diamond geezer

 Monday, March 24, 2014

post-Olympic update
Sport Relief

Sunday saw another chapter in the reopening of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, with the <insert Supermarket here> Sport Relief Games taking place across the site. Thousands came to compete, thousands more to spectate, and several bits of the park reopened on the quiet. You only got inside the South Park if you were a runner, and I wasn't so I didn't. But there was still plenty to see and do, as a further taster of what's in store very soon. [I'm up to 60 photos now, 15 of them new]

The Mile: They piled in across the bridge from Westfield, collecting their running number and milling around with friends and family outside the Aquatics Centre. The weather wasn't helping. Last weekend felt like April, and the weekend before May, but on Sport Relief Sunday we got February, and many participants looked rather cold. Successive runs set off at regular intervals, with 'athletes' massing forwards into a narrow channel to wait their turn. There was time for a warm-up to jolly pumping music, maybe even some energetic drummers, and then some minor celeb turned up and waved to start everyone off. There was no way most people could have run the very first section because the throng was too great, but then they were off through the South Park round the Orbit and the Stadium and the not yet very exciting flowerbeds. Several minutes later they emerged near the Copper Box, down a funnel past a pipe band, where some kindly volunteer was waiting to dish out some not especially large medals. A lot more families were hanging around here, and nipping as necessary into the portaloos. And just to the left was a long staircase down into the parkland which hasn't been open before, and did anybody use it? Nah, they were all much more interested in...

The Event Village: No supermarket-sponsored sports event is complete without an event village, and this one was positioned in the park so as to be impossible to miss after running your mile. First up were a bank of food stalls, not your usual mass catering fodder but a little more bespoke - think kedgeree rather than hot dogs. Once past that things got a little more appropriate, in particular a Sport Relief "Thank you" tent, and a bank of sporting organisations out to get people involved. Your kids could have played mini tennis or mini basketball or gone mini climbing - which looked fun - or taken a selfie next to a cut out of Little Mix - rather less so. Essex CCC were here to represent cricket, and West Ham were here to represent football, which was of course mighty appropriate. "We have some very special guests for you," said the announcer on the main stage, which turned out to be a group of morris dancers, stalwartly performing to a declining audience of dozens. And then there were the 'partners', i.e. companies with something to flog, or in this case rather give away. My haul included a free Fair Trade mixed berry flapjack bar, a free bag of <Supermarket> nuts and a free half litre of suspiciously longlife chilled milk. And as I looked at the length of the queue to get inside the British Airways pavilion, I thought how sad it was that the lower levels of parkland were being almost completely ignored. Acres of expensive, lush and well-maintained greenery stood almost empty, while visitors waited to be advertised to in a tent. The weather may have been partly to blame - it had hailed at least once in the last half hour - but it seems your average family just isn't interested in the delights of a mere park.

The Velodrome: Sport Relief weren't allowing mere members of the public to ride around their pristine pine tracks. Families were instead directed onto the road circuit, the tarmacked mile I wrote about last week, though this time with the VeloPark's full permission. Their presence brought life to the northern end of the Park, with a steady stream of all sizes of cycle wheeling forth amongst the trees. But what was this? Offers of free guided tours of the Velodrome for anyone who cared to look? Fantastic, I thought, count me in, and dashed through the airlock doors to catch up with the latest group. Two employees of the Lee Valley VeloPark took us round the spectator rim, recounting architectural statistics and outlining how easy it'd be to book a future session. To think, two summers ago this was the hottest ticket in town and now here we were ambling round for free. Admittedly there was no cycling action to watch, but all the better to enjoy the form, the structure and the beauty of the venue. And then as a proper treat we were led down to reception, then down again to pass through the concrete tunnel beneath the tracks. Emerging in the centre of the circuit felt rather special, giving a competitor's view of the arena, which suddenly seemed much bigger. We had a few minutes wandering across the blue void, looking up at the seats and screens, and maybe remembering how packed it was with cyclists here during the Games. One week to go, and this place opens up properly to a bright future.

Carpenters Road: I last walked down Carpenters Road in 2007, just before the Olympic Park was sealed off for initial construction work. It wasn't an especially lovely road, with industrial estates and scrappy motor businesses along its length, very much off the beaten track unless you had to pass through. So I was excited to see that the barriers blocking access have finally been removed, and took a lonely solo walk from one end almost to the other. The unblocking has taken place at QEOP's central bridge, where yesterday the BBC's Sports Relief studio was positioned. Two bus stops stand ready for the permanent diversion of the 339, which'll soon be heading this way from Fish Island to Stratford. Standing on the bridge over the River Lea I remembered the view here way back then, all JCB warehouse and pylons, and marvelled at the 2014 stadium/landscaping upgrade. To the left a fresh promenade leads off along the Waterworks River, not yet unblocked, so I had to walk down a pretty featureless road to the Aquatics Centre instead. All those zebra crossings are currently entirely unnecessary, but one day there'll be flats all along here and then they'll be useful. Cars aren't yet allowed to continue to the Loop Road, nor under the railway to Stratford High Street (through a tunnel which shows no sign of reopening soon). But I wandered unchallenged into the wasted space beneath Montfichet Road, then round to read the poem on the electricity substation, as the knitting together of park and community nears completion.

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