WFAE followed Davidson College junior and Olympic kayaker Caroline Queen’s Olympic experience. As the fall semester got underway, she spoke to Duncan McFadyen about her time in London.
MCFADYEN: What was it like, going over to London, knowing you were competing in the Olympic Games? Tell us some of your experiences.
Well I think London was a wonderful host city. Everyone was really excited to have us, and it was pretty well organized from what I could tell. It was just an incredible experience overall; definitely unique.
MCFADYEN: Tell us about where you stayed, what the Olympic village was like and your interaction with other athletes.
QUEEN: It felt like a college campus; everything was very close together. Everybody was new, but had sort of a purpose and was really glad to be there. So it was a really great environment to train in.
MCFADYEN: Are you sort of separated off by the sport you’re in or the country you’re from? How does that work?
QUEEN: The apartments are organized by countries, but it’s not that big of a space. So you see people from different countries. And because I was the only female representative [in kayaking], I roomed with people from all different sports. I was with two divers and a field hockey player.
MCFADYEN: Interesting, so really a communal atmosphere. Do you eat together in a dining hall?
QUEEN: Yes, the dining hall was huge. I forget what the statistic was, but it was big enough to hold hundreds of double-decker buses.
MCFADYEN: Do you get to interact with other Olympic athletes? Are the big names like Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte eating and staying alongside you? Do you get to hang out?
QUEEN: Yeah, I didn’t see any of the swimmers, but I did see a lot of the gymnasts around. There were a lot of high-profile athletes around, and it was very cool to see everyone participating equally.
MCFADYEN: You’re all sort of at the same level.
QUEEN: Right, exactly.
MCFADYEN: So often times, the Olympic village has the reputation of having a party atmosphere. You describe it as a college campus. Did you find that to be the case?
QUEEN: Wild and crazy is a little much, but sometimes there were teams that were out celebrating. I think everyone tried to keep it somewhat manageable since people were still competing in the middle of the games when I left.
MCFADYEN: And tell us about your last night in the village.
QUEEN: Well I came home from the Team USA house and I saw the Colombian team---I’m not sure what [sport] team they were---and they were out celebrating, dancing. So it was kind of cool to see their victory celebration.
MCFADYEN: And I guess different celebrations depending on the night, on who was bringing home the gold?
QUEEN: Right, and each team and individual competes on one or two days. So you could be done [with your event] after the first day of competition and stay there the whole time.
MCFADYEN: And you’re allowed to stay until the closing ceremonies.
QUEEN: That’s right.
MCFADYEN: What about the city outside of Olympics, did you experience a lot of gridlock? Did you get to see a lot of the tourist sites?
QUEEN: Yes, we spent a lot of time prior to the Olympics in the UK training, so we saw quite a bit. We’ve seen most of the big sites. My family and I also got to see “Spamalot” and “Rock of Ages;” we loved it.
MCFADYEN: Wow, so you went over how long before the games actually began
QUEEN: We went over on the opening day of the Olympic village, which was the 16th of July.
MCFADYEN: Tell me about…were you in the opening ceremonies?
QUEEN: Yes, I was.
MCFADYEN: Tell me what that was like. How early did you have to get to the staging area? What is it like to walk into that giant stadium?
QUEEN: It was definitely a process. We walked about a mile, I think, from the [Olympic] village to the stadium. And it took a long time, but it really didn’t feel that long, because veryone was really excited to be there. There were a lot of American supporters. And I think they had to slow us down a few times; we were urging forward a bit.
MCFADYEN: What happens after the torch is lit and the TV cameras turn off? How do you disperse from something like that?
QUEEN: Well it’s not a formal dispersion at all. Everyone just kind of goes. Everybosy is geared up for competition at that point, and the spectacle is --- temporarily--- on hold.
MCFADYEN: Speaking of competition, tell us what it was like. Did you feel different because it was the Olympics? Did you feel comfortable on the course there?
QUEEN: It was definitely the biggest crowd we’ve ever had. That was great to see, all the support. They did a really good job of managing the noise from the stands; I didn’t think it was distracting. It was awesome, just the whole experience
MCFADYEN: And tell us about your performance there.
QUEEN: I could’ve done better, honestly. I had some mistakes in the qualification round that kept me from moving to the semifinal. But the preparation I thought was good. The training was good. It’s just sometimes, when you’re working with a moving medium, you’ve got to be on your toes, and I missed some things there.
MCFADYEN: So this is your first Olympics…
MCFADYEN: Are you planning now for 2016 in Rio?
QUEEN: Yes, I’ll definitely pursue it. It’s one thing to pursue it and one thing to get it. But, since I got it this year, it’s definitely possible
MCFADYEN: You want to go back
QUEEN: I do, absolutely.
MCFADYEN: What is the experience that most stands out to you from everything about the Olympic experience?
QUEEN: I think I just understand why people dedicate so much time and energy to the pursuit of the Olympic Games. I’m still a fairly young athlete, and going to the Olympics is what the older athletes are doing and trying to do, so I thought, “OK, let’s do that!” It really is a special event where everybody’s priority is the celebration of sport. Intense but friendly competition and that’s great.