Take 2 — London Calling
Catamarans, gondolas provide a scenic journey to Olympic events
The ExCeL (Exhibition Center London) is a gigantic exhibition building consisting of five arenas and is located at the eastern edge of London. It is surrounded by high rise condominiums. This site is not a tourist destination: It is not mentioned in the two guidebooks that I used to plan my trip to London. However, ExCeL will have its month of international fame as it serves as a major venue for the 2012 Olympic Games.
At the Olympic Park venue for many high profile sports an athlete wins a medal by outperforming a pack of other athletes in some type of lung-bursting, muscle-flexing activity such as swimming or running, or by amassing points scored on technique and difficulty allowing them to move up a leader board, such as in gymnastics and diving.
At ExCeL, an athlete wins a medal by kicking, punching, stabbing, chocking or pinning into submission a succession of opponents: This is the venue where the martial arts sports of boxing, fencing, judo, taekwondo and wrestling are competed in mano-a-mano combat. Table tennis and weightlifting also take place here.
On Saturday, July 28, the first full day of competition, I traveled to ExCeL to attend a six hour session of women's individual foil one of the fencing sports where points are won by "stabbing" your opponent with your foil (a type of sword). The format of the competition was single round elimination, and during the morning and afternoon the field was narrowed from the round of 64 all the way down through the quarter finals. This rapid elimination of the athletes was accomplished by holding four concurrent duels. If neither fencer can inflict 15 touches (i.e. "stabs") on her opponent within a given period of time, the winner is the person with the most touches up to that point. Many of these duels were over in 15 minutes or less, which explains the rapid elimination of contestants. The final combat by foil took place that evening and the last woman standing was Francesca Di of Italy. She had to go mano-a-mano with five other women to win her gold.
Not only was my day at the fencing venue exciting, the trip from central London also was an adventure. Instead of taking London's subway known as the "underground" and the "tube" and a light rail train to ExCeL, I started my journey by boarding a commuter catamaran near the London Eye farris wheel. This high-speed boat cruised down the River Thames passing by famous sites such as Tower Bridge, temporarily bedecked with huge Olympic rings, and St. Paul's Cathedral. We also passed a large Royal Navy ship that was temporarily berthed on the Thames to provide Olympics security, as well high-speed police patrol boats.
My destination was O2, formerly known as the Millennium Dome, which is located on the Greenwich peninsula. O2 is a failed music concert venue that was built at the end of the 20th century in an area that supports high-rise condos and gravel-mining. This is another destination that is of no interest to tourists. In June 2012, however, Emirates Air Line began operating a cable car system that spans the Thames starting at O2 and ending at ExCeL. For approximately $5, a passenger can ride in a small gondola that quickly ascents to a cruising altitude of 300 feet and crosses 0.6 miles over the river at a speed of 12 miles per hour. You have a great view of everything below you, but as you can guess this does not come close to the view from the London Eye which is 400 feet tall. There isn't much to see unless you are thrilled by condominium communities and industrial areas. It was, however, an interesting way to get to the fencing venue.