Admittedly, I wasn’t that fired up about this trip to London for the Summer Olympics. Now that it’s over, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. A few months ago, Hoosiers took pride in how Indianapolis delivered a Super Bowl. London performed equally as well and when you consider the expansiveness of the Olympic venue- probably pulled off a feat much greater than we did.
By now, you now that Gabby Douglas, 16-year old gymnast from the U.S. won a Gold Medal in the Women’s All-Around. Her teammate, Ally Raisman, lost a bronze medal by .001 of a point. I was there on Thursday night and witnessed the ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat. It was incredible joy and heartbreak. That is the Olympic way.
Seated two rows behind me was Shawn Johnson who herself won a Gold and two Silvers in gymnastics at the 2008 Olympics. She was accompanied by Shaun White, U.S. snow boarder, who himself won two Gold medals in the half pipe competition in 2006 and ’10. It was pretty cool to see the two rooting and cheering for American athletes and then standing at attention when the American flag was raised and our national anthem was played.
I had the privilege to see the U.S. win three Gold Medals. Douglas in gymnastics and swimmers Nathan Adrian as well as the U.S. Women’s relay team. In addition, I saw swimmer Rebecca Soni set a world record. I witnessed the duel between Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. As an American, it was a perfect three days except for our men losing in the Beach Volleyball competition on Friday.
These memories will last me for a lifetime, but the most heartwarming aspect of this trip were the Brits, themselves. In a country where kings and queens still rule, there is an intriguing sense of pride that stems from the history of this great nation. It’s a quirky culture with a compelling past. High taxes and religious freedom drove people out of England in the 18th Century.
London was founded back in 43 A.D. by the Romans. It has endured all kinds of strife. Plagues, religious wars, civil wars, world wars and pretty much anything you can think of. Queen Elizabeth II has reigned for 61 years. Only Queen Victoria, a ruler for 63 years, has a longer tenure. Believe, it or not, England has only had six Queens over the Centuries and two queens have 124 years of combined service, proving again that when you give women control- they won’t give it up.
I took a break Friday morning from the Olympics and took a trip to Windsor Castle. This is the favorite retreat of Queen Elizabeth II. It is here, where at 86 years old, she still hunts and rides her horses. Elizabeth ascended the throne in 1952 upon the death of her father, George VI. The queen’s mum died at the age of 101 in 2002. Prince Charles, at age 64, may never see the throne if his own mum has the family genes.
Windsor Castle was built in 1086 by William the Conqueror. It was the first of nine castles that he built around London. All were 25 miles apart because that’s how far his army could march in a day. Windsor is the largest castle in the world today. It is also home of the St. George’s Chapel where ten reigning monarchs have been entombed over the centuries. There is no better way to brush up on English history than to tour the famed chapel.
St. George’s was built by a chap named Virtue. Thus the term, patience is a virtue, because of the elaborate and ornate stone carvings that took years to complete. Many famous monarchs are buried here, but none more curious than Henry VIII. This king had six wives and ordered wives #2 and #5 to be decapitated. There seems to be doubts as to the validity of wife #2’s fate. She evidently had the bad luck of not delivering Henry a son in timely fashion. Wife #5 was unfaithful.
It seems that Henry VIII was a mammoth figure in many ways. Well over six-feet tall and weighing more than two hundred pounds, he was in a serious accident when his horse toppled and crushed him, both Henry and the horse fully clad in armor. The accident resulted in Henry suffering serious injuries and eventually growing to over 400 pounds and not being of sound mind.
However, the English love Henry VIII for being a great sportsman and introducing fine art to the country. He was fluent in French and well ahead of his time in self-defense. He instituted murder holes above the arches of Windsor. It was here that Henry planned to pour boiling urine, stored in vats at Windsor, on intruders to the castle. He didn’t want to waste fresh water, tar or any other useful commodity so he had residents of Windsor store their urine.
The most bizarre king buried inside Windsor is Charles I. He proclaimed himself as “God’s King on Earth” and if that wasn’t enough, he dissolved Parliament. This prompted his cousin, Oliver Cromwell, to order the king imprisoned. After further review, Cromwell who was also the State Executioner ordered Charles beheaded. On January 30, 1649 King Charles I was marched to the guillotine.
It was a cold winter day and the King requested several layers of shirts so he would not be seen shivering in the bitter freeze and look scared to the public. Upon his execution, his head was sewed back on and he was buried at St. George’s. I asked Maureen, my tour guide, about the logic here.
“Well, King Charles died as a reigning Monarch. So, he was entitled to a proper burial. That’s just how we do it here,” replied Maureen.
Windsor Castle is beautiful, so much so that Hitler spared it during his 47 day bombing blitz on London during World War II. He wanted to preserve the castle for his own use in anticipation of a Nazi takeover.
Nearby Windsor, hundreds of swans swim the famed Thames River. The swans belong to Her Majesty the Queen and each fall the British perform a task called “Swanupping” and count the flock to make sure that none are missing. And if they are, a search and discovery mission takes place to determine the fate of the missing swans. No doubt Swan poachers are beheaded.
Greatest Olympic story of the week? GB’s Peter Wilson won the Gold Medal in Double Trap Shooting. The former English snow boarder was injured three years ago and resurrected his career in trap shooting. “It is a dream come true,” said Wilson.