LONDON – In theory, the Olympic Stadium is still supposed to be off-limits to visitors, but especially to the media, because we just can’t keep a secret and the last thing the organizers want is reporters spilling the beans on elements of Friday night’s opening ceremony.
Being a law-abiding Canadian, I took the Olympic Park walking tour instead. Fascinating.
I arrived back at the main media centre to learn that certain anarchistic U.S. scribes, who do not respond well to herding, had simply strolled off by themselves into the stadium, past the vaunted Olympic security detail – which evidently was having an afternoon cuppa – and were pleasantly surprised to see a familiar figure on stage, singing a familiar tune.
It was Paul McCartney, rehearsing Hey Jude.
This doesn’t mean he’s doing it for the opening. He could be rehearsing for Julian Lennon’s (gulp) 50th birthday next April (yes, the song was originally Hey Jules for John and Cynthia’s boy).
But probably not.
So I missed that. But I’ll see it Friday night.
Down in the dumps: The Olympic Park, of course, is built on what used to be a sort of centuries-old, impromptu landfill in East London, within sight of the modern towers of downtown, but abandoned under layer upon layer of garbage.
Our tour guide, the head of the Games’ Sustainability initiative – coincidentally, his name is Dave Stubbs (not the one from The Gazette) – pointed to the magnificent, Saddledome-shaped, Olympic velodrome and said that in excavating the site, the dig discovered a Victorian street ... 30 feet down.
So think 200 hectares, 30 feet deep in industrial waste.
Some revolution: The entire area, Stubbs said, including a long stretch of the River Lee, had been used as a dumping ground since (get this) the Industrial Revolution, which began in 1750. So, 250-plus years of accumulated detritus that had to be sorted and removed, 142 million cubic metres of contaminated soil “washed,” sifted, then replaced, the land surrounding the river completely recontoured and planted with mostly native foliage to become a natural filter for water run-off to the river.
The result is an urban park of wildflowers and trees, green space, a butterfly sanctuary and frog ponds, with temporary sporting venues where there’s no need for post-Games facilities, and a handful of structures: the stadium, which an English Premier League soccer team will occupy; the aquatic centre, which will lose its two extensions that hold 15,000 spectators and become a community pool; the velodrome; and the athletes’ village and shopping mall – as the focal points of an entirely new neighbourhood in an ancient city whose wealth is ever-so-gradually moving eastward.
Time will tell: Sustainability, mind you, is an idea every Olympic organizing committee hopes for, and advertises in its propaganda. It’s only when years have passed that you find out what actually was a lasting legacy and what didn’t work out. No one predicted the Montreal Olympic velodrome would become a biodome for butterflies and penguins.
And for a reported $14.9 billion, with a workforce of 200,000 that LOCOG CEO Paul Deighton estimates includes 100,000 contractors, it should be able to deliver some pretty substantial improvements to the city and environs.
Unfinished sympathy: It must be a virus that virtually all organizing committees contract, but the recurring theme of reports from venues visited so far by reporters is: “When are they planning on finishing these things?” Construction is still continuing, pipes are running over ground, and unfinished areas are hidden behind screens.
Seven years, you’d have thought, would give a modern industrial nation sufficient time to get buildings built and the plumbing done, but almost all Olympic host cities take it right down to the wire, and this one is no different.
Population overload: “We’re expecting at least a million extra people in London every day during the Games, including an additional 3 million journeys on public transport,” LOCOG’s transport commissioner Peter Hendy said.
In addition, the Olympic route network – dedicated lanes for Olympic transportation – are to be switched on at 6 a.m. London time Wednesday.
Sounds good: The money quote Tuesday from Chris Allison, Scotland Yard’s deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police: “Our aim is to make sure that sport takes centre stage. This is a sporting event with a security overlay, it’s not a security event in which a bit of sports gets played.”
He said the security plan was drawn up with the understanding of a terrorism threat level of “severe.” Now it’s been downgraded one tick, to “substantial.”
“As to protests, our position remains very clear and simple,” he said. “The right to protest is a fundamental part of our democracy, though it is a conditional right. You have to do it lawfully and peacefully, and it doesn’t give you the right to stop the Games happening, it doesn’t give you the right to stop an athlete who’s trained four years to compete against the best in the world.”
Asked how he would characterize the security force’s readiness, given the revelation that LOCOG’s private security contractor, G4S, failed to deliver more than 3,000 of the promised number of officers, Allison said: “I’m very satisfied that we’re in a very good place. We’ve done all the planning, we’ve looked at all the ways in which terrorists have attacked in the past and we’ve tried to make sure that none of those could get through our security measures.”
The mobilization of an additional 1,200 soldiers Tuesday to bolster security was essentially a “redundancy” measure, Deighton said.
“What’s simply happened is that the private security force turned out to be not reliable and we’ve substituted it with the much more reliable and better trained military force. So the net outcome of this change is you end up with a better security force qualitatively.”
Ask John Furlong: Deighton expressed disappointment at the security company’s failure to live up to its promises, but not regret at signing the contract.
“We would love to have started off at Year Zero without a single hiccup,” he said. “That is an unrealistic expectation given the scale and complexity of this project. Anybody who’s been involved in putting together one of these projects will tell you it is the hardest thing anybody ever does, anywhere in the world.”
Postmedia News Olympic teamLast Updated: 07/25/12 12:38