Yesterday, the last day of my 20s, began with a full-English brunch at Borough Market with tea and juice and ladies-who-lunch style chats with my pal Alex, who I met in Argentina last year. Well, how else would I spend the last morning of my 29th year?
After brunch, we headed to ExCel for the last of my Olympics events – the women’s weightlifting. We had been warned of airport-like security procedures to enter the grounds so Alex was relieved she’d left her pepper spray at home when she had to go through the scanning machine. We donned a Union Jack and whipped out the One Team One Dream knickers again in the hope of helping Team GB grab a few more golds. The Olympics organisers had laid on a few hundred thousand too many volunteers, most of whom had nothing to do, so they were more than happy to oblige for a few photo requests from Alex and I.
Our seats in the weightlifting arena weren’t exactly like the VIP box I shared with Helen for the gymnastics, but boy did the event make up for it!
The women’s 69kg weightlifting final was nail-biting, end-of-seat-perching, gripping and emotional from start to finish, and I do not exaggerate. I’m not sure whether the London Olympic Games organisers have as little faith in us as sports spectators as the government does of us as voters, but they had basically made the weightlifting tournament into some kind of exciting, tense, X Factor-style competition, with music and lighting and booing and jeering for maximum tension throughout. Not a word of a lie, when the judges walked onto the stage, they actually played some of the music that is used regularly on The X Factor to help portray them as some kind of pantomime-style villains.
After the initial presentation of the judges, the jury and the competitors, there was a countdown for the first competitor to come out into the arena. After a minute or so of silence, nobody appeared, so the audience gradually started a slow, taunting clap until the first woman came out on stage – an Egyptian lady who dropped her first weight in dramatic fashion. Now, these women may be a bit beefy (to quote Alex: “I wouldn’t want to be stuck down an alleyway with any of these ladies”) but some of them sure had style – my fave example of this was the Romanian lady who kept her gold hoop earrings in throughout the competition, and the Belarusian who won the bronze medal without so much as shifting a single strand of her impeccable blonde hair-do out of place.
Although we had come laden with Team GB-friendly merchandise, we were disappointed to see that there were no British contenders in the women’s 69kg category. Now, before I went in there, I thought the 69kg category meant that the women lift 69kg, but in fact they weigh 69kg, and they start off lifting 105kg, gradually moving on to heavier and heavier dumbbells. As Alex commented at the beginning, “I can barely lift my own suitcases when I go on holiday!”
I decided to support the Colombian lady, in honour of my Latina side, but as the competition went on and the Colombian was eventually knocked out, the tiny North Korean lady named Rim Jong Sim became my clear favourite.
Now, 69kg does not an enormous woman make. From where we were sitting, Rim Jong Sim looked tiny, and was certainly the smallest of the bunch. What made her unique was the little high-pitched chipmunk squeal she let out every time she approached the weights, which the audience had started parrot-mimicking by the time she reached the end of the tournament. This miniscule woman managed to lift an enormous 146kg – that is almost three times me, or seven of my suitcases…
Rim Jong Sim won in spectacular style and we watched the medal award ceremony before heading outside the arena, several nails shorter than when we went in. We were just minding our own business, taking a few snaps of ourselves on the train platform on our way home when a photographer from the Associated Press decided to do his own little photo shoot of us, so don’t be surprised if you see us splashed all over the news today. (Further to that, there was also a North Korean man taking his own long-lens shots of us earlier in the day from within the arena in very suspicious fashion, so also do not be surprised if you see us starring in some kind of North Korean internet porn café in a few years’ time).
The day finally ended with a huge burger and a long train journey back up to Huddersfield, where I collapsed into bed, exhausted. Goodbye 20s, hello 30s!