There was already a queue stretching along St John’s Wood Road when the media shuttle bus pulled up at the hallowed home of cricket at 8.15am this morning. Most of those waiting outside the East Gate entrance at Lord’s were cameramen from South Korea, one of whom had the five-ringed Olympic insignia dyed into the back of his closely-cropped hair.
Close to the gate there were a hundred or so folk without media accreditation tags engaged in conversation with Olympic volunteers. They had turned up under the mistaken impression that the first event in London of the XXX Olympics, the men’s and women’s archery ranking rounds, would be open to the general public.
Some had travelled from as far afield as Amsterdam and Cincinnati on the strength of the closed session being billed on the Games website as “unticketed.” Others had read in a magazine that there were 6, 500 free tickets available.
Sadly for them, that was never the case. The archery ranking round – featuring all 64 archers shooting in unison at 22 separate targets – was always going to be held away from the main arena at Lord’s, in the nets area behind the Nursery End stand. There are just four rows of white plastic seats there – room enough for only officials, coaches and the media.
Still, the London Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, apologised for the confusion. “We’ve given people complaint forms and a telephone number for them to lodge their complaints,” a LOCOG spokesperson said. “We didn’t manage expectations on this. I can only apologise.”
At least Groucho Marx made it through the gates when he visited Lord’s in 1958 - although he was refused access to the lower tier of the Warner Stand. When the great wisecracker did manage to find a seat in the ground, after two hours of Test match play he turned to his companion and said, “So when is this thing going to start?”
At precisely 9am today, the hooter sounded and the 64 bowmen let rip with a whirring volley down towards the targets. Only 35 of the nearby seats were occupied – one of them by Sir Clive Woodward, the elite performance director of the British Olympic Association, who was later joined by the Princess Royal.
Also in attendance was a gentleman from L’Equipe, the French daily sports newspaper. “My name’s Alex Bardot,” he said. “As in Brigitte.”
Did he happen to be a Gallic cricket aficionado by any chance? “No,” Monsieur Bardot confessed. “I have seen it on television. I don’t understand anything in that sport.
“I do know that Lord’s is a special place. Someone was telling me that there is a special door over there.”
He was talking, about the wooden gate that leads on to the hallowed sward in the main arena next door - where the archers will move for their head to head competition matches, starting with the men’s team event today.
All the greats of the leather on willow game have passed through the little white swing gate before but none have managed a score in excess of 350 in Test match action. Graham Gooch’s 333 against India in 1990 tops the all-time charts in the 198-year-old place.
With his 72 shots yesterday, the South Korean Im Dong-hyun racked up more than double that – 699 out of a possible 720, breaking his own world record score. It is fair to say that the 25-year-old is the Don Bradman, WG Grace, Sachin Tendulkar and Sir Garfield Sobers of his homeland, where bowmanship is held in the very highest sporting esteem.
Im also happens to be legally blind, with vision of 20/100 in his right eye and 20/200 in his left. It leaves the rainbow colours of the archery target looking blurred to him, yet he can still manage to locate the bright golden centre with the accuracy of a latter day Robin Hood.
Sadly, Im declined to share his feelings to the media, offering only a thumbs up on his way out of the arena. South Korea have come to dominate Olympic archery and they finished first, second and third in the men’s individual ranking today.
The best of the rest of the world, in fourth with a personal best of 680, was Larry Godfrey, the 30-year-old Bristolian with the highlighted mop who has been dubbed “the Kevin Pietersen of archery.”
“Lord’s is a good place to be,” he said. “I think in any historic venue you can feel the old salts sort of coming into you….I know WG Grace will be with me when I walk down those stairs tomorrow.”
As it should be for any bearded, larger than life sporting Bristolian. “He was from Downend,” Godfrey pointed out. “I lived in Downend for a bit.”
Godfrey has a little way to go yet to match the good doctor in both the beard and the legend stakes but it was a momentous day for one British archer, Alison Williamson making a record-equalling sixth Olympic appearance. She finished 47 in the women’s individual ranking round. The British women were 11 in the team ranking and the men eighth.
It was certainly not cricket. And it was not the first time that bows and arrows had been employed at Lord’s. Back in 1844 a group of Iowan Indians, led by Chief Mew-Hu-She-Kaw, appeared there for what was billed as an ‘Indian Archery Fete and Festival.’
It was an exercise that was never repeated. Someone must have had their reservations.