Saturday, 20 February 2010

A lap of Olympic Park

A few days ago I was working out in the East End and on a glorious morning took the opportunity to go for a run around the Olympic Park in Stratford. Its nothing short of awesome, both in the sheer scale of the site and in the details of the venues under construction. With just over a couple of years to go there is still a lot of work to be done but the major venues are coming together and with a bit of imagination you can picture how its going to be during those 2 weeks in July. Its already got the feel of Britishness from the army of construction workers supping Tetley tea to that Temple of the High Priestess of retail, a Westfield shopping centre. Now here's a thought: tea drinking and shopping to be Olympic sports ? more guaranteed golds for Team GB...

The venues are simply mindblowing - heading round the southern perimeter from Stratford the first venue is Zahara Hadid's controversial aquatic venue (left). To me it looks worth every penny and The Wave is set to be just as iconic as Beijing's Water Cube and hopefully will bring even more British success for Becky and co. I hope we have a got a plan that gives our team plenty of opportunity to train in the new pool and perhaps we should get the aquatic version of British Cycling's Secret Squirrel Club to optimise the water temperature for our guys and gals.

Heading round the perimeter along the Greenway the next stop is the main stadium itself. Much has been made of the temporary nature of the main stadium with 30,000 seats housed in a 'hole in the ground' design with another 50,000 or so in a temporary grandstand. We are good at temporary structures in this country - remember the Millenium Dome ? I've got a feeeling that this one could go the same way, especially if a deal is done to get West Ham United in as an anchor tenant post Olympiad. This is going to be a classic British fudge.

We knew at the outset that the optimal legacy solution was a football/rugby club tenant with a running track for major athletics events just like the Stade de France has in Paris. The sticking point was the cost and consequences of designing retractable seating for the lower tiers. So we decided to go with an unviable pure-play athletics stadium. and now the numbers don't add up we are going to end up retro-fitting a football/athletics solution at probably even greater cost. Still, we should have a stadium fit for athletics and a fantastic home (hopefully) for West Ham. Why can't we get this right at the outset (note to decision makers on High Speed Rail ....).

Onwards from the stadium and along the network of canals and rivers that cut through the whole area. Its down here that you can see the area's industrial heritage and marvel at what a hive of activity this place must have been in a different age. You can only hope that regeneration extends to tempting new business to set up shop along this natural highway to bring a new age of prosperity to the Stratford. Just building appartments along these waterways would surely be a missed opportunity. Onto the northern side of the site and the 'goldmine' aka the velodrome is also taking shape. You can safely bet that Dave Brailsford and his guys have been all over the design like a Chris Hoy skinsuit to make sure that we have the best track for our pedalers.

And the 50 odd minutes later I'm back at Stratford where I started. That gives you a feel for how big the site is and I just hope that come 2012 we do what we are best at and put on a party. To have a sterile, remote controlled park would be a real mistake. Britain is festival country and we need to recapture the atmosphere of Henman Hill, Stowe corner at Silverstone and Glastonbury. And before we throw too many stones at Vancouver lets have a contingency plan for too much rain, as long as it doesn't involve Sir Cliff serenading Usain Bolt.

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