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      Volume 11 |Issue 21| May 25, 2012 |


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Straight Talk

London Olympics 2012
Let the Games Begin

Nadia Kabir Barb

London is preparing to host the Olympics this summer.
Photo: Courtesy

In the summer of 2005, when it was announced that London had been selected to host the 2012 Olympics Games, there was an immense sense of elation at having defeated Moscow, New York City, Madrid and (perhaps more importantly for the English), Paris in their bid. Along with millions of others I too felt excited at the prospect of the Olympics coming to town. However, seven years is a long time and soon life takes over and even events as lofty and prestigious as this take a back seat. Before you know it, the elation fades and the excitement turns into a cursory glance every now and then at the papers to see how things are shaping up for the Games.

Over the past few years, the city of London has been gearing up for this momentous occasion and huge amounts of money have been invested in getting the capital ready for the challenge ahead. For Londoners, however, the unending road works and disruption to public transport have became a constant irritation, almost overshadowing the fact that the works are taking place to try and improve the infrastructure and increase the efficiency and capacity of the transport system prior to the games. It has also become as commonplace a topic of conversation as discussing the weather to speculate how the city will cope with the sudden influx of visitors during the Olympics.

In 2005, there was general optimism and excitement about hosting the games but this was prior to the economic recession that engulfed the Western world in 2007.

According to various figures, the cost of the Olympics appear to range from £9.3 billion to £11 billion. Some people argue that this project is an unaffordable expense given the current economic climate; there is a fear that it could become a white elephant. However, it is perhaps of some comfort that the theme of the London Olympics is economic and environmental sustainability.

It was only when a friend of ours took us on a guided tour of the Olympic Park that it dawned on me the enormity of the project and also what hosting the Olympics actually means for a country. What better way to showcase a city or country than to be host to an event that includes almost every nation in the world and will also be televised globally.

I had read about the Olympic Park spanning 500 acres but to actually see the vastness of the scheme was impressive. Although we could not enter any of the venues, we were able to walk around and see the different buildings. We had a wonderful view of the wood clad Velodrome built for the cycling events sitting atop a small hill. Its design is said to incorporate natural ventilation and allows for an abundance of natural light, reducing the amount of energy needed for air conditioning and artificial lighting.

The Olympic Stadium, built with 80,000 tonnes of steel, has a seating capacity of 80,000. Photo: Courtesy

Then we were shown the Aquatic Centre with the roof aptly resembling a wave, the Copper Box for the Pentathlon and handball games, and the BMX Track. On the tour we also passed the Basketball Arena which is believed to be the largest temporary venue ever built and one that can be taken down and parts of it reused elsewhere after the games. The Olympic stadium was of course the largest and most prominent of all these sites and it was interesting to learn that this particular stadium was built with 10,000 tonnes of steel, significantly less than the amount of steel used in other stadiums making it more sustainable. The innovative design of the Olympic Stadium makes it flexible and means its 80,000 seating capacity can be reduced after the Games. There is a permanent lower tier with a capacity of 25,000, and a temporary steel and concrete upper tier, which can hold a further 55,000 spectators.

We were unable to take a closer look at the Olympic Village which has been built to house 17,000 athletes and officials during the games. Once again, with the thought of sustainability in mind, these accommodations will be transformed into 2,818 new homes, including 1,379 affordable homes and houses for sale and rent, and will create a new residential quarter to be known as East Village.

Another aspect of having the Olympics in London is that there has been a significant injection of money and investment into and around East London, where the Olympic Park is situated, for its revitalisation and regeneration. The work being carried out is thought to have permanent ramifications and “the scale of work going on to create the Olympic Park will transform the area for good and leave a lasting legacy of new world-class sports venues, thousands of new homes, new transport links, new energy networks and a brand new urban park”.

Walking around the Olympic Park was definitely an eye opener and it reminded me of how exciting the games were when I was growing up. It was an event that people used to look forward to and I still remember watching the games on television with my family. I think my first memory of the Olympics is seeing the world famous Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci score a perfect 10 for her performance in the summer Olympics of 1976 and become the first female gymnast to do so. Having just begun gymnastics at school myself at the time, I felt a sense of camaraderie and it was a delight to watch her perform with style and grace. Of course, at the time I was sure I would follow in the footsteps of my namesake and become a world famous gymnast myself but alas that was not to be and no gold medal adorns my mantle piece.

Interestingly, another famous Olympian that comes to mind is Johnny Weissmuller. Although at the time I was not aware that he was the recipient of five gold medals and one bronze medal, which he won for the swimming events at the 1924 and 1928 Olympics, I was familiar with him for his starring role as Tarzan in films I had watched while growing up! It was only later that I learned of his Olympic glory.

The Olympic torch has now been delivered from Greece, the birth place of the Ancient Olympic Games, to the shores of the United Kingdom; it is only a matter of weeks before the flame reaches its final destination in East London and I can once again feel the thrill of being part of this momentous occasion.

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