I exit the Metro at Coloseo late in the evening, it’s dark and I’ve never been here before. The floodlit spectrum before me is instantly recognisable; it’s the Coliseum, so this must be Rome. Childhood stories of heroic Gladiators, a Lion who refused to eat a Christian and the movie Sparticus are all part of the history that was the Roman Empire. My Mum always said it was the most successful empire ever, lasting more or less over a thousand years. Much longer than the British Empire, she said. To be fair, she didn’t know about the Incas 3.5 thousand years or the Aztecs who went for 2,750.
My Mr B&B accommodation is a short walk from the Coliseum and my host’s American husband is on hand to greet me to a small but beautifully appointed ground floor apartment. Todd has plenty of good advice of what to see and where to eat locally – and there’s a welcoming bottle of Prosecco.
There’s been considerable uncertainty about the LGBT Eurogames here with lack of information and conflicting reports. The website now doesn’t have the information – schedules and heat sheets, so I’m looking for some answers at the accreditation evening tomorrow. Early morning emails from the organisers inform me that accreditation has moved from the Games Village to a café due to anticipated rain, but my first priority is buying breakfast stuff from the Carrefour supermarket a short walk away.
I’ve got time this morning, to explore and spot a likely candidate highlighted by my host on the handy map of Rome. Scala Santa houses the marble steps which Jesus (allegedly) climbed twice on the day of his death in the Jerusalem palace of Pontius Pilate. These were brought to Rome by St Helen and laid from top to bottom by the workmen so that no one walked on them. For several centuries , they were covered with wood to prevent wearing of the marble but now they have been restored so the faithful may once again engage with the same steps as Christ. Today the stairs must be climbed on hands and knees as an act of faith and devotion. As I don’t claim to have either of these, I take the alternative staircase, which looks much the same to me. At the top, the chapels are crudely frescoed and I don’t spend much time looking. I guess this is an experience for the faithful, although a party of Japanese tourists are crawling up the stairs. I wonder?
The Basilica San Giovani in Laterno, just across the road looks more impressive. The edifice is huge and the building seemingly attached (this happens a lot in Rome) is something to do with Rome Opera. Not many are crowding in the door and it’s free with a relaxed security check. Inside, It’s massive and uncrowded. I later discover that this is the official cathedral of the Pope, the Bishop of Rome. He has his throne here, it’s the centre of his diocese. Back at the Coliseum, I explore the Domus Aurea, a hill where part of Nero’s palace looked down on a lake where the Coliseum now stands. It’s all under re-construction and only parts of this once extensive and lavish complex can be glimpsed. Nero was so unpopular that much of what he built was destroyed and recycled. I consider visiting the Coliseum but there’s a queue. I can see that the interior is mostly in ruins and being reconstructed. I walk up towards the Forum, but you need a ticket to go there, instead I walk up an alley-way to get a view. An African trader of wooden trinkets, I passed earlier, has gathered his wares and is running up the hill looking behind as he goes. This is a blind alley leading to a church so I’m surprised to see the young African being escorted by Police down the hill. One of them is carrying his rucksack – I didn’t notice them overtake me. It all looks quite relaxed, and for the African (chatting to his captors) a common occurrence.
My weekly pass is a great deal and I follow other sporty-looking people to the accreditation. I spot two women ahead – on of them is Viv Woodcock – Downey from BLAGS and the Gay Games committee. I interviewed her for Out for Sport – nice to have a familiar person to chat with in the queue. The other woman is her wife, who is competing in the discus. The café might have been chosen for its long and gently sloping incline to the bar where there is a library – yes real books to go with the beer and coffee. The Queue is huge, taking up all of the incline then snaking over the stage – someone briefly plays the grand piano. Word is that none of the people handing out accreditation badges have answers to our questions. There’s to be a meeting of the swimming team leaders at 7pm. As I’m the senior of the three from Out to Swim, I volunteer myself to attend. Thank goodness for our WhatsApp group as I’m able to collect a team mate’s badge – he’s been delayed at Gatwick Airport.
No one knows exactly where this meeting will take place and we’re all sitting around waiting. Suddenly it materialises with a presentation of an alternative schedule of events – quite different from the original. Gay Swim Amsterdam object as they have swimmers arriving on Friday who would miss out on their events. Apparently, the Netherlands Swimming Body fines swimmers who don’t turn up for their races. The original schedule is reinstated in a flash with no resistance. The Warm up is now at eight-thirty, races start at nine and it is a fifty-metre pool – outside. There are, however, no heat sheets.
My host’s recommended restaurant, overflowing at lunchtime is now quieter. They do a great seafood pasta dish and salad, perfect to carb-up for racing tomorrow.
Thursday morning, I wake at seven. Panic – I haven’t set my alarm and I’ve got thirty minutes to have breakfast, shave and leave the apartment. This would normally take me a leisurely hour. The trains are all on time, my weekly ticket will take me all the way to the coast and google maps assures me that I’ll be there by eight-forty – still enough time to do some warm-up. Outside the Stella Polari station and I follow a couple of other late swimmers. It’s not clear where the entrance is and we all go down the wrong side – some signs, as we had in New York two weeks ago, could have been useful.
My warm-up is rushed and the pool is too warm – I’m not slicing through the water as in NY – still, I have time to use the twenty-fiver metre pool inside to complete my warm-up. It’s deliciously cool by comparison. When I signed up for this there was no schedule and so, just entered seven of my usual events. It turns out that the 400m freestyle, the 200m Backstroke and 800m freestyle are all scheduled for today. I’m allowed five events over the three days – the 400 falls by the wayside. Suddenly there’s a heat sheet and I’m trying to support our two relatively inexperienced swimmers to get to their races and warm up properly. A marshalling area gathers the swimmers in their heats and I can see that It’s all completely relaxed and professional. There are no hints of hysteria or panic – these officials know exactly what they are doing. There’s even time to announce each swimmer and their country. National identity, it seems, is important in Europe. The Netherlands and Germany are here in force – also Portugal, Belgian, Spain and France. Suddenly the 200m Backstroke looms. It seems like a struggle, with the lack of preparation, but it turns out to be only a few seconds under time.
There’s now an opportunity to do a 4 x 50m Medley relay – not officially – just for fun. We have to make up a fourth team member- Nicolas (French but swimming for Stockholm) helps out. We’re giving James and Federico some experience. As Federico mainly does backstroke and James is best at Front Crawl, I end up doing the Breaststroke, but that’s OK as I need the practice. I’m not sure where we came – possibly last but we swam and our names are recorded on the official Italian site, but there’s no time entered.
The electricity is off in the pool café, so no espresso, just a tuna and spinach sandwich on white bread. It’s enough to get me through the 800m on a reasonable time – faster than Crawley back in January – leaving me with two gold medals in one day.
It’s the opening ceremony of the games tonight. There’s a huge contingent of Brits here – hockey, football, rugby and volleyball. OTS have four Water Polo teams here so we three swimmers are not entirely alone. We all assemble at a small stadium for a short wait. There’s a rumour that only ten people from each country should march in. My legs like that idea, but it turns out not to be true. We gather on the stadium pitch in a semicircle facing the spectators and watch a graceful aerial artist perform to the accompaniment of a live opera singer. What else would you expect in Italy? Once we are seated in the stand, there are the usual interminable speeches. Every politician in Rome has to have their say and it’s all the same words. Proud, inclusive, welcoming – which all has to be translated into English – the language the rest of Europe understands. Yes, we are leaving Europe (I think) but the British legacy is the language of commerce and we can’t undo that. There follows more dancing – sexy and together. We all agree, an improvement on the Paris Gay games performance.