Saturday, 23 August 2008

The Lure

First it was the swimmer Ryan Lochte waxing lyrical about his penchant for hamburgers, then Usain Bolt took over with his nuggets fuelled sprint world records.

The overt suggestions finally got to me and I succumbed to the lure of the corporation.

But rather than a fast food outlet, I opted for another trip to look at the shiny watches. There was an ulterior motive this time.

As I’ve walked past the Omega pavilion these two weeks, their first floor terrace balcony has been crying out to me to come and lounge.

But it’s not an open to the hoi polloi. You need an invitation.

The Belgian spinter Kim Gevaert, the Russian polevaulter Yelena Isinbayeva and the American speedster Tyson Gay were all I needed as the passport to gratification.

They were there as guests of Omega and they were talking about their time in Beijing. While they were showing off their pictures of their moments in the city to an adoring public, I was wandering around the mezzanine level, looking down on the well-buffed watch cases and athletes.

Of the trio, Isinbayeva wins the gold medal for imaginative pictures. But that’s not a surprise because she is a keen photographer in her spare time when she’s not breaking pole vaulting world records.

Once the champions had been taken into a special room, I thought I’d make the most of the comfy seats.
Most of them were taken but I spotted a spare one opposite a couple. I asked if I could sit down and they said yes.

Just after I’d sunk into the leather cushion, the woman asked if I was from Switzerland as I was wearing a watch based on the Swiss Railway clocks.

And we got chatting. We spoke about the games and they told me a bit about their life in Beijing as opposed to Switzerland and so on.

Forget fast food restaurants, this was more my speed.

While we talked, attentive staff brought drinks and appealing snacks and - this was the best bit – waited for you to finish before asking if they could take it away.

Urs and Steffi looked as if they were installing themselves for the evening. The lounge lizard in me was jealous but there was the small matter of going to cover the evening’s athletics at the Bird’s Nest.

As I was leaving, Tyson Gay was without the earlier phalanx of corporate PRs around him. With Bolt like speed I enjoined him in conversation.

“It’s been the best experience I’ve ever had in my life,” he told me of his Beijing sojourn. “I really enjoyed it.”

Gay has been a bit part player in these Olympics, the antithesis of the Usain Bolt success story.

The American was supposed to be one of the protagonists but he never made it through to the finals of the 100 metres and a bungled baton change in the 4x100 metres relay semi-final robbed him of the chance for redemption there.

But it’s just part of a process.

“Even though I’m going home with no gold medals,being around all my friends and family, having support through the bad times has been amazing,” he added

“The hardware is good but no one can take this moment away from you.”

Casting his eyes around the lounge, he added: “It’s just been great being around all these people, you see I don’t have any gold medals or nothing but I’m still getting a lot of love and attention and it means a lot to me.”

Time well spent then.