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Kayaker Caroline Queen Reflects On Her Experience At The London Olympics

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.