Armchair Pundit

Getting loud for Larry at Lord’s

Alex Chick

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Lord's is one of my favourite places in London.

It embodies the city's best qualities. Like much of the capital, it is the product of an unlikely blend of the old and new that shouldn't work but does.

This is a 200-year-old sports ground that has developed into a world-class 'facility' (to use the newfangled terminology).

The space-age media centre stands alongside ivy-clad passages and an historic pavilion. A 30,000-seater stadium sits comfortably and unobtrusively in gentrified St John's Wood.

The sense of history at Lord's is palpable, but that doesn't mean enduring an antiquated slum devoid of modern comforts - a charge rightly levelled at the old Wembley Stadium before it was, itself, levelled.

For the Olympics, the media have been (marvellously) relocated to the pavilion and the action is flanked by temporary stands housing a combined 4,500.

Despite the vastly reduced capacity, the queues for entry on St John's Wood Road this morning were as long as for any cricket match thanks to stringent security checks.

Without wishing to trivialise the issue, it seems a bit rich to confiscate people's bottles of water at an event where dozens of people are packing bows and arrows.

The clamour to get in early was caused by the scheduling of Brit Larry Godfrey's last-16 match - first up at 9am sharp.

For some reason, I had expected a genteel exhibition of the bowman's art, so was startled by the huge ovation Godfrey received.

Had I paid attention, I would have noticed #GetLoudForLarry trending on Twitter - Lord's did not disappoint.

Every score of nine or more provoked wild cheers, and the flustered MC had to issue
several dire warnings about the consequences of flash photography - he stopped just short of insisting: "People will die."

The unexpectedly raucous fans characterised one of the great things about London 2012. At each session, you see thousands people for whom this is their only Olympic experience.

It might be early, but why wouldn't they make the most of it? Why wouldn't they create as much noise as possible?

It is, of course, an absurd privilege to do this for a living, and the fans' enthusiasm reinforces just how special each Olympic moment is.

Within a quarter of an hour, Godfrey's medal hopes were dust.

The match ended tied after five sets, then he lost to Khairul Anuar Mohamad in a one-arrow 'nearest-the-bull' competition. And that was that.

It seems a staggeringly ruthless way of deciding things - a similar shoot-off decided the women's gold medal match on Thursday.

But that is what makes it one of the most gripping, tension-filled sports at the Olympics.

There's no faffing about, just a short burst of intense competition after which the loser goes home - fortunately Godfrey comes from Bristol, so won't have had to endure this morning's apocalyptic Javelin train queues at St Pancras.

Archery makes great TV and is even more impressive in person.

However many times you hear that they are firing at a target 70 metres away, you have to see it to appreciate the staggering proficiency needed to consistently propel arrows through the breeze and into the centre of the board.

If you or I had 100 goes at registering any score at all, we would almost certainly get zero. It is an unfathomably difficult task - if the archers perform it with apparent ease, that is testament to the decades of work they have put into honing their skill.

An ancient art performed with modern precision - archery and Lord's are the perfect match.


ACCESSIBILITY/FACILITIES: 7/10 - The bonus of a central(ish) London location is offset by the hassle getting in. Lord's is set up for crowds seven times the size, so the stadium facilities were ample.

VIEW: 7/10 - The temporary stands get fans close to the archers - though nobody is allowed within 40 metres of the targets - you know, just in case. It can be tough to follow the arrows through the air, but there is a big-screen TV.

FANS: 9/10 - They came, they yelled, they stayed enthusiastic even after Godfrey's demise. Add in some noisy pockets of Korean, French and Dutch (always the Dutch) fans, and this was a fantastic early-morning crowd. As ever, there were a handful of empty seats, though.

SPECTACLE: 8/10 - The aim of the game is simple, and the competition format conducive to great drama. They also rattle through the matches - we had eight in less than two hours.

X-FACTOR: 9/10 - See the above rather soppy love letter to Lord's. Even though the cricket ground doesn't actually do much other than provide a nice grassy carpet, it is the perfect backdrop for archery.

TOTAL SCORE: 40/50 - a new leader!

Other venues rated
North Greenwich Arena (gymnastics): 39/50 - complex
Aquatics Centre: 38/50 - noisy
Basketball Arena: 36/50 - slick
Lee Valley White Water Centre: 36/50 - thrilling
Horse Guards Parade: 36/50 - raucous
Box Hill (road race cycling): 35/50 - rural
Riverbank Arena: 32/50 - temporary
ExCel (weightlifting): 31/50 - functional

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Alex Chick will be writing from London 2012 throughout the Olympic Games.

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