It’s impossible to put the Olympic experience into words, so I won’t try, except to say: It. Was. Awesome.
[Back story: I won (yes, won) a trip to the London Olympics through an internal blogging contest hosted by my employer, Deloitte. I’m still pinching myself.]
Though I’ve rehashed bits of the trip over and over again with friends, co-workers, and family, I haven’t yet reflected on the trip in its entirety. Here goes.
Thanks in part to a few Olympic die-hards, the Deloitte US Firms are the Official Professional Services sponsor of the US Olympic Committee (USOC). Though that sponsorship was on display during the London 2012 games, Deloitte’s sponsorship terms began in ’09 and continues through the end of 2020.
Pretty cool, right? But the firm wanted to better connect its employees with its ties to the USOC. Enter the 12 in 2012 competition, then fast-forward to me and 11 other lucky blokes learning that we were going to London for the Olympics. Like, whoa.
Okay, so I was a little skeptical of The Group beforehand. I pictured a bunch of middle-aged auditors—er, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Not only was I not the youngest one in the bunch, the group had some near-instant chemistry. We spanned geographic regions and work functions, but we were all pretty pumped for the trip.
It wasn’t entirely a free ride. We were tasked with serving as Deloitte’s ambassadors of the games via social media. My role: Official Tweeter—perfect for a chronic oversharer on the interwebz such as myself. Others yammed, facebooked, DeloitteNetted, and video-chronicled our trip. We were so social.
We met in McLean, Virginia, for an all-day pre-departure orientation. I managed to stay awake for the better part of the day, and our gracious trip-planners demonstrated an uncanny knack for anticipating our every question and need. Once our brains were stuffed with times, protocols, and Olympic trivia, it was time. And nothing brews excitement better than an eight-hour flight across the Atlantic.
We landed at Heathrow around 7 am local time. (That’s 2 am in DC, and 11 pm back home in Seattle. Sick.) Maybe it was the complimentary cocktails, but my body was seriously, seriously confused. But there was no time to sleep! It was time to rally.
We met our fearless leader, Brett, at our hotel in central London. After brushing the sweaters off my teeth and grabbing the tourist essentials—camera, map, and rainshell—a small group of us headed toward the Tower of London. We took picture after picture of the Olympic rings hanging from the Tower Bridge, and gazed around in something like awe. From there, we took a boat down the Thames toward Big Ben, and later ended up in Paddington Station. Delirium threatened, but again, it was time to rally—we had a dinner date at the USA House.
A word about Brett
If you’ve ever been to summer camp, you know her type: The World’s Best Counselor. They’re sweet, energetic, organized, and hyper-prepared for any possible scenario. That’s Brett. She managed to navigate a group of 12 professionals through the crowded streets of London without a) losing her sanity or b) losing any of our respect. I was beyond impressed with her, and I hope our paths cross again in the future.
A dinner guest
The USA House was epic. The space, the Royal College of Art on a normal day, was ideal for hosting guests and for displaying Getty Images’ collection of Olympic snapshots. After a brief tour and a wallet-lightening whirl through the team store, we were ushered into a Deloitte-branded conference room for dinner.
Unbeknownst to us, we had a little surprise in store: Apolo Ohno was our dinner guest. No big deal. Apolo talked to us about his work ethic and training and what it takes to make it to the games. He then joined us at the dinner table where we proceeded to barrage him with questions so he was unable to eat his meal. Casual observations: his thighs look surprisingly normal in slacks, he cleans up veeeery nicely, and he’s an eloquent, motivated guy. It was all very impressive.
Time for sport
Friday was our first full day in London. It was also our first day of the games. Ack!
Our morning was spent watching beach volleyball at Horse Guards Parade. The court’s backdrop was ridiculously historic, and the venue’s energy was contagious. The winning combo of DJ, announcer, retro-attired dance team, and sunshine got the crowd going at 9am. I was in heaven.
After volleyball, we headed toward Olympic Park for lunch at Deloitte House before afternoon diving prelims in the Aquatic Centre.
This place was prime real estate. It’s located in the new Westfield Stratford City complex, which means that it’s located across the street from Olympic Park. It’s built over two floors, which means that it has an unobstructed view of the park. It was intended as Deloitte’s hospitality and showcasing centre,” which means that the food, drinks, and service were perfection.
That said, lunch at Deloitte House was a thing of beauty.
Fit for royalty
We had dinner that night at Kensington Palace—as in, Princess Di’s former home. There, I learned that it’s perfectly acceptable to eat dessert first, and, even though you know better, cappuccinos out of a machine don’t live up to expectations. Dinner was delicious, so much so that most of us felt compelled to ditch the tube and walk back to the hotel.
I thought beach volleyball would be the highlight of the games, but then we stepped foot in the Athletic arena the next day. From our seats, a few sections over from the Olympic torch, we watched athletes fly around the track in the men’s 400m and 100m prelims and women’s steeplechase.
But the highlight was the women’s heptathalon. We had front-row seats to Jessica Ennis’ gold-medal performance on the second and final day of the competition. The entire stadium erupted each time the hometown favorite so much as flexed a muscle. But the crowd didn’t just cheer for the winners—they cheered just as loudly for the straggler in the steeplechase and the unlucky heptathaletes that scratched their last attempt in the long jump. It was pretty powerful.
After an afternoon of men’s basketball—an exciting match-up between USA and Lithuania and a much less exciting game between Brazil and China—we headed back to Deloitte House to decompress, eat dinner, and reflect as a group on the trip. I used the sun as my excuse for keeping my shades on, but hearing everyone’s reflections made me surprisingly sentimental.
It’s cheesy and cliché, but the Olympics are this great big demonstration of global goodwill and togetherness. I’ve never before felt so patriotic, and I’ve never been so enthusiastically approached by so many strangers. We saw all kinds of dress; heard countless languages; saw many displays of pride. Something powerful gobbles you up, and you can’t help but want to be a part of something bigger than you and your companions. Being there helps you understand why the games were created in the first place.
Farewell shenanigans at USA House
The trip wouldn’t have been complete without one good party at the USA House—and we were in luck. Hosted by BP, Saturday night’s party featured seafood and chefs flown in from the Gulf Coast and a jazz band temporarily uprooted from New Orleans. It didn’t quite fit with the game’s public focus on sustainability, but it all made for an unforgettable party.
Dressed in an American flag-turned-cape, I spent the better part of the evening harassing athletes. My Google-informed shot put conversation with August Wolf (or, Augie, as he’s known to friends and, now, me) turned into a wild gesturing demo of his approach. When I coyly asked a rower if her medal was real, she let me touch it. (Heavy!) And the piece de la resistance? A photo opp with the legendary Jackie Joyner Kersee.
Home, sweet home
Then, just as quickly as it all began, it was over. As I watched the women’s 4×1 finals from my living room, I still couldn’t quite believe that I’d sat in that stadium a few days before.