THE Olympics came to dramatic life for 10 lucky South Tynesiders at the weekend.
The Gazette competition winners took to the track at London’s new Olympic Park – the centrepiece of track and field events this summer.
They were among 5,000 people who took part in the five-mile National Lottery Olympic Park Run on Saturday.
The event started outside the park, before passing alongside other London 2012 venues in the capital, including the basketball arena.
But the undoubted highlight was finishing on the home straight inside the gigantic new stadium.
Finbarr Lynch, 30, a sports coach from South Shields, was one of the lucky ones picked out of the competition hat.
Despite attempts to acquire tickets for track and field events at this summer’s Games, he is yet to be successful.
And having the chance to run into the stadium and be greeted by 12,000 roaring spectators was the ‘chance of a lifetime’.
In the event, he completed the run in a more-than-impressive 35 minutes – just 10 minutes behind the winner.
Mr Lynch said: “It was fantastic, really a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it has made me more anxious to get a ticket for the games. Running into the stadium is something I will never forget.
“I know it’s still not completely finished but it is such an imposing and impressive structure. It will be amazing when it is full to capacity.”
Among the other competitors was 20-year-old marketing entrepreneur Grant Ridley, from Hebburn, who described the experience as ‘epic’ after completing the run in just a shade under 48 minutes.
He said: “It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Running into the stadium and hearing the roar of the crowd is something I will never forget. I did a sprint for the line for the last 100 metres. I loved it.”
Mr Ridley, who is in training for the Great North Run, rubbed shoulders with several athletes and personalities during the Olympic curtain-raiser, including glamorous TV presenters Holly Willoughby and Jenni Falconer.
He added: “It really got me into the mood for the Olympics – I have tickets for the football final at Wembley and for one of the games at St James’s Park. The stadium itself was totally epic, really enormous.
“There was a real buzz in the stadium on the day, so you can imagine what it’s going to be like during the Games itself. I can’t wait.”
Another competitor was teacher Steven Medd, 33, an experienced runner who has competed in marathons, half-marathons and several road races.
But Mr Medd, from Houghton-le-Spring, described his dash for the line in the new Olympic Park as the ‘pinnacle’ of his sporting experience.
The Gateshead Harrier, who finished top of the Gazette runners in a time of 29 minutes 51 seconds, will be back in the stadium this summer to watch Mo Farrow hopefully take gold in the 5,000 metre final.
He said: “I have run hundreds of races but that was the most exciting event I have ever been involved with. To be there was so historic and unique. The stadium itself is an amazing piece of architecture.”
Also taking part were local runners Lisa Irving (39:49), Ashleigh Little (40:34), Michelle Bays (44.42), Judith Sullivan (46.56), Helen Dainton (50:18), Marilyn Little (51.06) and Craig Bays (1.01:39).
All of the runners received an accurate computer chip timing, a souvenir finisher’s medal, on-course refreshments and an Olympic T-shirt to run in.