BBC Radio 5 Live sports reporter Sonja McLaughlan has reported on every Olympic Games since Atlanta in 1996, and will be blogging the London Olympics 2012 for Stylist magazine, with all the latest insider news, her own photos and some expert sports commentary. Check back regularly to catch her updates...
13 August 2012
I’m grieving and permanently on the brink of tears. It’s like a brief, glorious holiday romance has come to an end and reality has set in. I don’t quite know what to do with myself now the Olympics is over, except be thankful I was part of such a fabulous fortnight.
This was my fifth Olympic Games and quite simply the best ever. Seb Coe summed it up in his speech at the closing ceremony, ‘When the time came Britain, we did it right’. I cried again at that point too because he was spot on. There were plenty who thought London would fail, but how wrong they were. The transport system held up, our wonderful troops manned the barricades with a smile on their face and the truly amazing volunteers were a delight. The sun even shone. And then there were the British athletes.
ABOVE: Some of the British troops who did a brilliant job
ABOVE: Some of the effervescent and efficient volunteers
Described as ‘our greatest team’ before the Games even started, it had the potential to come back and haunt them if they didn’t get it right. But as Seb might have said, when the time came they delivered - and how. Ahead of the Games UK Sport (the one with the purse strings) was hoping for around 48 medals but that target was smashed with the vigour of an Andy Murray forehand. Britain finished third in the overall rankings with 65 medals (29 gold, 17 bronze and 19 silver) only the behemoths of America and China fared better.
ABOVE: With long jump gold medallist Greg Rutherford
Family and friends have asked me to pick a favourite moment but that has proved impossible, there have simply been too many. I was there to see Usain Bolt become a living legend, Bradley Wiggins posing on a throne at Hampton Court Palace and who can forget ‘Super Saturday?’ In 44 adrenaline-fuelled minutes Jess Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah completed a golden hat-trick the likes of which we may never see again. The fans inside the Olympic stadium should take a bow too; the noise they produced was unforgettable. I removed my headphones so I could savour the moment; it was off the Richter scale!
I’m so fortunate to work with some of the best broadcasters in the business. More than 50 million people in Britain (90% of the UK population) watched at least 15 minutes of the coverage on BBC television. What on earth are they going to do now? Radio 5 Live has been at its very best during the Olympics. Commentators like Mike Costello, Simon Brotherton and Mark Pougatch deserve gold medals of their own for capturing the moment so brilliantly. If you’re suffering withdrawal symptoms, go online and listen again to the very best bits at bbc.co.uk/5live
I was lucky enough to sneak into the closing ceremony but I was a reluctant member of the audience. It meant it was nearly over and there was an overwhelming sense of sadness.
ABOVE: Sonja with performers at the closing ceremony
ABOVE: The Olympics closing ceremony set
When they announced that the flame was about to be extinguished 80 thousand people sighed and I’m sure millions around the world did so too. Don’t get me wrong, it was fun to be there but I knew the love affair would soon be over.
ABOVE: The Olympic flame just before being extinguished
There’s been much debate about what is the legacy of London 2012? For me it’s simple. The Olympics has put the ‘great’ back into Great Britain. I’ve never been more proud to come from this small island which managed to host the greatest show on earth and do it with aplomb.
ABOVE: Athletes during the closing ceremony
ABOVE: The closing ceremony in action
It was like a two week street party, with all the bunting and red white and blue. People spoke to each other and had smiles on their faces. The Olympics brought out the best in people and if that can continue, it would be the perfect legacy - and we're only half way through. There's still the Paralympics to come, make sure you savour every second.
ABOVE: Fireworks at the closing ceremony
10 August 2012
It’s not a great morning for cattle in the Rift Valley. That’s not a phrase I ever expected to write at the Olympics but Kenya have proud traditions when it comes to celebrating athletic achievement. David Rusdisha is not a name I expect you’ve heard before, but last night at the Olympic stadium the 23-year-old very nearly stole the limelight from Usain Bolt and that’s not an easy thing to do.
Rudisha hit the front early in the final of the men’s 800m and just kept going, turning a previously tactical event into a virtual flat out sprint. It was quite simply the greatest run over two laps ever seen and he broke the world record to boot. Two summers ago his Masai tribe paid tribute by slaughtering 50 cows; today the herd are probably hiding!
ABOVE: With Andrew Osagie after an historic men's 800m
Britain’s Andrew Osagie was in that race. When he spoke to me afterwards he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. He finished last but the time he ran would have won him GOLD at the last three games. It was almost unbelievable to witness and Osagie summed it up in one word, ‘WOW’.
ABOVE: Members of the England rugby team in the Olympic stadium to see Usain Bolt
Not even the great Usain St Leo Bolt has broken a world record here. He did it three times in Beijing so the question on everyone’s lips last night was could he threaten the record books in the final of the 200m?
You always know when Bolt is about to run, you can feel the excitement in the air. He’s big box office, the consummate showman and he rose to the occasion. He may have been on the cusp of history but he still had time to flirt with the young girl taking care of his kit at the start line.
ABOVE: Usain Bolt wearing his Olympic gold medal
He’s got a big personality and an even bigger talent, and track and field owes him a great debt. The sport may well have sunk without a trace but for Bolt and this was his moment to cement a place in the pantheon of true greats. London even laid on some Jamaican-style weather to make him feel at home. It’s amazing how quickly 80,000 people can fall silent. Yet when Bolt put his finger to his lips to ask for quiet you could’ve heard a pin drop. It’s agonising waiting for the gun to go and we’re just the spectators!
ABOVE: My interview position in the stadium is a popular vantage point
No man in history had ever won the sprint double at back-to-back Olympic games. But as Bolt burst from the blocks the outcome was already a foregone conclusion. He stormed into the lead and every last man, woman and child knew there would only be one winner. So he didn’t break the world record, but that will surely come another day. This was the moment a true star became a living legend and he was more than happy to accept that moniker.
ABOVE: With Bolt's Jamaican team-mate Yohan Blake who took silver in the 200m
I love Usain Bolt for the joy he brings to athletics. He celebrated by hitting the deck to do press-ups and then grabbed a photographer’s camera to snap away at his Jamaican team-mates who’d won silver and bronze behind him. He’s a star who transcends track and field and we’re so privileged to have him in our lifetime.
ABOVE: Interviewing Usain Bolt
I often get nervous before interviewing Bolt, but not last night. There was calm about him as stood in front of me with a fifth Olympic gold around his neck. This was a man who knew his place in history, was assured and simply wanted to enjoy the moment.
ABOVE: With British javelin thrower Goldie Sayers who was in the stadium to see the men's 200m
Everyone will have a highlight from the London Olympics. Great Britain have won more medals than ever before, so there are many to savour. But the night Usain Bolt ran into the record books and then graciously allowed me to hold his precious gold medal, tops it for me.
5 August 2012
It was one of those moments when you can say, I was there. It was billed as ‘Super Saturday’ but the adjective I would use now is ‘sensational.’
As I stood trackside Team GB had already won three gold medals that afternoon (rowing and cycling) but by the time the night's athletics was over, that tally had doubled.
ABOVE: Jess Ennis chats to the media after taking gold
In one frenetic, fabulous evening - or 44 minutes to be precise - Jess Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah each became Olympic champion, a golden hat-trick that left those watching barely able to believe what they had just seen.
As Mo Farah crossed the line to the adulation of 80,000 people inside the stadium and millions up and down the country, we were witnessing a little slice of history. This was Britain’s single most successful day at an Olympics since 1908 and the track and field team helped round it off in style.
ABOVE: In the interview area with Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford
Six gold medals in one day would have seemed unthinkable at the start of the games yet Great Britain sits third in the medal table with 37 in total so far (16 gold, 11 silver and 10 bronze) and there are still six days of competition left!
The climax to this incredible day started at 9.02pm when Jess Ennis took to the line for the final event of the Heptathlon, the 800m. She’d built such a commanding lead over her rivals that she could’ve done cartwheels or moonwalked over the line and still won. I’ve watched sport in some noisy arenas but I’ve never heard such a deafening roar as the one that greeted Ennis as she hit the front and sprinted to the finish line. Here was Britain’s golden girl on the way to fulfilling her destiny and the flash bulbs lit up the night sky like fireworks to salute her.
ABOVE: Interviewing Jessica Ennis
I admit right now to some totally unprofessional behaviour. As a cub reporter you’re taught to behave impeccably at all times in the press box, but convention went astray on this occasion as my voice was added to the thousands cheering Jess home.
ABOVE: Interviewing Greg Rutherford after his gold in the men's long jump
As the face of London 2012 was clinching gold, her team-mate Greg Rutherford had the stadium rocking as he leapt his way into the public consciousness by winning the men’s long jump and that wasn’t the end of it. At 9.46pm, the noise in the stadium reached fever pitch as Mo Farah made his move and kicked for home in the 10,000m. His joyous reaction at crossing the line first will be forever etched in my memory. His little daughter Rihanna doesn’t do convention either as she shot across the track to give her dad a hug causing mild panic among the security team. It was an instinctive thing to do and I’m sure every last person in the stadium felt like doing the same.
ABOVE: Greg Rutherford proudly shows off his gold medal
The names of Ennis, Rutherford and Farah will be forever entwined as the trio who sprinkled stardust around the Olympic Stadium on a magical night that for me was simply the best sporting occasion I’ve ever had the privilege of attending.
3 August 2012
It was a moment that made me go wow! But it wasn’t a sudden rush of medals from Team GB or the sight of Ian Thorpe in a queue for coffee that had me all excited. It was the discovery of a beauty salon here for the media that is absolutely free. No wonder there were lots of people, men included, making a beeline for the front door. I’m sure the temptation to pay a visit myself will prove impossible to resist. I quite fancy some red, white and blue nails.
ABOVE: A journalist has a manicure in the free beauty salon
The salon is just one of the attractions at the International Broadcast Centre (IBC) which is home to more than 20,000 journalists, and houses the cutting edge facilities and studios which beam the Games around the world. It’s massive! It’s big enough to house five jumbo jets and for someone like me with zero sense of direction to get lost very quickly.
ABOVE: The entrance to the BBC office in the IBC
To get in to the IBC you have to go through the obligatory airport style security and you need a special Olympic pass that always seems to have the worst passport photo ever. It’s round my neck for the whole fortnight and induces a mild panic if I manage to misplace it. You haven’t met my boss but trust me, you don’t want to have to explain to her that you’ve lost your accreditation!
ABOVE: The post office in the IBC
Once inside the vast space, which is one of seven permanent venues on the Olympic Park, the main task is to locate the BBC office where Radio 5 Live is based alongside our colleagues from television. There are staff there too from BBC News and the BBC Sport website, so trying to find a spare desk is an Olympic sport all of its own.
ABOVE: Gary Lineker prepares to host the evening show on BBC 1
It’s not often that the entire sports department is virtually under one roof but when you’re televising 2,500 hours of live sport, you need a big team. There are 24 TV channels to choose from as well as the radio coverage which is marvellous, but then I’m definitely biased. If you haven’t listened to sport on the wireless before, give it a try during the Olympics, and I guarantee you’ll be hooked. (Radio 5 Live is on 909/693 MW or on DAB Radios).
ABOVE: Broadcasters from around the world have offices in the IBC
It all adds up to long hours and plenty of stress and my diet right now couldn’t be further from that of an elite athlete. The catering village in the IBC serves up to 50,000 meals a day but it’s mainly food on the run for me. No burgers yet though, despite the heavy presence of one of the main Olympic sponsors!
Anyway, there’s no time to eat, there’s too much sport to watch. Today brought a rush of medals for Team GB with six in total (three gold and three silver) propelling us up the table into 5th spot. Not bad for a small island when you consider China and America are in the top two places.
One man who took gold today was 25-year-old farmer’s son Peter Wilson from Devon, who triumphed in the shooting. As the gold medal was placed around his neck he held it in his hand and couldn’t contain his excitement. That was a real wow moment.
30 July 2012
I was like a kid on Christmas Eve this morning I was that excited. In fact I’ve been like that from the moment the Queen said "Good evening Mr Bond" and promptly jumped out of a helicopter as part of Danny Boyle’s wonderful opening ceremony. The pre-Olympic cynicism was blown away to be replaced with boundless British enthusiasm for everything from Archery to Wrestling and all sports in-between.
ABOVE: BBC Radio 5 Live sport reporter Sonja McLaughlan
This is my fifth Olympics for BBC Radio 5 Live having reported from Atlanta, Sydney, Athens and Beijing. It’s strange having not got on a plane to cover the Games and to some degree it hasn’t quite sunk in that it’s all happening right here in London. But having been to Earls Court for Volleyball and Greenwich Park for Eventing the reality is starting to hit home.
ABOVE: The Olympic rings at Greenwich Park
My main role as the trackside reporter of the Athletics starts on Friday (3 August), so for now I’m making myself useful covering sports I’ve literally never seen before like Fencing. I’m staying in student accommodation (it’s only the International Olympic Committee big-wigs who get five-star hotels in Park Lane) which is appropriate as I do mountains of homework every night in preparation for the following days broadcast. Do you know the difference between a Foil and an Epee? No, me neither but it’s the sort of stuff we have to learn to help bring a sport to life on air. A Foil is the lightweight sword and the Epee is the heaviest. I’ll be great in a pub quiz when this is all over!
ABOVE: Crowds at Greenwich Park
If the crowds are anything to go by so far the fencers will get huge support tomorrow too. It was overwhelming at times for the Three Day Event horse riders at Greenwich who were greeted with a crescendo of noise every time they cleared a fence on the cross country course.
ABOVE: Mike Tindall meets fans
Greenwich looked stunning in the sunshine and the British team rose to the occasion giving them a real chance of gold. Prince William was there to see his cousin, Zara Phillips, compete and I managed to grab an interview with her husband, Mike Tindall, who knows all about top-level sport as a World Cup winner with the England rugby team. He was remarkably calm for a man about to watch his wife steer half a ton of horse around a demanding circuit, but she flew round and even had time to meet fans afterwards much to their delight.
ABOVE: Team GB rider Zara Phillips with fans
The Queen started the party and her grand-daughter could get a gold medal in a Silver Jubilee year, it would be quite a fairy tale but certainly not the only one to unfold over the coming days.