Local family experiences Olympic history in London

August 14, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Giant Olympic rings dangle from the Tower Bridge as a double-decker bus crosses the span. Contributed By Sue Hamke

London extinguished the Olympic flame in a glitzy, star-studded ceremony Aug. 12, after 16 days defined by milestones reached, records shattered and, for a local family, a golden opportunity to experience the 2012 Summer Olympics up close.

Sue Hamke — joined by husband Kurt, daughter Jessica and son Tyler — left the Sammamish Plateau for London in early August.

The family attended the Winter Olympics in 2002, 2006 and 2010, but London offered the Hamkes a chance to experience the Summer Olympics in a familiar setting. The family lived just outside the city from 2004-06, as the International Olympic Committee awarded the games to London and preparations for the event started in earnest.

The games, clustered in futuristic venues constructed mostly in London’s East End, did not disappoint.

“The amazing thing about the Olympics is seeing athletes from all over the world and how the crowd cheers for them all,” Sue Hamke recalled Aug. 12.

The family, seated high in Olympic Stadium, watched Sarah Attar make history.

“We saw the first woman ever allowed to compete in an Olympics from Saudi Arabia run in the 800 meters,” Hamke continued. “She finished well behind the others in her heat, but she received a standing ovation by the crowd as she completed her last lap.”

London reflected a transformation from the years the Hamkes lived about 30 miles from the city.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing the venues that they built for the Olympics,” particularly the ArcelorMittal Orbit — a twisting observation tower rising 377 feet above Olympic Park — Hamke said in a pre-Olympics interview.

The security cordon for the Olympics and crowds from around the globe also exemplified the changes.

“I just have confidence in the security,” Sue Hamke said in the pre-Olympics interview.

The family remembers a 2005 terrorist attack against the London subway system, or the Tube. Kurt Hamke escaped unscathed from the bombings in the London Underground.

The security concerns faded into memory as the Hamkes raced from venue to venue.

The docket also included the women’s marathon along the streets of London, a table tennis match between Korea and Hong Kong, and a women’s field hockey match between the United States and New Zealand. (New Zealand eliminated the United States, 3-2.)

The family also headed to Earls Court to watch the U.S. women’s volleyball team outmaneuver Turkey, en route to a silver medal. (Brazil nabbed the gold.)

The lineup of events hinged on luck. Spectators purchase tickets in a pool, and often do not know the countries competing in the team events until the event day arrives.

Olympic Stadium and the elegant cauldron — fashioned from 204 tulip-shaped copper petals to represent the number of nations participating in the games — captivated the Hamkes.

“Being made up of individual leaves, it was an artistic metaphor for all the countries coming together and we thought it really embodied the Olympic spirit,” Sue Hamke said.

Spectators seated near the cauldron could feel heat emanating from the flames.

“There was a huge amount of support and display of national pride for Team Great Britain, unlike we have seen before. The local volunteers were friendly, informative, everywhere and extremely helpful,” she said after the games ended. “As the games went on, the level of enthusiasm for the Olympics grew with the locals and, as a result, they have exceeded the record for ticket sales for the Paralympics.”

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