Cycling

In Praise Of… The Olympic Park

A couple of days ago, I discovered that I had an Olympic golden ticket. Kind of. It wasn’t the golden ticket that the royals or David Cameron seem to have which would allow me entry into any Olympic event of my choosing  but it was on the first level of golden tickets which, through my work as a volunteer ‘Games Maker’ at the London 2012 Olympics, would allow me unfettered access to the Olympic Park itself. The magic letters on my accreditation are CDM or ‘Olympic Park Common Domain’ which makes no sense whatsoever until you realise that when it comes to acronyms, the IOC does things in threes.

I wasn’t quite convinced my accreditation was indeed a golden ticket of entry to the park which is why, as I made my way through the Westfield shopping centre with the thousands of other ticket holders, I was bracing myself for the embarrassment of being rejected and turned away quicker than you could say ‘Jacques Rogge‘ but no, it seemed to be fine; I was ushered away from the masses through a channel for those who were accredited (which in fact made me feel just a little bit special) and following a few moments of queuing for the security check, I was making my way along a broad avenue filled with human beings, under one of three enormous pink arches announcing that I was walking through the Stratford entrance to the park and towards the vastness of the Olympic stadium itself. The crowd was gently ushered along by volunteers sitting on Wimbledon-style umpire’s chairs extolling all comers to walk on the left; to a man, everyone followed their instruction creating, at that relatively early point in the day a sea of people on the left heading towards the arches and an empty strip of the avenue on the right for those who had already been, seen & were on their way out. They were very few and far between.

My first impression was once of space. I’m guessing that I was surrounded by perhaps ten thousand other people, probably many more but the area felt open and not in the least bit crowded. It was traffic-free apart from a few electric buggies gliding smoothly and silently along the beige lanes in the ground and the only roars were emanating from the cauldron of the stadium itself where periodic rumbles of noises signalled some particularly endeavour by an athlete within its tiered seating. I had no ticket for the stadium of course so the sounds were the only indication I had that athletic activity was taking place . I fact I had no ticket for any event taking place that morning; my visit was purely and simply to soak up a bit of the atmosphere.

Apart from the stadium itself, much of the architecture of the park is now very familiar indeed. Immediately to the left of the stadium was the twisting metalwork of the Arcelor Mittal Orbit which describes itself as Britain’s tallest sculpture. It reminded me of a melting Eiffel Tower, falling in on itself, only prevented from completely disappearing into the ground by an enormous cork screw twisting out of the earth below. I have to admit that when I’d seen it from afar on my fairly frequent visits to the outskirts of the Olympic Park as an Olympic driver, I wasn’t convinced by its merits, but silhouetted against the bright sky, it makes a striking yet chaotic contrast to the symmetry of the structures in the rest of the park.

Further to the left on entering was the Aquatic Centre with its temporary wings of seating protruding on each side of the building. The beauty of this particular structure may perhaps be revealed once these additions are removed and the belly of the whale that forms the roof of the swimming pool becomes more apparent from the exterior. Perhaps it was the functionality of this building that made me turn right instead towards the parkland and waterways. Perhaps it was the bright lights of the BBC studios perched atop of some blue shipping containers. Whatever the reason, I wandered slowly away from the Olympic Stadium itself, past the British Airways sponsored large screens where I paused briefly (along with the thousands of others) to watch some British rowers win a bronze medal (the cheers for the crowd would have suggested they had won gold but were more a reflection of the enthusiasm of the gathered onlookers) and towards the undisputed beauty of the Olympic Velodrome. To bring this eulogy back down to ground, it is, as has been said many times before, shaped in the form of a Pringle. I am told that this shape is a hyperbolic paraboloid which must have had the builders grasping for their school mathematics textbooks when they first saw the drawings but what they have achieved is not just a beautiful building but another Olympic Park sculpture. Like many of the buildings, the velodrome will benefit in future years from having all the necessary (but at times ugly) Olympic paraphernalia removed from its base and surroundings and I look forward to future visits when it will sit isolated away from the temporary stands of the BMX track behind it and the equally ephemeral basketball arena opposite but looking up and away from the structures around it, I defy anyone not to find beauty in its simplicity. Gorgeous.

I had now been wandering for over an hour so the attraction of perhaps being broadcast from coast to coast in America was too good to turn down; I went and stood against the railings gazing into the studio of the NBC Today Show as the cameras stared back at the well-manicured presenters of the show and beyond them the small crowd of which I was one member. The presenters read from their autocues but it wasn’t clear if they were rehearsing or broadcasting live. Perhaps someone in downtown Detroit or uptown Manhattan was, at that very point watching TV over their breakfast and wondering who that bloke was in the background with the red and purple uniform of an Olympic volunteer. There was minor excitement from the gathered Americans in the crowd when the presenters left the security of their studio to come close to the barrier and engage with the gathered few. I snapped a quick picture and left the scene for fear of being singled out and interviewed on the spot. Who knows, it could have been a turning point in my life…

My afternoon shift in the west of the capital was beckoning so I made my slow way back to the entrance of the park. It would have been great to have actually seen some sport but the visit was well-worth the trek across London and I would recommend that anyone who can makes the effort to do so before the Olympic bandwagon packs up its trailers and moves off to Rio. It was a memorable morning of walking, watching, admiring, and soaking up the atmosphere of London 2012.

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