Just keep Swimming
The Olympic Park in Stratford is vast, and if you frequent the area on a semi-regular basis it is unrecognisable from visit to visit. With just over four months left until the start of the Summer Olympics all focus is on closing out the landscape of the immense 600 acre site.
Depending on your entry point in East London, different venues are your visual ingress to the London Olympics: from the North, the Velodrome. The East, the Copper Box. And from the West is the curious Aquatics Centre, which forms part of London 2012‘s holy trinity of venues, sat close to the ArcelorMittal Orbit and the Olympic Stadium. The Aquatics Centre has, along with the Stadium been the clearest aid to progress and development on the Park, a bellwether if you please. Like all the other venues it has been completed well on time and over the past week has played host to the official test event for Swimming, the British Gas British Swimming Championships.
The Aquatics Centre will play host to a number of events during Games-time; aside from Swimming, it will also be the home of Diving and Synchronised Swimming. Diving recently had its test event there as part of the official London Prepares series, but the expectations for this event were a lot a higher. Swimming is one of the Olympics‘ most classic disciplines, and is amongst the most sought-after in the 2012 ticket race. With admission for the test event priced very reasonably (heats at £6 a ticket, Finals at £10) and the cream of British Swimming in attendance, each of the eight days were a sell-out.
Attending the penultimate night of the Championships, the vibe amongst spectators was positive, maintaining a constant across all the test events. The fact that this wasn’t part of the London Prepares series allowed sponsors like British Gas and Speedo to place their own stamp on proceedings and freebies being dished out on arrival was a nice touch.
The Aquatics Centre itself is suitably impressive in its cavernous Olympic state. Oddly, it will probably be the only venue in Legacy mode that will look better. Zaha Hadid, the award-winning architect of the Centre, designed it without the towering ‘winged’ terraces that sit either side of the pools and is said to loathe them. However, without them the venue would be a much smaller cathedral, similar to the Velodrome.
The tickets that were sold for the event pretty much took up all the seats that are likely to be either categories ‘A‘ or ‘AA‘ come Games-time. Tarpaulin and branded drapes covered the seats that are likely to be categories ‘C‘ or lower, so it was difficult to understand how far spectators would be from the action. Like the hugely successful test event at the Velodrome in February, the family-friendly crowd participated well and access was quite relaxed once you were in.
The atmosphere at times was subdued, but it was worth remembering that unlike other test events which served as ‘World’ meetings, this was a British event so rivalries were a lot more local between different swimming clubs in the land. Also, the smaller crowds were a little lost in what is a very large arena. Come the summer, when the stakes are much higher, spectators will find the temperature to match the natural heat found in the building.
The use of Social Media again was in full swing with ‘hashtagged’ Tweets running across displays by the pool. London 2012 will clearly be the forerunner of the medium at an Olympic Games and it’s going to be very interesting how they grow it into other channels and compliment Apps and devices.
The British Gas Swimming Championships 2012 (Selection Trials) - Mens Open 50m Freestyle Final, won by Adam Brown.
Credit again should go to the highly professional and friendly teams of support and security staff, who were both taking their work very seriously and created a personal touch that ram a lot of the unjustified sniping down critics‘ throats.
All-in-all, a solid opening for the London Aquatics Centre. One hopes the Brits that have qualified go on to be inspired by bumper crowds that may just turn Hadid’s frown upside-down. And with ‘The Pringle‘ and ‘The Whale‘ now tested - all routes lead to the myriad of triangles at the heart of the Park. London was spoiled with glorious Spring sunshine over the weekend; with every passing test event the hurdles toward July 27 become few and far between.
Read more about me and London 2012.