools of light like great, shining eyes. I looked at the stone curves at the sides, the arched, latticed windows, curved like a bird’s wings and realised just how beautiful this building really is.
Ashley might not have secured that hallowed accolade of first one in, but we all agreed that just swimming in this venue was good enough.
Incidentally, the interview and photo of Ashley and her podium stealing sister will be in the Independent on Sunday tomorrow, please buy and read it!