Having taken the opportunity to take the scenic route to Qingdao, the co-host city for the 2008 Olympic sailing events, I arrive late in the evening after a short flight from Shanghai. At every street corner, a cluster of volunteers clad in their official blue T-shirts gathers under a gazebo, only too anxious to help lost-looking visitors with their well-practised stock of English phrases.
Arriving at my hotel I’m faced with airport style security in order to gain entrance. This is one of several official hotels designated by the Beijing Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (BOCOG).
I venture down to the Sailing Centre, choosing to walk the 2km rather than take the official media shuttle bus in order to gain my bearings. The scale of the sailing venue itself is staggering, and once through the gate I succumb to the 30°C degree heat and 90 per cent humidity and hop on one of the golf buggies that circulate the venue.
Having registered in the media centre and found my desk, I spend a few hours catching up on admin and testing our website to ensure all the updates will work.
I write a couple of general pieces for our website, giving my thoughts on the impact the Olympics has had on the country and first impressions of the Olympic sailing venue. As a monthly publication, Dinghy Sailing will be featuring a 20-page review of the event in the October issue, which goes to print just as the sailing is scheduled to finish. However, our website will form the focus of my reports while I’m here, with a good stock of background info on the sailors, boats and venue already posted.
Today is the main opening ceremony in Beijing, and I get a detailed interview with the Team GB’s manager for sailing, Stephen Park. We chat about the team’s preparations, the venue and what some of the other teams might have up their sleeves. With Britain being the top nation at sailing in the past two Olympic Games, there is a lot of pressure on this man, but he remains relaxed and open throughout the interview.
Today saw the first races for two of the 11 classes – the Finn (heavyweight men’s single-hander) and the Yngling (women’s three-person keelboat). With household name, triple Olympic medallist Ben Ainslie, competing in the Finn and Sarah Ayton and Sarah Webb, 2004 Olympic gold medallists, competing in the Yngling, it’s a big opener for GBR and expectation is high. At the morning press briefing, BOCOG press officers advise everyone to watch the British.
Following the racing from the direct TV broadcast in the media centre, I spend the afternoon updating our website via our blog feature. It’s a great day for GBR as we finish the day lying first overall in the Ynglings and third overall in the Finns.
Heading down to the mixed zone to interview the sailors as they come off the water, they’re easy to spot as there are large crowds of journalists from all sorts of countries clamouring for quotes.
Luckily, the British sailing team’s press officer is adept at handling these situations and ensures that the small group of British sailing-specific press get some good interview opportunities once the broadcast guys have done their bit.
I head out in one of the 27 media boats to watch the action afloat. With six or seven photographers and journalists onboard, it can get pretty crowded and so individual boats are allocated to specific courses, with limits as to how close you can get to the racing dinghies once racing gets underway. I was pleased to find we were able to watch from as close as 30 metres.
Qingdao is renowned for being a very difficult venue to master in terms of wind and tide. It was fantastic to be out on the water and watch the British sailors in action; remaining cool and in control despite the heat and the pressure of the situation.
Having reported on the racing directly via my mobile phone while on the water, once the boats had crossed the finish line it was time to head back ashore to get the detail on what had happened in the second race area, where the high-performance 49er fleet had begun their race series. With a couple more website articles filed and a lengthy skype call to the office it was the end of a long day.