On Thursday I went out for a coffee with one of my friends who told me about a parade and concert the next day celebrating the return of the Kazakhstani Olympic team.
There didn’t seem to be much information online but I did discover that the main roads would be closed around the centre between 1 and 3pm.
Before I left for the UK in June there was little talk in Astana about the Olympics. However, I had heard quite a bit about them at school as we had been asked to host the British embassy presentation to celebrate 100 days until the Olympics, as well as being lucky to meet some of the cycling squad at the Velodrome earlier in the year.
The embassy had invited the press and other interested parties to the school for a viewing of the Olympic promotional film and we laid on a few races involving children and staff. The most exciting part came when one of the embassy staff almost had their hand blown off by the starter pistol! Once we had checked they were not badly hurt, I realised I wanted to be part of the Olympics myself so we went on the website during our break time at work and bought tickets to see the women’s football final at Wembley!
However, when I returned to the UK I was greeted with more apathy! Nobody seemed interested and seemed to believe it was going to be a disaster – particularly after the security firm scandal! And then something changed!
I was lucky enough to be in London during the games and the mood was fantastic! There were friendly helpful faces of volunteers on every street corner and everyone was either watching the games or talking about them!
Where I was in Kingston-upon-Thames I managed to miss the torch coming through and the men’s cycle race but did get to enjoy the atmosphere as the women’s bike race sped over Kingston bridge from Hampton, albeit from under an umbrella (the heavens opened and a thunderstorm started just as they came through) in a pub by the river!
At one point we were looking to the telly and then to the bridge and although we only got to see the helmets, it was really exciting. The whole place was on its feet as the ladies reached the finishing line in central London-just 20 minutes after they had passed us!
We had hoped to watch the British football team compete for the medal in Wembley when we went along on the 9th, but eventually it was to be Japan against the USA. The US team beat the Japanese team, who had had a number of opportunities! It turned out that most of the crowd were Americans so Wembley erupted when the final whistle was blown.
A few days later I landed in Astana and was aware straight away of how proud the country was of their sports men and women. There were banners and flags everywhere!! Kazakhstan was at one point fifth in the medal table and won seven gold medals in total. Overall they scooped 13 medals making it an unprecedented success for their country! One of them in the cycle race which I had narrowly missed!
So when I heard about the parade and concert I was quite keen to go along and cheer the team home. I had read they would be parading the streets around the Baiteryk tower so I caught the bus towards the tower.
On the way I noticed a large number of police and flags and then the tour buses so I jumped off the bus and realised I was outside one of the smarter hotels of Astana. On the large screens of the media centre a loop of films showing the gold medal winners in action was being shown.
As I waited by the side of the road, more and more flag-wielding Kazakhs joined me and I felt a little like an impostor – not being Kazakh or waving a flag! The women next to me explained where the route would take the athletes – up to the Pyramid, or Palace of Independence to meet the President and then we stood and waited! And waited!
The policeman next to us lit a cigarette and some older people moved on. As we stood 20, then 20 more and then 20 more bus loads of people were deposited around us. I thought that this was some sort of rent-a-crowd, but I managed to catch a glimpse of the front of one of the buses which stated they were from kindergartens, schools and colleges around the area.
The lady next to me commented on how proud she was that her country laid on this transport for the people. A man came running up with a signed picture of the weightlifting champion… and then the police cyclists mounted their motorbikes. Four open-top black limousines shot past us containing the gold medal winners holding their medals and waving! Then I realised I had waited nearly 2 hours for 35 seconds to clap the athletes – I had hoped they would have gone slower!
A strange parade of Harley Davidsons flying the Kazakh flag followed and everyone started to leave! Sadly I was so jet lagged in the evening that I only managed to look out of my window to see the fireworks. I wasn’t too bothered though as my friendly Olympic friend had told me there was going to be a disocteka, the volume of which I know, from past experience, my ears would struggle to cope with!