diamond geezer

 Thursday, May 10, 2012

www.flickr.com: my Olympic Stadium Test Event gallery
There are 40 photographs altogether, from Tuesday's London Disability Athletics Challenge
(including 10 new ones, all from outside in the Olympic Park, which is what I'm going to tell you about today)

Getting to the Olympic Park: Once you exit Stratford station, you'll be in no doubt as to where the Olympic Park is. Not only are there giant pink signs, but there are also several human beings specially hired to point the way. And they really do point. Everyone's been given an oversized padded foam hand, labelled "Olympic Park", which they wave whenever a potential spectator walks by. As far as I know, nobody's been given a padded foam hand labelled "Station" for the walk back, but the giant pink signs should be perfectly adequate for that too. Over the weekend, it has to be said, the number of human finger pointers was entirely excessive, but I'm sure they'll be rather more useful in the summer.

Security: You won't believe how incredibly friendly Olympic Security is. Normally, at airports, security gates are operated by dour disciplinarians and joyless bastards. Not here. Everyone smiled, everyone was pleasant, and almost everyone said Hello. It was lovely the first couple of times, then slightly disconcerting, and eventually just a little bit forced. Still, it was far better than the grumpy guilt-assumed alternative. Spectators for Tuesday's event had been asked to arrive with at least 90 minutes to spare, which seemed like complete overkill when I breezed up to the scanning zone facing no queue whatsoever. My bag spent longer in the X-ray scanner than I was expecting, possibly because the guard was checking the water bottle I'd brought didn't breach regulations, or possibly because I'd dared to smuggle a non-Cadbury's chocolate snack inside. That's perfectly acceptable, and I was waved straight in. However I can confirm that wearing a "Dow Chemicals Poisoning The Olympic Games" t-shirt wipes the smiles away and gets you instantly chucked out, so don't even try.

Inside the Park: It's big, the Olympic Park, well over a mile from top to bottom, so do factor in a long walk if you're attending an event at the far end. No such trouble on Tuesday, just the fairly brief walk across two bridges to the Stadium. From the first bridge, over the Waterworks River, there was a fine view of the Water Polo Arena sloping gently down above a row of fibreglass crayons. Then past the nose of the Aquatic Centre - still not looking as impressive as it might with those two grandstand seating wings attached. And over bridge two, across the City Mill River, another long view up the spine of the park. The greenery's a little bit formal, a little bit new, and definitely not the unkempt waterside that used to be here five years ago. And yes, at the far end, that arena-sized brown prefab is indeed the largest McDonalds in Europe. Blimey. It's not open yet, but when it is you'll be able to drop inside for all the usual stuff you can buy at a high street McDonalds only masses more of it. Don't worry, there'll be plenty of alternative eating options throughout the Park (but nobody else is allowed to serve burgers).

The Orbit: It's tall, isn't it, the Great Red Coiltrumpet, especially when you're almost underneath. The lift'll head straight up the central core, which looks very open, except when shielded by the helter skelter stairs down. It looks like you'll be able to see inside the Olympic Stadium from the double decker observation deck at the top, but don't quote me on that if I've misjudged. The base of the Orbit is still inaccessible at the moment, and will be until the start of the Games, but tickets go on sale at the end of the month for Olympic Park ticketholders. Will the view, and the 30 minute trip, be worth £15? I'll tell you in July.

Stadium Island: To cross onto the concrete ring around the stadium requires passing through another ticket check. Once you're through, you then have the whole of the circuit at your disposal. Around the edge are a ring of slanting prefabs, most acting as vending units, some as toilets. None of the food units are branded, only McDonalds are allowed to do that, and so are given bland descriptive names instead - "Pan-Asian" "Bar" "Taste of India" "Sweet Treats" etc etc. The crowd on Tuesday was small, so we had only two choices - "Coffee" and "Jacket Potato". This taxed many spectators who'd not thought to bring food of their own (perfectly legal), because the only hot option was a £5+ spud in a box with some salad. The choice'll be much better, if not cheaper, in the summer. Meanwhile, over at the coffee booth, there was a special offer for anyone paying with a Visa contactless card. Wave your plastic in exchange for a £2.60 muffin, or whatever, and you got a special voucher for a free gift. Take that voucher to "Visa Customer Services" nextdoor and it was exchanged for... roll of drums... a branded bag-for-life featuring a London 2012 skyline. Inside the bag, in a supreme act of pointlessness, was a leaflet suggesting you might want to get a Visa contactless card, despite the fact you must already have one. That and a chocolate Wenlock on a stick, such is the generosity of the Games' corporate sponsors.

The Olympic Stadium: It looks like any other stadium when you're walking around the edge - a very long perimeter beneath towering grandstands. Like any other stadium except there are no gates - the rivers around the arena act as the necessary security barrier - so you can wander pretty much at will. Dotted round the edge are several toilet blocks, emblazoned with bold graphic identities, and all sustainably temporary too. Ladies, rejoice, because someone's recognised your facilities take up more space than the gents, so there are two female blocks for every male. I can only tell you about the gents, however, where there are 30-ish urinals, eight hand-washing taps and only two driers, so expect either queues or poor hygiene. The exterior of the stadium is zoned by colour, to help you remember where your seat is. You might for example navigate via the yellow toilets, or aim for the red stairs - it's simple, but extremely effective, and translucently pretty too. The media have their own entrance aligned with the finishing line, where a separate (and ugly) staircase also allows entry to anyone with a corporate box. The rest of us mere ticketholders get to walk through the rim of the stadium and then up or down stairs to our seats, ready for the action to begin. And, sorry, you non ticket-holders, you don't get to do any of this at all. Enjoy front of house on the telly, but backstage'll have to remain a mystery.

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