Like most people in the UK I didn’t get any tickets for the Olympic Games so when I was offered the chance to be a VIP guest at the 2012 Schools Games to be held at the Olympic Park I jumped at the chance.
I caught a train from Colchester and less than an hour later I was picking up my accreditation pass and decided to head for the Velodrome. Ever since GB’s success at the Beijing Olympics I have enjoyed watching track cycling on the TV and I was looking forward to seeing it live for the first time. A girls Scratch Race was in progress when I arrived and I was immediately absorbed by the action on the track. It was hard to believe that these were only teenagers such was the speed and cut and thrust of the competition, which was won with a photo finish after an exciting final kilometre when any of half a dozen riders could have won.
It was very warm in the Velodrome and although less than half full the crowd was making plenty of noise. I stayed for a couple for races and as I was leaving I bumped into former RFU CEO John Steele who now heads the Youth Sport Trust so we chatted as we made our way to the Olympic Stadium. In the same party was Health Minister Andrew Lansley and as I have worked in the NHS for over 20 years I gave him the benefit of my advice in relation to the latest reforms and I’m sure he took my comments on board!
When we arrived at the Stadium, Lansley had to go and present some medals so I wandered up to the VIP box and got my first view of the inside of the centrepiece venue. What took me aback was its size, far bigger than I expected. My experience of large stadia has been confined to Twickenham, the old Wembley and the Stade de France but this was altogether much larger. The circular design makes it look as though the running track is round too and I wondered why a soccer team would want to play here with the pitch being so far away from the seats.
Over lunch I chatted to various people who had been involved in the media and marketing of the event and they seemed very well briefed, knowing that I was with the RFU and appearing to be interested in what I was saying (which makes a change!). Rob Andrew came in so after a few words with him I left him to the media people and went to look around the Park which was teeming with school parties.
The venues are quite well spread across the site with the Velodrome and Basketball arena 25 minutes walk from the Stadium and Aquatic Centre, with the hockey field a further ten minutes away. There were the usual food and drink stalls with entertainers interspersed with the crowd, but I was surprised at how much building work was still going on. In truth there was nothing major left to do, just some pathways and general tidying and smartening, although the on-site McDonald’s was still being fitted out. I went to have a closer look at the spirally, metally thing that looks like a weird helter-skelter and couldn’t work out what it was supposed to represent. There is meant to be a great view from the top but we weren’t allowed in to see for ourselves.
My final visit was to the Aquatic Centre and I was surprised quite how high and steep the top seats were. I didn’t venture up there myself but I was told that those suffering from vertigo shouldn’t sit there. In common with the Velodrome and the Stadium the venue was less than half full, but the noise created in all three places was impressive and when they are full come the games proper the atmosphere must be inspiring.
I left via the Westfield shopping centre to Stratford station and from the broad walkway over the railtracks I could see what a busy place Stratford had become, and wondered how well the infrastructure would cope with the hordes that would arrive in a few months time.
Writing this on the train back to Colchester I reflect on an enjoyable day, but in truth I am now less bothered about not having tickets for any Olympic events as I willl get the best view on the TV. The only exception is the track cycling where if I had the chance of tickets I would take it.
Pictures from the day