London Prepares BMX Supercross World Cup 2011 Saturday 20th August 2011
Be prepared. Plan carefully, practise everything, expect the worst. Anything could happen next summer, and you don't want a complete balls-up in front of a global audience of billions. That's the reasoning behind the London Prepares series of test events taking place in the run-up to 2012. And yesterday, at the BMX test event in the Olympic Park, London's preparation was tested to its limits. Something fearful if not entirely unexpected occurred. It rained.
The very last thing you want when your sport takes place in a sandpit is uncontrollable excess water. There had been a torrential downpour on Thursday evening, the day before the preliminary rounds of the BMX, which had necessitated urgent restorative work on Friday morning. By Saturday the course was perfectlyresculptedanddry, ready for an afternoon of assault from 96 riders and their bikes. Blue skies greeted us as we took our places in the grandstand, and everything looked set fair for uninterrupted competition. But grey clouds rolled in for the start of the women's practice session, and by the end of the men's a full vertical soaking was in full effect. As the crowd ran for shelter, and stayed there, surely there was no way back from this meteorological setback. For the organisers it was the ultimate pre-Olympic test - just how prepared were they?
There are a lot of people behind the scenes at any Olympic event. Normally they stay there, out of sight, twiddling their thumbs as the session continues. Not on this occasion. They leapt out onto the course when the rain began, pulling large sheets of black plastic across across the jumps and bumps. That's easier said than done when your course is a 3D landscape, considerably tougher than rolling out a tarpaulin across a Wimbledon tennis court. They started on the first straight, then slowly worked their way across until every hillock and dip was covered. I had to question whether they'd been quick enough as I finally abandoned mydripping seat in the grandstand, not expecting to return.
It rained for two hours. A small truck was sent out onto the course to clear excess water from alongside the home straight, but as it churned through the mud it appeared to be fighting a very losing battle. We'll make a decision at three, they said, but by three the only decision was to postpone further. Didn't the catering concessions do well out of the unexpected shutdown? Normally we'd all have stayed in the stand while racing progressed, but here were 2500 people milling round waiting for something to happen, and buying beer, burger and chips proved a popular displacement activity. They didn't run out... unlike several spectators who chose to give up and head home. Those who'd come unprepared were looking very wet by now, their commemorative programmes saturated, their autographed posters all crumpled and soggy. If nothing else, this raincheck will have prompted London 2012 to reconsider whether they have sufficient shelter contingency for spectators.
And then the rain eased, and course was a flurry of activity. An army of London Prepares workers carted off the sandbags that had been holding the sheeting down, then started brushing away the excess water. There was a lot of it. The course had about 50 dips, each with its own lake in need of drainage, so a lengthy period of brushwork was required. No thumb-twiddling today. Slowly the covers came off, and the now-blazing sun helped to dry off the top layer of sand. A mini-steamroller came out to compact the surface, but had to be rescued when it got stuck in the mud on its way to the upper levels. A safety inspection was promised for twenty to five, the outcome still genuinely in doubt, while the DJs on duty continued to keep the crowd entertained to fill the time. And then, eventually, came the good news that all this herculean effort had been worth it. A shortened programme of racing would kick off with practice at five - the same time that the day's events had been scheduled to finish - and two BMX champions would finally be crowned. Hurrah! (more of that tomorrow)
A certain amount of luck was involved in turning this setback around. Had the two-hour downpour not been followed so promptly by bright sunshine, the entire event might have had to be abandoned. But those truly responsible for snatching success from probable defeat were the army of workers who mucked in and restored the course, and those behind the scenes who'd planned for every contingency in advance. Trucks at the ready, crews on standby, wet weather plans formulated, session times flexible. Because not everything's going to run smoothly next summer, and it pays to be ready in case the worst happens. Which yesterday it did. London tested, London prepared.