Monday, 6 August 2012
a day at the Olympics
There's so much coverage of the actual Olympics, but less on the spectator experience, so I thought I'd mention a few impressions from the journey to the park and within.
It's in the context that central London has received a makeover and that many familiar routes have been changed. This has been happening over many weeks, with both road closures and even pedestrian route closures, especially around the Westminster central area.
It makes it worth a few minutes of extra thought to consider the route to the main venue.
Our journey on Sunday was a case in point, because of bridge and road closures over much of the central area. My satnav had red cross roadblocks all over it. This was a consequence of the women's marathon, which was right through the centre so we routed east to Tower Bridge to cross the Thames. Excitingly, until we dropped off the car, we could also use the Olympics Lanes which had were switched off for a while.
With the combination of increasing traffic and tube lines being busy, it made more sense to take a main line train out to Stratford, a single stop from Liverpool Street.
I haven't used that line for a long time and there's a great view of the whole complex that slides into view as the train halts.
Five minutes of walking through tunnels with a left/right decision to shops or Olympics and then into the noticably international world of the games park.
Very multi-lingual announcements, smiley-smiley people everywhere and a walk through a crowd to the main entrances, manned by friendly Commandos operating the security system. They were in their camouflage uniforms with the addition of little shoulder badges in Olympic colours.
Then inside the park.
It's huge area like one of the bigger Disney parks in Florida. Immediately ahead is the main stadium seen in the opening ceremony and to its side the improbably squirmy Orbit tower.
The sleek Aquatic centre is nearby across a bridge after a walk through a prettily assembled garden. In the other direction are other stadiums, but they are so far away as to be out of sight.
Beyond the Orbit is a large McDonald's - one of the more obvious signs of sponsorship, but although large, it turns out to be the small one, comparatively dwarfed by the other one further towards the centre of the park. I generally didn't find the sponsorship presence in the park overbearing. It was there, via various buildings and exhibits, but not overstated.
We skipped the McD experience instead trying other food from the smaller serveries dotted around. I was mildly surprised by the pricing which seemed very fair in such a venue with mainly simple food that was pleasant and even felt like good value.
The Megastore is the Olympics 2012 warehouse shopping experience for tee-shirts and mementos (OK, we were already in Team GB attire). Amusingly the Union Flags for Great Britain had completely sold out - as indeed had many of the other Team GB clothing items. This is only half way through the event, so presumably there are more supplies somewhere.
From the store it is a short walk to the broadcast hub being used by the BBC. It's on a stack of freightliner containers, which reminded the East Londoner in me that Stratford once had a huge freightliner terminal on part of the Olympics site. Temple Mills, I think it was called and I recollect that the original Temple Mill (an actual mill) was built by the Knights Templars back in the 1100s.
But back to the plot.
From this more central area it is possible to see the fabulous Velodrome, the Riverbank Arena (where the hockey is played), the basketball arena and the still distant BMX stadium.
Across from the basketball arena is the Olympic Village, where the athletes live and it is possible to see various flags and captions displayed on the outside of the different apartment blocks.
I haven't mentioned the noise, but even from the vast thoroughfares, there's a continuous surround sound of roars from the different venues, and every so often an extra loud one for something amazing.
Inside the venues, the flags and cacophony continues, with a notable increase for anything from Team GB. If there's a gap in proceedings, for some of the events there is also extra razzmatazz from dancers or other acts.
Whilst we were there I think the entire Park stopped for the Usain Bolt 100 Metres final. First silence and then a huge roar as he crossed the finish line.
There could be no doubt of the winner of that event, nor of the clear success of the whole Olympic staging.