David Owen: Welcome to Lord's, Home of Archery
Thursday, 02 August 2012
You could smell the history: from the spirit of that great bearded bowman, W G Grace; to the figure of Old Father Tell, the world-famous weather vane on the roof of the stand; to the Long Bow Room with its distinctive flamingo pink cushions; to the spectators in the coveted white members' seats, most sporting the traditional T-shirt and shorts – there was just no mistaking that we were in archery's holy of holies.
And just in case you still weren't sure, there were the historic black, blue, red and yellow windsocks billowing loud and proud on the square.
I jest, of course.
For the purposes of London 2012, the world's best-known cricket ground has been borrowed from the sport that brought us "bouncers" and "silly mid-offs" and colonised by the Olympic archery competition.
It makes for an interesting juxtaposition.
The archers, two at a time, shoot away from the elegant pavilion towards the Nursery End.
Some elements of the competition do not look out of place: white lines on the grass – the "shooting line" and the "waiting line" – might almost pass for a popping crease.
And most of the archers wear floppy white hats not dissimilar to those first popularised, I think, by Greg Chappell, the great Australian batsman.
But other details must have the ghosts of former MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) President Sir Pelham Warner, whose portrait still adorns the pavilion staircase, and his ilk wailing.
A big screen urging spectators to "Make Some Noise" would not, one suspects, have been high on his wish list when he presided over the glorious game, which, sadly, is no longer an Olympic sport.
Nor, I think, would he have tapped so much as a little toe when the strains of Katy Perry's Firework came screeching out of the loudspeaker system.
Admittedly, the master of ceremonies had the wit to include Maroon 5's Moves Like Jagger, a tribute to the Stones front man and celebrity cricket fan, on the soundtrack, as well as Moving On Up by MCC People. (OK, sorry for that last one.)
Oh and the camera boxes, camouflaged with artificial turf and, with their long rectangular apertures, bearing a passing resemblance to sub-machine-gun nests, might have given Warner pause for thought.
This must also, I imagine, be the first time in recorded history that the flags of Estonia, Cuba and North Korea (yes, I checked) have fluttered over St John's Wood's premier sporting venue.
As for the sport, well, with my inexpert eye, I can attest that the targets are an awfully long way away – three cricket-pitch lengths or so – and that the athletes, nevertheless, sink their arrows into the bullseye with impressive regularity.
Based on my morning's viewing, I would suggest that South Korea is an archery superpower – an enthusiastically supported one at that – and that Mexico's bow women are also exceptionally talented.
The spectators, mainly in temporary stands at right angles to the pavilion, were close to the action and gave every appearance of enjoying themselves.
I am not sure, on balance, though that this experiment has worked, other than as a fertile source of material for snarky feature-writers like me.
Most glaringly, the venue's wonderful press centre has been rendered almost redundant, except as yet another billboard for the Olympic rings: it is simply in the wrong place for this Olympic archery set-up.
Plus, the association with cricket is so strong, that any other presence inevitably feels like an interloper.
Incidentally, for all the marketing know-how that has been poured into the Games, is there a single London 2012 souvenir as quirky as the Sir Donald Bradman Candle Extinguisher (price £155 [$241/€197]) I saw showcased in the pavilion basement?
I am not sure local tradespeople will have appreciated the interlude from Middlesex and England cricket matches either.
The operative in one local coffee shop told me that a typical daily take on coffee during the cricket season was £1,000 ($1,553/€1,267), but that this had now dropped to around £300 ($466/€381).
"My boss is having a thrombo over it."
David Owen worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2010 World Cup. Owen's Twitter feed can be accessed here