One of the few Olympic venues to offer a physical workout to spectators as well as athletes is the Rowing arena at Eton Dorney. Not withstanding an optional two mile bike ride from the park and ride at Windsor park, the venue is a minimum one mile cross country hike from the entrance gates to the lake, with several foot bridges and security checkpoints to cross.
On arrival, the arena is surprisingly impressive. There are high banks of seating stretched out along either side of the length of a huge rowing lake. If the Olympic stadium is London’s Coliseum, then Eton Dornay is the temporary Circus Maximus. Albeit the race track is a lake, the chariots have been replaced by rowing boats and I doubt even the Romans had to put up with a 30 minute queue for a cup of tea, although it is possible that they might have been harassed by people in orange shirts trying to sell miniature Cyclops toys.
The Rowing venue is, however, a wonder of modern technology. Along the 2km length of the lake are a string of speakers, and screens that give the crowd a running commentary of the event when the boats are out of site. The race commentary is typically frank: ” the Czech crew now seem to be flagging, and are showing the miserable form of their last three races, they have no chance, at this point, of making any form of comeback “, all of which is pumped so loud out of the speakers that the crew must be able to hear as they are rowing. I just hope that they are in the zone or maybe don’t quite understand the English.
Following the boats down the lake are groups of track-suited coaches, cycling along the towpath presumably shouting ”faster, faster” in various languages as well as a boat with cameras, a Land Rover on the bank with cameras and even a camera on a 2km zip wire, running the length of the track. However, if you wish to appear on camera and wave at an aunty watching on TV, the one guaranteed position is behind the buoys of the 500m and 1,000m markers. It might in theory be possible to run between the two and appear on TV twice, but I think it would be difficult to out run a single skulled boat and impossible to out-run a men’s eight.
The rowing event on Thursday was all quite civilised, with polite clapping as the boats rowed past… up to the point when Heather Stanning and Helen Glover came out in front in their race and a crowd of 35,000 went berserk, everyone jumping up and down and shouting.
An amazing atmosphere and a great event!