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James DeGale struck gold in Beijing

What are the best seats in the Olympic house?

Nick Metcalfe @Nick_Metcalfe

What to buy, what to buy? The days tick by and I can’t be alone in being undecided over the best events to attend at the London Olympics.

With the greatest show in sport hitting London next year, many of us will have the chance to see some of the world’s greatest athletes on our doorstep.

The first thing you need to remember about the Olympics is that so much happens simultaneously. Speaking from experience sometimes you seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Your Olympic experience in 2012 won’t be complete until someone tells you, ‘You should have been at the water polo, it was brilliant.’

Because the story often seems to be unfolding elsewhere, even when you’re lucky enough to be watching an event, there are times when you long to be on the sofa spending quality time with Sue Barker and Brendan Foster. You will just have to learn to appreciate the enjoyment of simply being at the Games.

The true heart and soul of any Olympic Games for me is the athletics. Indeed, I’ve always been of the belief that a great night of Olympic track and field beats anything else in sport. I was fortunate enough to be in Athens seven years ago on the night Kelly Holmes won the first of her two gold medals in the 800 metres, screaming like a lunatic throughout the final lap as she fought through the field to claim a thrilling victory.

I drank the night away in celebration with a few other sporting obsessives and remember stumbling back to my Piraeus hotel as the sun was coming up. It is moments like that that mean I will certainly be applying for a few nights of athletics in Stratford. The cheapest athletics tickets for an evening session are £50, and that certainly represents decent value.

What about the rest though? Well, the most popular events remain the same regardless of year or venue. Swimming and gymnastics are just behind athletics at the top of that list. The first week of the Games is largely dominated by events in the pool, and there are guaranteed to be a host of thrilling races.

There’s even more reason to be excited by the swimming this time, with the prospect of a meeting between Michael Phelps and Ian Thorpe, two greats of the sport who have won 19 Olympic gold medals between them.

I always think I won’t be sucked in by gymnastics, but usually find myself entranced by the different disciplines and breathtaking skills. And the sport has a habit of throwing up a couple of stars of the whole Games; think Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci.

The truth is that you could head nearly anywhere during the two weeks of the Games and see something special. If you’re desperate to cheer home athletes on to gold, you could do worse than head for the rowing or cycling.

In the former, British success over the last 30 years has been the stuff of legend, while God Save The Queen was played almost on a continuous loop in the velodrome in Beijing, such was the success of British cyclists. I recall the Australians teasing British athletes for claiming most of their Beijing victories in “sitting down” sports, but that was nothing more than the usual banter from our lovable cousins.

The mocking of football at the Olympics has become a lazy cliche for me, one I’ve been dismissing for a while now, but more so since watching the final in Beijing. It wasn’t so much for the quality of the match between Argentina and Nigeria, which kicked off at the ludicrous time of midday – to suit television – in what can only be described as a furnace, but the reaction of the players afterwards. They weren’t giving the impression that it didn’t matter, let’s put it that way.

Olympic football has a rich history, and because of this country’s obsession with the game, it will seem like a bigger deal this time around. And tickets to watch matches are cheap too. You can see one of the men’s quarter-finals for as little as £20.

Tennis at Wimbledon will appeal to many, and I sense visitors in particular will head down to SW19 because the venue has an almost iconic status. I surely won’t be the only one to give it a miss though, on the grounds that it will only have been a few weeks since the world’s top players battled it out at the most famous tournament of them all.

If you go and see volleyball, why not plump for the real thing, not the impostor that, in my humble opinion, should never have been invited to the Olympic show in the first place. Horse Guards Parade will provide a splendid backdrop for television viewers around the world of course, but I wish it was being used for something more serious than beach volleyball. Still, different strokes for different folks.

If I were to stick my neck out and recommend one sport in particular for you, it would be table tennis. Beijing provided an education in the game. I’ve always enjoyed a gentle game of ping-pong, and even thought I was decent until I made an appearance at one of the public table tennis parks in the Chinese capital. Judging by the looks I received from some of the locals, they hadn’t seen anybody that ordinary before.

The national sport was all over television in the summer of 2008 in China, with the top stars on the front pages of newspapers and magazines. I have to admit this wasn’t without its frustrations as I recall lurching from bar to bar pleading with bemused owners to show the athletics for a few minutes. Putting that aside, when you watch it live you can appreciate the nuances involved a lot more, including the incredible spin put on the ball.

If you like your boxing, the Olympics can be the perfect showcase for champions of the future. I will long remember the excitement of watching one of Amir Khan’s early fights in the company of his family and friends in Athens. I had a funny feeling that I was at the beginning of something rather special.

I don’t think enough has been made of the free sport on offer, particularly in these difficult economic times. The road cycling races on the opening weekend will take place across London and the Home Counties, and will provide plenty of home interest with Mark Cavendish and Nicole Cooke among those in contention for medals.

As the Games reach their climax there are the men’s and women’s marathons, which will doubtless provide their usual colour. As for the others, take your pick.

But don’t forget to apply by Tuesday. If you miss out this time, getting to Rio may take rather more planning.

Submit your application by 11.59pm on 26th April at www.tickets.london2012.com

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