diamond geezer

 Thursday, November 08, 2007

London 2012  Olympic update
  Welcome to Stadium Island

"An Olympic Stadium is a large circular-ish object, requiring space for a 400 metre running track, seating for the nations of the world and sufficient space round the edge for the selling of hotdogs and novelty fluorescent headgear."
Olympic Stadium designThat's what I wrote on this blog back in November 2003 when the idea of an Olympic Stadium just outside Stratford was first mooted. Four years on, not only is this stadium set to become reality but we also now have the first plans of what it'll actually look like. The Olympic stadium will be a big sloping circular amphitheatre with a sports field in the middle, a bit like a giant gooseberry tart. There'll be room for eighty thousand seats around the rim, with several pebble-like pods scattered outside the perimeter for selling fast food and branded souvenirs. The stadium looks nothing like the funky muscled design that London 2012 published in their bid book back in 2004. In fact this newly launched structure isn't in any way a thriller, is it? Compared to other Olympic stadia of recent years it's really a bit dull. And, I must say, thank Zeus for that.

Last time the 2012 team launched something vibrant and cutting edge they were ridiculed across the globe. This time they've offered a safe, solid solution with an eye to the future, and reaction has been rather more muted. No vitriolic rants or sighs of disappointment, except in the usual quarters. This is a functional design solution, with one eye on the public purse and the other on 2013 and beyond. The new stadium will be, the organisers hope, the embodiment of sustainability. And those of who live round here are rather pleased by that.

There are few larger white elephants on this planet than Olympic stadia. Half a billion pounds is being pumped into London's, and for what? The Games themselves will last no more than five weeks, and the stadium itself for an ever shorter time (11 days for the main games and 11 for the Paralympics). During that time, if past events are any guide, its 80000 seats will be full on only three occasions. Once for the opening ceremony (because, you know, it would look wrong if 79999 people held up their special coloured cards and there was a gap in the middle). Once for the men's 100 metres final (an event less than 10 seconds long, for heaven's sake). And once for the closing ceremony (at which point spectators may turn to one another and ask "bloody hell, what are we going to do with this arena now?").

Never fear. After the Games that top tier of seating can be removed, cutting the stadium's capacity down to a rather more sensible 25000. That fabric wrap around the edge of the arena will be taken down and turned into souvenir bags (see, and you thought the Games would never make a profit). And a new owner will be given custodianship of the slimmed-down facility to ensure that this enormous engineering project has a proper legacy after September 9th 2012. Except that, erm, nobody's quite sure who that legacy client might be. West Ham were interested until they were told that the maximum capacity of 25000 was non-negotiable. Leyton Orient are still interested, sort of, although they really don't like the enforced athletics track round the edge because it distances spectators from the pitch. And rugby clubs like Wasps and Saracens might be interested, possibly, although East Londoners aren't renowned for their support of elongated ball games. Never mind, somebody'll turn up and be interested in buying the place, won't they?

Olympic Stadium site, October 2007In the meantime, demolition on the Olympic stadium site continues. I've been back to the Greenway bridge several times since the rest of the Lower Lea Valley was sealed off, and every time I go back something else has disappeared. Two weeks ago [photo] everything to the left of Marshgate Lane had been razed and levelled, while piles of crumbled brickwork littered the ground close by to the right. Gone, gone, gone, gone. And, if I view the BBC's latest aerial shots correctly, during the last fortnight every other building on "Stadium Island" has been wiped out of existence. I would go back and check for myself, but it's November and it's dark so I can't be certain (until the weekend) that the salmon factory and net curtain warehouse have been destroyed.

In four years time I'll have a semi-decent view of the Olympic Stadium, once it's (hopefully) finished, without leaving my flat. I'll see its lights twinkling in the distance and be able to watch the opening night firework display from the comfort of my own sofa. I can't wait. But, for the needs of the local community, it's more important that the stadium has a long-term use for decades into the future. Let's hope that the gooseberry tart doesn't end up a gooseberry fool.

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