London Prepares Fina Diving World Cup The Aquatics Centre
From a spectator's point of view, one of the best things about London 2012's Test Events is that they allow you to experience the Games even if you didn't get an Olympic ticket. The sport's usually equally as good, just without a trio of Olympic medals for the winners. Even better, you get to gain access to the major venues months before the rest of the world catches up, allowing you to feel proper smug. So this week's Diving World Cup, which permitted a first look inside the iconic Aquatics Centre, was a proper treat.
The crowd lining up at security on Tuesday afternoon reminded me of a matinee audience for the theatre - mostly retired - but with a good sprinkling of younger folk throughout. It took at least half an hour for the queue to start moving, so the contents of several lunchboxes were consumed before any official with a list of prohibited items could object. Our airport-style scan should easily have sniffed out any offensive weaponry, although I later saw a man with a plastic vuvuzela swanning into the venue in blatant contravention of explicit regulations. Whether security for the real Games will be as simple as a row of scanners in a makeshift tent, that's yet to be seen. But evidence thus far suggests that the queue is likely to be more hassle than the friskdown.
It's said that 70% of those visiting the Olympic Park this summer will enter via the Westfield Shopping Centre, in which case they'll be heading this way past the tip of the Aquatic Centre. Its nose pokes out over the path, allowing scrutiny of the parabolic wooden surface (and also providing useful shelter should it rain). Most will then continue over a new wide footbridge into the park proper, but those attending events in the Aquatics Centre or Water Polo arena will turn left or right respectively, immediately before the river. Last time I was here, the opposite banks were shoulder-highin vegetation along a forgottenfootpath. Five years later the land has been scrubbed and terraced to form part of the Olympic parkland - a little sterile at the moment, but let's see what summer brings forth. There's a good view of the Olympic Stadium from here, and the towering Orbit (with just the observation deck to finish), and the City and Docklands beyond. Plus, yes, those are giant colouredcrayons in the water - part of a recently completed artwork that's either naff or brilliantly simple, my jury's still out.
Unlike their Olympic counterparts, each diving Test Event has general admittance rather than designated seating. This meant a civilised charge for the best seats, or at least wherever the best seats might be, because that wasn't immediately obvious. Security staff stood sentry-like at the various entrances rather than marshalling or guiding, and were equally ineffective once through the swing doors and into the venue proper. "You can't go down there it's full, but you'll get just as good a view from up there" they pleaded, but we all filled up down there anyway. Part of me wishes I'd climbed up into the wings so that I could have reported back on what the view's like from the gods, but instead I ended up in a poolside seat I bet sold for £450 for the Tom Daley final, so I was well chuffed.
Woo! Did I mention the open-mouthed gasps on entering the Aquatics Centre proper for the first time? A long bright space beneath an undulating roof, with one glisteningazurerectangle for swimming and one square diving pool for leaping. The public enters onto a thin concourse at roughly 10m platform height, where there's plenty of space for accessible wheelchair viewing. This separates the 2500 seats below from the 15000 seats in the winged grandstands above... but don't stop to gawp, else one of the security blokes will move you on. The entire building's enclosed at the moment, indeed darkness fell without anybody inside noticing. But in legacy phase, when this beauty becomes Newham's newest municipal pool, the two ugly wings will be replaced by sweeping glass walls, and Zaha Hadid's true architectural dream will be realised.
I mentioned yesterday that the test event lasted four hours. None of the sessions at the Games proper will be this long, indeed most will be done and dusted in under two, but you'll be pleased to hear that the lower-tier seats are unexpectedly comfortable, even long-term. There's plenty of room beneath each seat to stash bags and coats, not that you'll probably be wearing a coat in August, and just as well. Most spectators this week had forgotten that the building needed to be warm enough for competitors to walk around in swimming costumes, and those who'd overdressed were clearly sweating.
DRINKS Coke/Fanta/Oasis £2.30 Abbey Well water £1.60 Tea/coffee £2/£2.40 Fosters 275ml £3.60 Shiraz/Chardonnay £5.20
Thank goodness it was possible to pop outside occasionally, or more than occasionally for a few people who'd clearly come for the event rather than the sport. The crowd thinned noticeably as the afternoon wore on, some cutting and running hours early, others nipping out for a drink or some food or an Olympic souvenir. The food didn't look bad actually, for all our fears that a sponsored Olympics might serve up McDonalds or nothing. Sure the confectionery seemed limited to Cadbury/Bassetts and the drinks were mostly Coke, but there were lagers and wines on offer too, and Fairtrade tea and coffee, and unbranded Cornish pasties, and sandwiches, and wholesome couscous with feta salad, even fruit. And don't worry if you drink too much because there are plenty of toilets (although with urinal space for 30, plus eight sinks, expect queues for the four hand driers).
If you've got a ticket to an Aquatics Centre event this summer, well done, and I hope that's given you some idea of what to expect. But I bet you'll see less, from further away, in a shorter time, than we fortunate Test Eventers.