The Olympics have come to London and while there is excitement is in the air, there have been dissenting voices.
Londoners have been complaining about surface-to-air missiles on apartment blocks, exclusive road lanes for members of the “Olympic family” and travel disruption.
One of the biggest bugbears has been the scarcity of Olympic tickets. However, while the lucky few will be able to watch Usain Bolt and co, all is not lost for those who missed out. Some events are open to all, namely the cycling road races, the walking events and the marathons.
For ticketless Taiwanese in London wanting to cheer on their compatriots, the only options were the women’s cycling road race and men’s marathon, so the Taipei Times decided to see how cyclist Hsiao Mei-yu would fare in the former on Sunday.
Reigning Asian Games champion Hsiao faced a grueling 140.3km ride, but at least the organizers provided a course that took her through some of London’s leafier suburbs, grandest parks and past Hampton Court Palace.
Transport authorities had urged people to stay at home and watch the non-ticket events on television, but estimates put the crowd for Saturday’s men’s road race at 1 million. So in the interests of journalism, I hopped on a 93 bus to experience the Olympics up close and personal.
My destination was Putney.
Its greatest sporting claim to fame is that it is the starting point of the annual boat race between Oxford and Cambridge universities. However, for one weekend only, Putney High Street and the Upper Richmond Road joined the likes of Wembley Stadium and Wimbledon as hotbeds of Olympic action.
Despite the warnings, the only travel problems I faced was that the bus terminated earlier than usual, leaving a short walk to reach Putney.
A Sunday morning stroll seemed an attractive prospect until on leaving the bus the heavens opened. To think I’d wondered whether I needed to put on sun block before I started my journey in the sunshine only 30 minutes earlier.
Having dodged the worst of the downpour, I took my place behind the barriers at the top of Putney High Street. The rain seemed not to have dampened too many people’s enthusiasm and half an hour before the cyclists were due to arrive the street was filling fast and there were flags everywhere.
Predictably the Union Flag dominated, but there were a surprisingly large number of Brazilian ones, a Stars and Stripes and assorted others, yet where was the Taiwanese flag? Not even a Chinese Taipei Olympic flag. Was a malign Chinese influence at work?
The man standing next to me knew nothing about cycling and had no interest in it, but as he lived in Putney he had decided to come along. On my other side were Martin and Ines, who had brought their kids with them.
“We came because it’s exciting, it’s in London and it’s free,” Ines said, before confessing that she had never heard of Chinese Taipei.
Martin knew that Britain’s Nicole Cooke was the reigning champion, but he didn’t know there was a Taiwanese cyclist taking part.
“It doesn’t surprise me, though, as a lot of bikes are made there. That’s where your bike was made,” he said to Ines.
Soon team cars were speeding past, along with waving policemen on motorbikes. A cheer went up and a lone Brazilian cyclist rode past, followed swiftly by a huge peloton containing all the other competitors, but where was Hsiao?