London Calling Blog: The Games Are Here
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2000 Bulgarian Olympian Christian Ivanov continues his blog, "London Calling," for International Gymnast Online, through which he will be sharing his experiences visiting the Olympic host city.

July 27: The Olympics Officially Begin

The plan today was for a long day of sightseeing! On the way to the underground station it was a nice surprise to bump into IG writer John Crumlish. He is working as the Olympic News Service's sports information specialist for gymnastics.

Around 10 a.m. I got off the Tube right on Westminster, one of the most touristy locations in London. As soon as you emerge to ground level the first thing that pops up in your view is the stunning House of Parliament with its incredible Gothic architecture. Of course attached next to it is the famous Big Ben.

Me in front of the famous Big Ben

Westminster Abbey was very impressive also. I took an hour-long tour and I found it fascinating. Marble floors, stain glass chapels, all the tombs depicting the history of England, and many memorials of famous English writers, politicians, scientists and such. It was simply amazing to be there and see it all in person.


In the very same area, just on the south bank of the river, is the London Eye, the famous ferris wheel. Of course I took the ride, about 30 minutes. Once we got to the top, in addition to all historic buildings, I was able to see the beach volleyball arena, and in fact I was able to spot some activities as well. It was cool to spot an Olympic sport and Olympic venue from the top of the ride!

Inside the London Eye, the famous ferris wheel on the Thames

Venue for the beach volleyball competition, as seen from the London Eye

Additional sightseeing included a trip to the world-renowned department store Harrods. Inside the store there was a huge billboard with a Louis Smith advertisement for adidas. In addition, I also took a photo of a cool window-shop outside of Harrods again with Louis for adidas. And along with other British Olympic medal hopefuls, Louis was on the cover of one of the local newspapers today. In other words, he is pretty big here!

Louis Smith ad outside the famous Harrods department store

A close-up of the ad

More Louis!

Well, like I mentioned in my last blog it was going to be relatively uneventful day at the training halls today for gymnastics. I believe all gymnasts were limited to one training, and probably that served everyone well. The women had just finished their podium training yesterday, and the men are about to begin their competition tomorrow. And although Bulgarian gymnastics legend Jordan Jovtchev gets to carry the flag for our country I am pretty certain that few other gymnasts will be able to see the Opening Ceremony in person. There is simply too much risk of not recovering perfectly for the important qualification competition going on over the next two days. In a way it is unfortunate that gymnasts have to miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of marching in with their country, but everyone knows the Olympics means so much more than celebration.

A sculpture of a rhythmic gymnast

Right now, I'm flooded with memories of how I was feeling 12 years ago on the eve of the Sydney Olympics. We, the Bulgarian team, were drawn in the first subdivision of men's qualification. That meant a wake up call at 4:30 a.m. We played cards until the ceremony started, and then went to bed around 9 o'clock. Everyone was very serious, trying to get ourselves mentally ready for the big day. I knew I had a good shot at the high bar final, but had to deal with the bad luck of getting that first session when the scores were typically tighter. But I was so happy to be representing my country in the sport I love at the Olympic Games — like so many gymnasts, I had battled back from injury just to make it to the Olympics, tearing my Achilles a year and a half before Sydney. I had a chance and all I could do was my best.

What was amazing to me still was my physical condition and that I felt at the peak of my abilities. I still remember feeling this incredible sense of, "I can't be prepared any better than this." This didn't mean I wasn't nervous. On my best event, the high bar, I was performing a brand new skill (inside Stalder to a full-twisting layout Tkatchev) but I was certain that I would catch it. Even though I didn't advance to the final (I scored 9.687, .05 from qualifying), I will always be proud of that moment, that day in my life in Australia. The Olympics were the competition that I felt the best ever before performing, prepared to the absolute maximum, which is what the Games are for. Thousands of hours had gone into that moment. I had this feeling that missing any my skills would be actually impossible, and it was almost a freaky feeling. Watching the Opening Ceremonies tonight I know that most of the athletes in all the sports preparing must be in this same nearly "supernatural" shape, ready to show the world what they can do.

Good luck to all the athletes - may the Olympics be your best moment!

Some street artists had painted flags of the world on the sidewalk, and people threw coins on for luck. Here I spot the Bulgarian flag!
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