London 2012 (08.12.12) – The Perfect Ending

The Olympic Cauldron gets extinguished tonight.

The last day of the Games always brings a mixed bag of emotions.

Sadness that after today, there won’t be random table tennis or badminton on MSNBC and that we’ll no longer hear that familiar Olympic music composed by John Williams. Pride in what our favorite athletes have achieved and how many medals our country has earned. Excitement because the end of the Summer Olympics means back to football.

But there’s one common emotion felt by everyone at the IBC, especially here at NBC. Relief. After a 17-day period that started with the Opening Ceremony (19 if you count the two days of preliminary soccer), we can see the finish line to this broadcasting marathon. Journalists are filing their final reports. Producers are tweaking their final rundowns. Only a few more events to log for the interns at Central Tape. And everyone is enjoying their last free meals at the Commissary before they realize they’re going to have to pay for Starbucks coffee again when they leave the IBC for the last time.

At SportsDesk, we’re watching the men’s marathon and the men’s gold medal game in basketball, among other final events. We just received some thank you gifts from our supervisors. I got a nice t-shirt that will be very valuable to me when I go on a run or go to the gym. Everyone received a DVD with all of the pieces that made air on Olympic O-Zone.

I spend my morning in the edit suite, actually editing after just watching editors magically put stories together for the last 16 days. I’m nowhere near as fast of an editor as the pros are, but my experience with Avid at Syracuse University is enough for me to put together my Olympic reporter reel that we shot yesterday.

I arrive back at SportsDesk to learn that one of the fellow SportsDesk interns received a ticket to the basketball game and was en route to North Greenwich Arena. I’m really happy for him because he loves basketball and hadn’t been to an event yet. Another intern went to the women’s soccer gold medal match on Thursday while someone else received a ticket to athletics that same night. I see others with tickets to tonight’s closing ceremony.

I’m lucky just to be here in London and I’m thankful that I did go to some events already, even if I had to pay out of pocket for it. But in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but think about how great of a gift it would be if I had received a ticket like those around me. Or if I would have felt differently if my credential had access to all venues.

I don’t have a ticket to anything, except for my flight back home in less than 24 hours. I try to take my mind off of the golden tickets to the closing ceremony that everyone seems to be flashing by watching the men’s volleyball gold medal game, where Russia is coming back from two sets down against Brazil. I assume that just like the opening ceremony, I’ll be at the IBC or at the bar, or both, watching how these Games will end.

My supervisor calls me up to her desk and says that she has a job for me tonight. What job could there possibly be to do? The Games are finished and there aren’t any Olympic O-Zones left to air and no more stories or shoots to log. All the crews have packed up their stuff.

She hands me an envelope with my name on it. And I already knew. I opened up the envelope to see the ticket to the Closing Ceremony.

My ticket to the Closing Ceremony.

All I can say is thank you. I say it quietly, as if I didn’t want anyone else to know that I have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But little did my supervisors know that they just made my dreams come true.

The last day of the Games always brings a mixed bag of emotions. Right now, I feel endless amounts of bliss and gratitude.

A Symphony of British Music

Turns out a lot of NBC employees had tickets to tonight’s ceremony as if it was a big thank you from the company for all the hard work we’ve done over the last few weeks.

We left for the stadium at around 6pm, with the actual ceremony slated to begin at nine. It was weird to walk around a very empty Olympic Park. All the events were done. Before we left, we saw the final competition come to an end: the women’s modern pentathlon. There were a straggling few French fans just coming from the handball gold medal game.

I haven’t seen the Park so empty since before the Games started when we took a tour on our first day of work. It’s kinda full circle. And there was something nice about being able to walk around the park freely without strollers and groups of lost people in your way.

It finally gets crowded when you arrive at the walkways leading up to the stadium entrance. We get inside the concourse with ease, though I noticed some ticketholders having some trouble getting in. We think about getting beer before we head up but then opt not to.

We head up to our seats which is quite a climb up. After several dozen steps to our seats, we see the stage set up in front of us and I finally get a sense that I’m really here.

The floor set-up for the Closing Ceremony.

We do decide to get beer, in the celebratory spirit of the closing ceremony. Apparently, everyone else had the same idea as the queues were 10-12 rows deep at the bar. Lines would also form at several other smaller stands and I decide to walk around the concourse of the stadium looking for as short of a line as possible. I find a line relative short serving cider, but then I overhear that the vendor only has two more bottles and there were still four people ahead of me. So I leave the line and walk more than halfway around before settling on a line of 10-12 people waiting for Heineken. After a wait period of about 10 minutes, but felt like an eternity, I get four beers (two of them for myself) and make the long trek back. I’ve missed some of the pre-show but according to people I sat with, I didn’t miss much.

We practice some dance moves that we’re told we’ll need during the ceremony, everything from One Direction to how we’ll count down to the start of the ceremony. In between, the crowd starts doing the Mexican Wave, which Europeans are obsessed with.

They announce that over a billion people are expected to watch the ceremony live, and I make a joke that the number doesn’t include the millions watching on tape-delay on NBC. Though I was happy to learn that they will be streaming the ceremony live on its website, responding to criticisms regarding the Opening Ceremony, which was not streamed live in the United States.

The clock strikes nine. Each chime of Big Ben’s clock has the crowd counting up towards nine. And then at the ninth chime, the crowd screams “It’s nine o’clock!”

From where we are sitting, we’re behind the main stage. We’re unable to see the first performer, Emelie Sande, but all the performers look small from where we are sitting anyway that it doesn’t matter. As she performs, I can’t help but notice the lyrics that are coming out of her mouth.

“You’ve got the words to change a nation, but you’re biting your tongue…If no one ever hears it, how we gonna learn your song?…You’ve got the light to fight the shadows so stop hiding it away. 

“Put it in all of the papers. I’m not afraid. They can read all about it. Read all about it.”

I’m a sucker for these kinds of songs with inspirational lyrics and corny music. But these are the Olympics and it’s an occasion for powerful moments like this.

After a glimpse of what a typical day is like in London, the man playing Winston Churchill yells out, “STOP!” and gestures toward the box. The official announcements, made in both French and English, introduces Jacques Rogge and Prince Harry. And then I hear one of the most rousing renditions of “God Save the Queen” as the volunteers on the stadium floor wave the Union Jack flag, bringing back memories of the rampant flag waving from weeks ago during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Celebrations.

The Closing Ceremony featured performances from several famous British artists.

What follows is this amazing concert that only fans of British music can truly enjoy. Luckily, a lot of music that is popular in the United States originated from Britain. The SportsDesk producers sitting next to me were “slightly older” than us interns but they were enjoying The Pet Shop Boys perform “West End Girls,” one of them calling it their “F***ing Nirvana”.

On the other end of the spectrum, we all sang along to “What Makes You Beautiful” by One Direction and I think every female alive during the ’90s had flashbacks to that decade when the Spice Girls reunited and performed.

For me, my Nirvana moment was when Jessie J and Tinie Tempah performed. I was into Jessie J’s “Domino” because she sounded like Katy Perry and I enjoyed her performance of “Price Tag”. But when the music changed to “Written In the Stars,” I reached a whole new high. I first heard of Tinie Tempah when I studied abroad in London two years ago and his hit song is the one rap song that I know all the words to.

So here I was at the Olympics’ Closing Ceremony, rapping my head off while one of the producers asked me who was performing. It was another full circle moment for me. My favorite British artist, performing one of my favorite songs at the Closing Ceremony of an event that I am obsessed with.

“I used to be the kid that no one cares about. It’s like you have to keep screaming till they hear you out.”

I have so many memories from this night. From chanting the lyrics of “Wonderwall” to seeing the extinguishing of the flame, from IOC President Jacques Rogge proclaiming that these were “happy and glorious” games to the fireworks at the end as The Who performed, it was the perfect ending to an unbelievable experience.

There’s A Party on the Roof

The final hours of my trip was eventful to say the least. When the closing ceremony ended, we took what ended up being my last ever walk through Olympic Park. As we walked toward the IBC, we found ourselves in the same lane as the Olympic athletes who were making the trek back to the Athletes’ Village for what I’m sure will be an epic after party in those buildings.

I spotted two athletes from the Philippines and walked up and congratulated them. They seemed tired but I did get a “Salamat” out of them (the word for thank you). It was a surreal experience walking with all of these athletes. It was overwhelming because there were so many. And as soon as you realized what was happening, they made the turn to the right over the bridge and towards the village.

When we got back to the IBC, all the staff members from the European networks already broke out the alcohol and started a dance party. At NBC, we got back just in time for me to say goodbye to my supervisors. As much as I wanted to say, “Thank you so much for changing my life and giving me the opportunity of a lifetime,” all I did was give a hug and said “Thanks for everything.”

I walked through the NBC compound for the last time, not knowing when I’ll get an opportunity like this again. I passed the tape library, now empty. I passed the edit suites and was able to catch a glimpse of the editors working on the final block of primetime, when Bob Costas would give his closing thoughts before the epic montage with the credits. I passed by the Studios where I found the Primetime interns and a cart full of alcoholic beverages waiting to be opened. Signs were being taken down and some of them were kept as souvenirs.

I grabbed one last meal at the Commissary and then made my way, with all the souvenirs that I had bought from two days ago, towards the bus. I originally planned to leave at 12:30, but that soon turned to 1am.

I stopped at the bar, where all the journalists were celebrating the end of the games. The Primetime interns joined and in the brief time we were drinking, we all reflected on what we had just done. But then there were rumors of some epic party on the roof. So went in search of it. It wasn’t on the roof of the MPC. And we had no way of finding the roof to the IBC.

I went to the second floor of the IBC and overheard some of the Canadian broadcasters talking about this supposed rooftop party. But I had a lot of bags with me and a plane to catch. My flight for NYC was scheduled to leave at 9:30 and I was advised to get there five hours before, anticipating the number of people leaving the country with the Games now over.

My 1am departure would never happen. And I failed to catch the 1:30am. I’d finally leave the IBC for the last time at 2am.

I made it back with just enough time to pack. I had a lot to pack and luckily a lot of bags to put them in. There was no way that I could stick with the limit of one checked-in bag. I would eventually pay another 40 quid to check in a second bag.

I did see my roommate, who claimed he was busy hooking up with some girl in another room. I’ll likely never see him again so I wished him best of luck to whatever he plans to do.

A car was scheduled to pick me up at 4:30am. That car never showed up. I’ve been awake since 8am Sunday morning and I was approaching the 24-hour mark with no sleep, lugging around suitcases and backpacks. An NBC employee stationed at the hotel to assist with departures found me a car, but only after walking back to the bus stop where they had cars on standby. What was normally a five minute walk from the hotel felt like the longest walk of my life.

The car brought me to Paddington Station, where I had to take a train to the airport. At this point, I was falling asleep wherever I could, as long as I didn’t miss my stop. I was probably delirious by the time I checked in.

Once I got through security, I found a spot in the terminal where I could kill time. I still had about three hours until departure. I fell in and out of deep sleep, panicking whenever I woke up to make sure I still had all my stuff and to figure out where I was.

I managed to get enough sleep just to get by the next few hours. I even remembered to buy a newspaper and some Cadbury chocolates from the duty free shop.

Finally, as tired as I was, I get the strength to make it on the plane. I left at 9:30AM and got to New York at 12:30PM, jokingly the longest three hours of my life.

Less than 24 hours ago, I received a ticket to the closing ceremony, with feelings of bliss and gratitude.

And while the last day of the games brings a mixed bag of emotions, the day after only means one thing.

Sleep.

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