– One of the more entertaining ways to pass time on this city’s extensive public transport system is to search the transit map for station names so whimsically quaint they would fit nicely into a Monty Python sketch.
Just for laughs, one could travel to Mudchute, Barking, Tooting Bec or my destination Tuesday, Pudding Mill Lane. It happens to be the station closest to London’s 2012 Olympic Stadium, as seen in this picture from the Pudding Mill platform.
Alas, spectators heading for the $1 billion stadium – on the south end of London’s Olympic Park -- during the Games won’t have the pleasure of getting off at Pudding Mill because security plans have mandated no access from that station to the park. Most spectators will use the more prosaically named next stop, Stratford.
There currently is no general public access to the park other than through guided bus visits booked months in advance, according to Olympic Development Authority spokesperson Laura Voyle, who drove me around the vast site for 45 minutes.
With a little more than a year to go before the
begin, major construction is complete on most of the park’s major sports venues. That includes three of the permanent competition venues: the stadium, velodrome and team handball arena; the fourth permanent venue, for aquatics, will be finished this summer.
The temporary, 12,000-seat basketball arena in Olympic Park, with a white, polymer skin that vaguely recalls the Water Cube in Beijing (like the Water Cube, it will be a screen for projected images), also is nearly done both inside and out. Teams from Australia, China, Croatia, France, Great Britain and Serbia will inaugurate the facility in an Aug. 16-21 test event.
"When people see that things are being done on schedule, it inspires confidence," said David Luckes, head of sports competition for the London Olympic Organizing Committee.
After the Wembley Stadium reconstruction fiasco, which ended four years later than planned, there was a great deal of skepticism among Londoners as to whether many of the 12,000 workers currently in the park still would be hammering, sawing, welding as the torch relay headed into the stadium for the opening ceremony July 27, 2012.
The irony is London’s Olympic planners had looked at Wembley as a possible site for the main stadium 15 years ago, when they were doing the feasibility studies on the issue of whether London should bid.
That idea went out when England’s football federation nixed the idea of a running track in the new Wembley, leading London to choose its alternate plan, making the Olympic Park the centerpiece of a massive, $13 billion East London regeneration project.
Luckes, who formerly worked for Britain’s Olympic Committee, was present at the creation of those plans. He felt an understandable sense of pride while watching the cross-country piece of the three-day eventing test competition – the first formal test event for 2012 - take place at the equestrian venue across the Thames from Olympic Park in Greenwich.
"Seeing this go off so well also builds confidence," Luckes said.
A few feet away, the man known in these parts as Lord Coe, dressed in a white, long-sleeved sport shirt and dun-colored jeans, was happily posing for pictures with schoolchildren who likely had no idea he is a) a member of the House of Lords b) chairman of the Olympic organizing committee or c) a newlywed for the second time.
They know Sebastian Coe as one of this country’s greatest Olympic champions, the one-time Hallamshire Harrier who became the only man in more than a century to win consecutive titles in the metric mile, or 1,500 meters. Coe would be leaving a few hours later Tuesday for Durban, South Africa, where the
will vote Wednesday on the host for the 2018 Winter Games, with Annecy, France; Munich, Germany; and Pyeongchang, South Korea the finalists.
That vote comes exactly seven years after London’s four-vote win over Paris in the final round of balloting for the 2012 site. London seems poised to deliver on the ambitious plans it presented the IOC in 2005.
"It’s like the result of a track and field race," Coe said. "It’s a mixture of natural talent, extraordinary hard work, great people and the rub of the green on the day. So far, we’ve had all those four things. But I don’t kid myself. This hasn’t been a walk in the park."
It seemed that way Tuesday, as horses and riders leapt the obstacle a few meters away from Coe.