A glimpse inside the Olympic Park
The 500 acre Olympic Park contains (among other buildings) the Velodrome, the Aquatics Centre, the Mittal sculpture, the Olympic Stadium – and during the Games, the largest McDonalds restaurant in the world.
With 128 days to go before the 2012 Games begin, I was fortunate enough this week to be taken on a tour of the site which will be the focus of the world for two weeks this summer.
The sheer scale of it all was the overriding observation. As the tour bus wheeled its way around the site, the grandeur in terms of size and ambition of the venues made me feel as if I were Dr. Alan Grant seeing Jurassic Park for the first time. It was impossible not to be in awe of a project, so near to completion, that started when Britain won their bid to host the Games back in 2007. The park, on budget and on schedule, appears to have been managed with aplomb, but organisers must still be keeping their fingers crossed that the site doesn’t descend into the chaos told in Michael Crichton’s novel.
The sleekness of the Velodrome’s wooden frame, the futuristic white basketball arena, the unique Aquatics Centre and the grand 80,000 seat Olympic Stadium all impressed. Even the ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture, a design that looks like a condensed roller coaster and has been the subject of much derision, complimented the site and acted as a reference point when navigating the park.
There are plans to light the numerous venues at night, illuminating the structures in the park, including the modern art sculpture created by internationally-renowned artist Monica Bonvicini, which spells RUN in huge mirrored letters and sits in front of the 6,500-capacity Copper Box, which will host the handball event.
During the Games, those with a ticket to an event at the site will be free to roam unimpeded around the grounds. They will be able to watch a huge, double sided TV screen which will be placed in one of the canals – with viewers sitting on either side of the banks of the water way. To the constenation of some, there will also be a McDonalds, at 30,000 square foot, apparently the largest in the world. The Olympic sponsors, whose fast food seems so much at odds with an event celebratating fitness and physical endevour are planning to erect a temporary restaurant which will operate during the Games.
The plan is to make tickets available for those who wish to visit the park but don’t have tickets to specific events. Announcements on this will not be made before the logistics of avoiding overcrowding are worked out. When the stadium comes into use during the second week, the majority of the 80,000 who have been watching the athletics during the morning are likely to loiter and take in the atmosphere. When another 80,000 arrive for the evening session, there could be problems.
For those without tickets and still hoping to make it to an event, there are plans to have Wimbledon style re-sale tickets, where the space vacated by those leaving early can be filled. It’s unlikely there will be many spaces available, and the demand could be huge – I’m predicting queues (Wimbledon style).
When visitors to the park do arrive, the main entrance and exit will see them pass through Westfield shopping centre in what could cynically be seen as a strategy based on the ‘exit through the gift shop’ model used by museums and art galleries. A huge number of athletes will also be living on site in the Olympic Village. There are 2,818 new apartments, something which triple jump gold medallist Jonathan Edwards felt would be a plus for the London Games.
“To have the athletes so close to the venues is a first. It’s like nothing that’s been before,” the reigning triple jump world record holder told me during the tour.
The other observation is that the park still feels very much like a construction site. Workmen were busy across the site and there were more traffic cones than there will be gold medals handed out in the summer (as you can see from my amateurish pictures). The site, which was heavily contaminated when work began (1.4 million cubic metres of soil had to be cleaned), is still yet to be covered in the green grass and flora that we have seen in the artistic impressions of the finished thing. We are told everything is on schedule, the organisers appear relaxed and all the major venues are completed. It would seem the dinner is ready, they just need to lay the table for the over-a-million expected guests arriving for the sporting feast in July and August. It looks delicious (especially if you like a Big Mac).
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