The 2012 London Olympics passed through the tiny Surrey village of Ripley today. The occurrence last all of maybe three minutes, but it will be remembered by the locals and their children for the rest of their natural lives.
The Men’s Cycling Road Race pedaled a route from London, southwest through outlying suburbs in Surrey, and around again back through the capital city.
That meant that little working class towns and suburban bedroom communities throughout Surrey would play host to the race as it wound its way down narrow, two-lane rural roads.
Ripley – perhaps best known as the birthplace of Eric Clapton – was one of those happy townships today. A short drive from the local train station at Woking, Ripley’s short High Street runs for only three blocks – bordered by the Talbot Inn on one end and The Ship Pub on the other.
I got to Ripley very late the previous night – or early that very morning – to watch Olympic security officials constructing the roadblocks and pedestrian barricades that would line the cylcing route the next morning. Under dark of night at 3 a.m., the sleepy English countryside quickly transformed into a long sporting venue.
To digress and throw out a shameless plug, special kudos go out to Ronnie from Hoebridge Cars dragged his arse out of bed at 3 a.m. to drive me back to my Surrey hotel. If you’re in the London area and want an SAS-trained Scotsman who used to be in the Scots Guards in Northern Ireland before serving as U2’s bodyguard, look him up. He’ll get you where you want to go and – should you run into any trouble – he’ll kick the everliving snot out the backside of anyone who messes with your journey.
After filing stories until 5 a.m., I rose at 10 the next morning and stumbled out into a sunny day to find all of Ripley lining the High Street barricades. Familes, retirees, young couples and constumed teenagers mingled and mashed against each other to wrangle the best photo angle. Local sat on roofs and hung out of second story windows, all with camera ready.
A local radio DJ watched the race live on a laptop using the wifi of a small cafe. Armed with a little amplifier and a handheld microphone, he kept the crowd informed as to the progress of the riders. Meanwhile, the yellow lab sleeping behind him couldn’t have cared less.
As low-flying helicopter thumped its way overhead, the excitment built through the crowd. Several police motorcycles and official Olympic cars sped around the corner and down the Cycling route – all encouraging the crowd to whoop it up and show their UK pride for the brief moments that Ripley would be on international TV.
The DJ announced the riders were moments away, and a roar went up throughout the crowd. Less than 30 seconds later, the first bunch of competitiors streaked around the corner, down about a half block of the High Street, and turned a quick right out of Ripley.
The entire spectacle lasted less than five seconds.
But, it wasn’t over. Team Great Britain was not in that lead group and was still approaching. There was about a two minute lag between groups – which didn’t bode well for the locals’ favorites in the race. However, their roar doubled in volume as the Union Jack’d cyclists made that same brief run through the village.
And then, it was over. A couple camera cars and an ambulance brought up the rear, and the fuss was over. Months of anticipation, days of partying and a couple hours of gathering centered on about three minutes of passing vehicles and maybe 10 seconds of actual local Olympic competition.
But nobody seemed to mind. In fact, they dispersed slowly – their smiles beaming brighter than the unusually perfect British sun. They posed for photos and opened wine bottles. They headed to the local pubs or back home to see how the race ended. (Alexandr Vinokurov of Kazakhstan took the Gold.)
And, they hung a historical marker on a tree in the middle of the High Street. It wears the Five Rings and reads: “28-29 July – Olympics – Cycle Race – 2012.
The locals will be pointing to that sign and smiling for decades to come.
That’s what the Olympics bring to a host country – and a tiny plot in Surrey.