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It's not cricket: Archery takes over Lord's

London Olympics Arche_Bake.jpg

South Korea's Im Dong-hyun shoots during the men's individual archery competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Friday, Aug. 3, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

It's just not cricket. No, this is archery, at one of the most hallowed grounds in British sports.

It's still pretty civilized at Lord's.

OK, so there's a bunch of Mexican fans in green football shirts and bright multicolored wigs jumping up and down and screaming inbetween matches at the revered and historic old home of cricket, the sport that says British like no other.

The South Korean supporters are chanting and bashing inflatable plastic poles together in between plays -- or shots -- creating a "pop! pop! pop!" sound.

But there's still a respectful silence from everyone when the archers take aim. And there's plenty of British followers wearing wide-brimmed summer sun hats, applauding politely and joining in the fun.

There's also picnic hampers, stalls serving the British favorite Pimms and lemonade and a 25-member army brass band striking up with James Bond and Monty Python movie theme tunes on the pavilion balcony.

Inside the pavilion, officials stride along the corridors in spotless white blazers with shining buttons and the famous yellow and red Marylebone Cricket Club emblem on the breast pocket.

And there's the odd spot of rain, which is shrugged off by everyone, competitors, fans and officials.

It's a splendid slice of Britishness in places, even if the South Koreans are winning the medals, the Mexicans are doing their famous jump-up-and-shout "wave" while music blares and the all-white cricketing uniforms have been replaced by the five Olympic rings and colorful team shirts with names on the back.

Lord's has kept its regular friends for the Olympics -- and also found a load of new ones.

"The coach told us that this was a very famous cricket ground," women's gold medal winner Ki Bo-bae of South Korea said Thursday. "I had no idea, actually, but today I could really feel it was very famous and a great sight."

Although bows have replaced bats and the gleeful Mexicans have joined the gentlemen from Middlesex, archery seems to be a perfect fit in cricket's home.

The combination may be one of the reasons U.S. Olympic broadcaster NBC said Thursday it's the most popular sport in its London 2012 coverage -- getting bigger numbers stateside than even basketball.

"The impact on the TV screen is great. It's beautiful when you see it," newly crowned Olympic champion Ki said.

But what do some of the archery competitors know about cricket and the picturesque north London ground's place as the most revered in the game?

"Zero. I know nothing about cricket," women's silver medalist Mariana Avitia of Mexico said. "The venue is beautiful, though. I really like it."

The Lord's institution has had to temporarily give up a few of its strict old rules for the Olympics, too. It doesn't mind.

The Long Room, one of the most prestigious spots in British sports culture and the heart of Lord's, has been taken over by a pack of volunteers in purple T-shirts and baseball caps. They're scurrying up and down, apparently unaware of the portraits of aristocratic-looking 18th and 19th century figures staring down sternly on them from elaborate gold and brass-colored frames.

Just outside on the white wooden pavilion benches normally reserved exclusively for members of the MCC who have waited decades to join the prestigious club, Olympic reporters and photographers from South Korea, China and the U.S. laze about in shorts and sneakers.

Normally you have to wear a tie and blazer here. Preferably the yellow and red tie of the MCC that marks you out as one of a chosen few.

And the hallowed turf -- the most precious piece of grass in all of cricket's great fields from London to Mumbai to Melbourne -- has been besmirched by large metal spectator stands and giant video screens on purple Olympic backgrounds.

There's even wind socks planted in the ground near the center of the pitch.

Yet it all works wonderfully well. And it's even now revered as a special place by the Mexicans.

"The stadium is very, very impressive," women's silver medalist Aida Roman said "In fact, it's the stadium where we have been crowned so I think it's a bit of a shrine for us."

The television cameras are hidden in perfectly square boxes covered in green, grass-like fabric so as not to spoil the "feel."

And the lawn on the archery course is beautifully cultivated.

The TV screens display "Applause" and "Cheer" at set times to tell the fans when to shout, reminding them of this: Have fun, but also mind your manners here, it's Lord's.

Everyone does both.

At the screens' prompting, the Mexican fans kick in again: "Mexico! Mexico! Mexico!" they shout.

To their delight, another wave goes round the stands -- prompted by the announcer -- and they leap to their feet and roar. The Brits smile and laugh, then join in and everyone's jumping up and down.

Then an archer steps up to her mark -- a perfectly straight and bold white line on the impeccable grass -- and suddenly everyone is completely silent as she takes aim. There's not a peep until the arrow thuds into the bright yellow center of the target.

"Ten!" shouts the announcer.

Then the music blares and the Mexicans, Koreans and Britons are all up on their feet again, shouting and cheering together.