diamond geezer

 Wednesday, April 18, 2012

London 2012  Olympic update
  Postcards from the Olympic Park

The Olympic Stadium: 100 days to go. It's the latest excuse for a promotional onslaught fired from Seb Coe's media cannon. But it also means 100 days until two billion people are watching an opening ceremony in this upstart arena, hoping for something more exciting than David Beckham kicking a football off a bus. The transformation has been extreme, although somewhat less extreme of late. The Olympic Stadium was structurally complete over a year ago, and most of the subsequent fit out has happened inside, out of sight. But outside's catching up again, now the builders' trucks have left, with the construction of umpteen temporary facilities for spectators and backroom staff alike. They're not pretty. Practical prefabs of all sizes - mostly cuboid, mostly grey or white - are being set up so that Games Makers have somewhere to muster and Coke have somewhere to stash cans. Up on the pedestrian promenade a ring of purple boxes now encircles the stadium. These are the final incarnation of the "pods" promised when the sustainable stadium was first announced, somewhere to stick all the shops and burger-vendors and toilets so they don't clog up the main seating. The only interesting thing about them is their colour, Olympic logo magenta, so be reassured that an absolute minimum of taxpayers money has been spent on the design. They'll get a proper outing over the next bank holiday weekend when various test events are planned, plus a potentially ghastly entertainment-cum-sports evening when a random audience member will be picked to open the stadium proper. But if you're up here to take a final look at the pre-Games stadium, hurry, because one particular disfigurement's imminent. The wrap which was due to envelop the exterior from January onwards is now due to make its debut this week. The delay's due to LOCOG picking a dog of a sponsor to fund it - a chemical company of questionable morality - in a foot-shooting exercise of international proportions. Had they gone with BP or Samsung or whoever, branded plastic would have been splashed around the entire circumference long before now, but instead I enjoyed pure unfettered sightlines at the weekend. Thank you Dow, my camera appreciates your culpability.

The Orbit: It's finished, structurally at least. The red-coiled tower's at full height, has been for months, now with its double decker observation deck up top. Fancy a ticket? Well this may annoy you. The Orbit will be open during the Olympics and Paralympics, but only ticket holders for events in the Olympic Park will have the opportunity to purchase tickets. Those of us with Games tickets are therefore doubly fortunate, if we have the extra dosh to spend, while the rest of you are stuck outside at ground level, sorry. You could try and buy an Olympic Day Pass when they're finally released, except don't expect there to be many of them. You could easily buy a Paralympic Day Pass, and do, because they're bargains. Or else you'll have to wait until the Orbit reopens after the Games, however long that takes, before you can ride to the top and look out over an East End building site. World class visitor attraction, this Orbit, perhaps? Time will tell.

The View Tube: It's not taken long to take root. Opened in November 2009, these brightly painted containers have since become a must-attend destination for visitors to the Olympic Park. That's probably because there's nothing else up on the Greenway to visit - all the impressive stuff's off-limits over the fence. When the View Tube first opened I'd be the only person here, and now it's probably the busiest catering outlet in the surrounding area. They walk or ride in, they sit down, they slurp coffee and then they troop upstairs to the viewing platform for a photo. I don't think I've ever seen it so busy up there as at the weekend, with a tour party thronging the balcony and a northern family nattering as they pointed at various structural icons. People were even using the adjacent classroom as a seating area for the cafe, which was a first. There was alas less interest in the exhibition downstairs - an artistic response to the Bryant and May match factory strike which took place within sight across the park. Nobody wanted to stop and look at the videos, the poem or the matchstick sculpture, not when the next yellow box contained a London 2012 shop, and mmm anyone for a drink? They'll miss it when it's gone (in a month's time, remember), and the Blue Badge guides won't be able to lead their charges anywhere near as close to the heart of the matter. There are already giant security gates across the Greenway bridge, the same height as the metal fence on each side, ready to slam shut against potential terrorists. But when they swing open again, after the whole spectacle's complete, will anybody be persuaded back for hot chocolate and a muffin?

The Warm-up Track: Its location has been set in stone ever since the first tentative Olympic plans were announced way back in November 2003. The warm-up track would appear on the southern side of the Greenway, adjacent to the stadium, allowing the world's athletes a short jog from one to the other. But it's taken almost until Games time for that track to emerge, replacing the long-standing concrete works only when that no longer had a part to play. A large flat area has been cleared, surrounded by a series of absolutely whopping floodlights. The main feature is an eight-lane cinder track, as you'd expect, surrounding a broad turfed area for stretches and push-ups. Javelin-chuckers will be confined to a second warm-up area alongside, with yet more pristine grass laid all around. Most striking are two lines of peaked white tents, as if some monochrome royal jousting tournament were about to take place, but alas not. Athletes will reach their event in the stadium via a snaking ramp up onto the Greenway (because you can't drill a tunnel through a sewer, that would be messy). At present you can walk or cycle through the gap between the ramp's two halves, and peer down this most odd two-lane superhighway. But a little further on is the Victoria Gate, destined to be the western spectator entrance to the Olympic Park, which'll be closing for final construction in less than a fortnight's time. It's frustrating that money's been spent planting flowers and beautifying this stretch of the Greenway over the last few years, only for security needs to require destroying the lot beneath fresh-laid concrete as the Games approach. Whatever they tell you today, with just 100 days to go, there's still much to complete.

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