Back of a head wearing Union Jack hat
Challenge Your Camera,  London,  People

When the Olympics came to London, 2012

As a sports fan there can little that is more exciting than the Olympics coming to your city – and in 2012 they came to London. I still remember the announcement in 2007. Everyone thought that Paris would win, so it was a wonderful surprise to hear that London would be the host city.

Sadly that excitement was short-lived; on the very next day we suffered the dreadful terrorist attack on the Tube and a bus. It was a reminder, should we need it, of how quickly we can go from elation to devastation.

But by 2011, when ticket sales began, the predominant emotion was again excitement. My husband and I put our names into the ballot for multiple events; had we been successful in all our applications it would have cost a small fortune! As it was, we heard that we had secured tickets for Table Tennis, Beach Volleyball and Cycling. I was so thrilled with the news that I posted it on Twitter. As a result I found myself later that day being interviewed for the BBC’s early evening news broadcast!

Later a further round of ticket sales gave us the chance to apply again and we were able to add Taekwondo and Volleyball to the list of sports we would see. For us, summer 2012 couldn’t come quickly enough!

London in 2012

There was something special in the air in London during the Olympics. In this usually quite reserved city, people smiled at each other – everywhere! They talked to each other on the Tube; what are you off to see today / what have you seen / how was it / who won what???

And an army of volunteers ensured that everything went smoothly. And doomsayers were proved wrong. The city didn’t grind to a halt; the public transport system coped; the Games were a huge success.

And we were part of it!

Table tennis

Both of us used to play table tennis competitively for a local club – my husband very well, with a collection of trophies to show for it, and me rather less well but still enjoying it. So we were very happy to be able to watch some of the best in the world compete. We travelled across London from west to east to the venue at the Excel Centre. There we got our first taste of the atmosphere surrounding the games, which was fantastic!

Beach Volleyball

The venue for the beach volleyball was iconic, against the backdrop of one of London’s most famous sights, Horse Guards Parade. We had been slightly concerned about the unpredictable British weather; but the day was fine and we had another wonderful time. From our perch high in the stands we also had a rather unusual view of some of the city’s icons.


Our day at the cycling was the highlight of our Olympic experiences, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it was the only event we attend that took place in the Olympic Park, so it was our one chance to explore this central focus point for the Games. We came early and took advantage of the opportunity, seeing the main venues and even getting to hold a genuine Olympic Torch! And we stayed late, despite the drizzle, to watch the Triathlon on the big screen.

But secondly, and more importantly, this was the final day of the cycling when lots of medals were decided, many of them going to British competitors. We saw Chris Hoy (now Sir Chris Hoy, of course) win his sixth Olympic gold medal, breaking Sir Steve Redgrave’s record and becoming the most successful British Olympian ever. Laura Trott also won gold for Britain, while Victoria Pendleton had to settle for silver behind Australia’s Anna Meares in a thrilling race.

And if we had though the atmosphere exciting at the other events we’d attended, here in the velodrome it was truly electric. The design of the building maximised crowd noise; I can still feel the hairs stand up on the back of my neck when I think about it!


We’d seen beach volleyball, now for the traditional indoor version. This was an exciting evening at the Earls Court venue, mainly because of the enthusiasm of the Brazilian fans who saw their team reach the final.


For our last event we went back to where we had started, the Excel Centre. My husband’s sport these days is Choi Kwang-Do, a form of karate, and this was the closest Olympic sport to that, so he was especially happy to be able to watch some of the best in the world. We had pretty good seats, so I took the chance to practice my sports photography! My timing was OK, but my camera not really up to the job in the low light. Still, I enjoyed having a go.

Postscript: the parade

Even after it was all over there was still a buzz in the air in London. We felt the city had done us proud and put on a great show. Of course there was a sense of anti-climax, but we’d proved something to the world and to the doubters in our own country.

A month later, in early September, the country celebrated its Olympic heroes with a parade through central London. Crowds turned out to watch them, me included, and for one final time I could enjoy that very special 2012 atmosphere.

I’m sharing this for Challenge your Camera #8 Sport. As sports memories go this is hard to beat, although if Newcastle United were ever to win a major trophy in my lifetime (not looking likely) that could change!


    • Sarah Wilkie

      I guess I’m used to the Tube in the rush hour so I didn’t find it so. It was sometimes crowded, but that’s true anyway. Fears about the system grinding to a halt came to nothing, it coped admirably. And people talked to each other, which normally only happens when there’s an emergency!

  • wetanddustyroads

    This is a really feel good story! It must have been amazing to see some of these sports live on such a big world platform – I’ve enjoyed reading about your experiences (and liked it that you’ve got to hold the Olympic torch 😁).

    • Sarah Wilkie

      It was amazing – not just seeing the sports but also the whole atmosphere! In fact, that was probably the best aspect. You can actually see the sports better on TV tbh, but you get only a fraction of the atmosphere!

  • margaret21

    The 2012 Olympics happened when we were living in France, but we were in London with my son and family the week before. It was just wonderful! The atmosphere along the South Bank, with people from all nations happily enjoying just relaxing, strolling, eating and drinking together in sunny summer weather was really special. It’s impossible to reconcile this with the bitter, divided and insular country that the Brexit debate has produced so very few years later. Back in France, we discovered that the French tv channels we had access to showed little of the actual Olympic events. Luckily, we’re not remotely sporty, so we didn’t really mind. At least we saw the opening ceremony on BBC World Service. A lovely post. Thank you Sarah.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Oh, I know what you mean Margaret – that feels like a different Britain now! Although I have to say that in London there was, I believe, less division over Brexit as in some other parts of the country, and even a sense that we felt more united over it than otherwise.

      Glad you got to watch the opening ceremony at least – it was rather special!!

  • Anonymous

    The event looks and sounds amazing! How exciting that you were interviewed for the BBC and able to hold the gold torch as well as be at so many events in person! I attended archery at the LA Olympics and the USA stands were right next to the British stands and I saw Princess Anne walking and waving at the British attendees. I don’t remember who won but seeing a royal up close still stands out. I also remember the terrorist attack on the Tube, such a tragic event and as you said a reminder of how quickly we can go from elation to devastation. I’m so glad the London Olympics were not cancelled! Wonderful blog and the pictures really capture the excitement of the event.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Again, I’m not sure who I’m talking to here, but I really appreciate your interest in my posts 😀 It must have been just as exciting to attend the LA Olympics I reckon!

      I was working in central London on the day of the terrorist attacks and it’s not a day any of us will forget, but I don’t believe there was ever any real talk of cancelling the events – just a nervousness about the security. In the end it all went very smoothly and London was a special place to be during those few weeks 🙂

  • starship VT

    Love this post, Sarah!! It’s must have been thrilling to have the Games take place in your own hometown! And, you were able to see so many events too! I’m a huge Olympics fan and I remember the London Olympics well although we were actually in Australia at the time but we watched many, many events on TV. I didn’t know you were a volleyball fan — I am a huge womens’ volleyball fan. But if I had my pick of events to see, equestrian events would have been No. 1, followed by volleyball (indoor), and gymnastics although I get excited by a lot of sports! (I used to collect Olympic pins too for historical purposes.) Great subject for a post and love your photos!!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Sylvia, I’m really glad you enjoyed this 🙂 We’re both huge Olympics fans but I have to confess not especially volleyball! We simply applied for lots of things we thought we would enjoy, from our favourite Olympic sports like athletics, tennis, cycling and swimming (of which we only got cycling) through to others we had some interest or connection to, like the table tennis and taekwondo, and others that we just thought would be fun, like the volleyball. We also tried for hockey I think, and gymnastics (which I really like although Chris is less keen).

      We tend to find that when the Olympics is on we watch all sorts of sports on TV that we don’t normally follow, and to be able to do so live was too exciting an opportunity to miss out on. It was a bit of a gamble applying for so much – if we’d got them all that would have been our holiday budget blown for the year without ever leaving home 😆

  • Dr B

    Brilliant post! This brought back such memories and your description of the images, the events and your own experiences are great. Our own personal memories mostly revolve around Jessica Ennis, Laura Trott, Mo Farah, all of the rowing etc etc etc. If only as a nation we could be so united in issues of major importance ….. instead of constant undermining, what could we achieve! Thanks for posting again👏👏

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you so much for such great feedback 😊 It’s good to hear from someone with an equally positive experience of the games. I envy you if you saw Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah – our only regret was that we didn’t get athletics tickets. But we’ve been back to the Olympic Park several times since then, to see the Anniversary Games and the World Athletics Championships where we saw Farah AND Usain Bolt 😀

      • Dr B

        Ah sorry Sarah I didn’t mean to mislead you, I was quoting from our tv experience. We didn’t have any tickets and so-called friends who I had shared Twickenham rugby tickets with for 10 years kept all their hospitality tickets to themselves. They had a daughter who was a hospitality organiser who went everywhere!

        • Sarah Wilkie

          Oh, that is a shame! I’m sorry you missed out on the live experience but it’s good to know you nevertheless have good memories of the games and the atmosphere they created here.

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