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28 Oct 2011
IOC News

London Calling

With less than a year to go, the Olympic Park nearing completion, and the event testing programme underway, the clock is counting down to the Olympic Games in London in 2012. Jack Leather offers an in-depth look at preparations as some of the city’s most iconic locations are spectacularly transformed, and a sports-mad nation excitedly awaits hosting duties for a historic third time

London 2012 is approaching fast. With less than 12 months to go until the Opening Ceremony, excitement is mounting for Londoners, the Olympic family and sports fans around the world. Construction milestones are being met and the Olympic Park is already taking shape as a sporting hub that will serve generations to come. While athletes and fans look forward to the event, London’s East End is set for a transformation that only an event like the Olympic Games can bring about.

But this is not the first time that the Games have come to London. After hosting the Games in 1908 and 1948, London will become the first city to host the Olympic Games on three occasions – although 2012 will be the first time that it has been able to prepare properly.

In 1908, organisers were left with less than two years to get ready, after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius put an end to Italy’s hosting plans. That didn’t stop the charismatic Lord Desborough, then British Olympic Association chairman, masterminding the longest-ever Olympic Games, spanning six months and including, for the first and only time, jeu de paume, rackets and powerboating.

London next hosted the Games in 1948, again under testing circumstances following a 12-year break caused by the Second World War. With Britain struggling to recover from the conflict, it became known as the ‘Austerity Games’. In the words of one of the organisers, the event “boosted people’s morale, everyone was prepared to do their bit and get involved”.

IOC President Jacques Rogge is quick to recognise the role London has played in the history of the Games. “It’s a great achievement,” he says. “The Olympic Movement owes a lot to the city of London.”

Having been awarded the 2012 Games in 2005, London has had seven years to prepare for this occasion and has made full use of that time.

Nowhere is the remarkable progress made more evident than in the Olympic stadium itself. In March, the last piece of turf was laid on the field of play – marking its completion on time and within budget.

Elsewhere in the Olympic Park, the new basketball and BMX venues have hosted some of the first test events. The handball arena and the Velodrome, also purpose-built for the 2012 Games, are ready for action as well.

The IOC’s Coordination Commission for London 2012 has now travelled to the city eight times to gauge progress. On the most recent visit in April, the group focused on the Olympic stadium, the Velodrome and the Athletes’ Village, and were thoroughly impressed.

“The outcome of our last Coordination Commission visit was very positive and we said that London was in a good place to start its test event programme in earnest,” says Commission Chairman Denis Oswald. “During this period, they will be able to focus on the details of their planning and see how their assumptions match up against the reality on the ground.”

State-of-the-art design and technology were used to create new sites and develop existing ones. The swift completion of the 12,000-seat basketball arena in June, after less than two years, is only one example. Based on a 1,000-tonne steel frame and wrapped in 20,000 square metres of recyclable white PVC membrane, it will be one of the largest temporary Olympic venues ever.

Sebastian Coe, the London 2012 Chairman, is adamant that every element of the Games will be athlete-centred. “We are completely focused on getting it right for the athletes, so that they can achieve peak performance and deliver the sporting spectacle that the public wants to see,” he says.

This is why the Athletes’ Village is within a stone’s throw of the Olympic Park venues and a short walk to the shuttle service to central London.

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) Athletes’ Committee, chaired by former Olympic triple jump champion Jonathan Edwards, is also heavily involved in preparations to ensure that the London 2012 Olympic Games provide the best possible athlete experience. Its tasks even go so far as testing the food and the beds in the Athletes’ Village to ensure they are up to scratch.

At the same time as looking forward to seeing the new venues come to life, organisers will have the luxury of using historic and cultural landmarks as the backdrop for sports events.

Iconic locations such as Horse Guards Parade, Hampton Court Palace or The Mall, will create “a visual spectacle” for the billions of viewers around the world, says President Rogge, and will “add to the magic and unique atmosphere that only the Games can create”.

East London, meanwhile, has undergone a major transformation as it prepares to host the Games, creating many opportunities for the local community. The construction of the Olympic Park has generated thousands of new jobs, and the Olympic Village will provide nearly 3,000 homes post-2012.

“We want the Games to leave a social, economic and sporting legacy and I hope that young people from east London make the most of this,” says Coe.

With the inclusion of women’s boxing, the London Games will also be the first to have both men and women competing in every sport, marking an important milestone in gender equality.

The transport infrastructure of London is also being overhauled. London 2012 is aiming for all spectators to get to the Games by public transport, or by walking or cycling.

“London saw that the Games could help them to achieve their goal of regenerating one of the poorest areas in the UK and, thanks to the Games, they have been able to achieve that, with the great majority of every pound spent on infrastructure being used for legacy purposes,” Coe adds.

Craig Reedie, the chairman of the British Olympic Association from 1992 to 2005, says redeveloping east London was a big part of the city’s bid.

“We first started to talk about this way back in 1993 or 1994. Right from the word go, the computer images of the East End of London were staggering and we almost thought ‘Can we really pull this off?’,” he says. “All credit to London and successive governments for delivering on promises that they signed up to.”

As the Games draw closer, the level of interest across the country has been unprecedented. Nearly two million fans in the UK applied for tickets in the first sales window, but London’s international status means the 2012 celebrations will have a far wider reach.

The excitement among young people is intense, and many have been able to connect to the Olympic Movement through social media. One of the key challenges for the IOC is to make sure that the widest possible audience, and particularly young people, can get access to the Games.

It’s worth noting that the IOC has over four million fans on Facebook and about 135,000 followers on Twitter, and London 2012 has nearly 100,000 on Twitter, while just under 150,000 have joined the London 2012 Facebook group.

Asked what he would like young people in the East End to remember from the Games, Reedie says: “I want them to see great sport. I want them to know the eyes of the world are being centred on their part of the world. And I want them to enjoy the most wonderful of parties.”

In addition to the support of the British public, major UK and international companies have lent their backing to the Games, enabling LOCOG to generate more than £690 million in domestic sponsorship.

“They play a key part in helping stage the Games in 2012,” says Coe. “We have some fantastic sponsors and partners on board and they are really helping spread the London 2012 message.”

President Rogge puts the success down to getting into the market place early. He adds that commercial interest across the globe – 11 Worldwide Olympic Partners are signed up for the Games – shows just how popular the Games are turning out to be.

London 2012 will also create a new chapter in broadcast innovation: digital coverage of the Games is expected to reach unprecedented levels, with more people than ever watching live footage on mobile phones and handheld tablets in particular.

The IOC is on track to provide coverage of the Games to all 204 National Olympic Committee (NOC) territories and, working with the Olympic Broadcasting Services, it will produce over 3,000 hours of live sports coverage.

As well as providing a celebration of sport and culture, the Games also have the environment at their core. Sustainability, which is at the heart of every aspect of planning, is about so much more than just being green.

To host sustainable Olympic Games, London 2012 has made five key commitments: to minimise the carbon cost and ensure that facilities can cope with the long-term impacts of climate change; to deliver zero-waste Games and inspire new waste management practices in the events and construction sectors; to minimise the impact on wildlife, conserve biodiversity and create new urban green spaces; to promote access for all, celebrate the diversity of London and the UK, and create new employment, training and business opportunities; and to inspire people across the country to take up sport and develop active, healthy and sustainable lifestyles.

“We want to use the Games to send a strong message that we can run big projects in an environmentally friendly way,” says Coe. The Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, an independent body which monitors the sustainability of the Games, has backed progress to date.

“Not only have they [the Olympic Delivery Authority] delivered wonderful facilities they have also delivered unprecedented sustainability standards through a rigorous approach involving the on-site teams and management,” the group’s chair, Shaun McCarthy, said in April.

But while the Games will be green, that won’t be the only colour on show thanks to the eye-catching “look of the Games” that has been created for London 2012. At the forefront of this look are Wenlock and Mandeville, the two London 2012 mascots who will ‰ give a bold identity to the Games – a quality also reflected in the London 2012 logo. Dynamic, bold and flexible, it is already known the world over.

As at previous Games, unique pictograms will be used around the Olympic sites to help people find their way. The designs were developed in consultation with each International Sport Federation, and are vibrant and accurate depictions of each sporting discipline.

The London 2012 brand will be used across a wide range of official merchandise, providing another important revenue stream.

In April last year, London 2012 launched its official online shop, stocked initially with 250 product lines, including clothing, collectables and pin badges. The shop will eventually be selling thousands of London 2012 products and will be backed by on-site outlets during the Games.

As preparations enter the final lap, excitement is building in London. The grip of the Olympic Games, boosted by meticulous preparations, is beginning to take hold.

“We are where we should be, and we are extremely proud of the progress we have made over the last six years,” says Coe. “At this key milestone, we want to tell and show everyone that we are getting ready to welcome the world to London in one year.”

“We are extremely proud of the progress we have made over the last six years. We are getting ready to Welcome the world to London in one year’s time.” – Seb Coe, LOCOG chairman

Facts and Figures
2012 in numbers
  • 6 new venues have already been built in the Olympic Park
  • 34 venues will be used in total
  • There are 26 Olympic sports on the programme
  • Women’s boxing will make its Olympic debut
  • Approximately 17,000 athletes and officials will feature in the Games
  • The Opening Ceremony will take place on 27 July
  • A potential worldwide audience of 4 billion people could tune in to the Opening Ceremony
  • In phase one of ticket sales in the UK, 1.9 million people requested 22.5 million tickets
  • The Olympic Village will be converted into 2,800 new homes after the Games
  • The Olympic Park will incorporate 45 hectares of wildlife habitat, with a total of 525 bird boxes, and 150 bat boxes
  • The steel frame of the International Broadcast Centre is big enough to house five jumbo jets placed wing-tip to wing-tip
  • Earlier this year, 12,112 people were working on the Olympic Park and Athletes’ Village
The ‘Games Makers’

The Games would not happen without volunteers and the process is well underway to find the 70,000 people who will give up their time to help. Some 250,000 people applied to become part of the London 2012 Games Maker programme and Coe feels that choosing those who take part is key. “Volunteers can make the difference between a good and a great Games,” he says. “It’s vital that we find the right people to carry out the wide range of roles needed, from collecting tickets to welcoming athletes at the airport. From the athletes to organisers, from the media to the public, we rely on the volunteers to deliver successful sporting events.”

Torch Relay
Shining Light

The highly anticipated London 2012 Olympic Torch was unveiled in June. It features 8,000 perforated circles to represent the 8,000 torchbearers who will carry it around the country during the Olympic torch relay, which begins on 19 May, before it arrives at the Olympic stadium on 27 July for the lighting of the cauldron during the Opening Ceremony. The three-sided torch reflects that this will be London’s third Olympic Games, while the triangular shape is also a tribute to the three Olympic values: excellence, friendship and respect. At 80cm high it is one of the longest Olympic torches ever used, but weighing just 800g it is also one of the lightest. The 8,000 holes help keep the weight down and also allow onlookers to see the flame shining through the sides of the torch, as well as rising from the top.

“The torch that carries the Olympic flame during the torch relay is one of the most recognisable and significant symbols of an Olympic Games,” says LOCOG chairman Seb Coe. “Members of the public right across the UK are busy nominating inspiring people to be torchbearers and I am thrilled we have a beautifully designed, engineered and crafted torch for them to carry.”

The Olympic flame will arrive from Greece on 18 May and the torch relay will start at Land’s End in Cornwall – the most westerly point of mainland Britain. It will travel as far as Scotland’s Outer Hebrides on an 8,000-mile (12,875-kilometre) journey, lasting for 70 days. LOCOG say the torch will come within an hour’s travelling time of 95% of the UK population and thousands of people are expected to celebrate along the route, with shows and concerts planned on 66 of the 70 days.

“The torch relay is one of the most iconic moments of any Games,” says former Olympic triple jump champion Jonathan Edwards. “When it starts its journey at Land’s End the eyes of the world will be watching it and I think it is something we can be very proud of.”

Denis Oswald Q&A
‘London 2012 sees sport coming home’

Says Denis Oswald, Chairman of the IOC’s Coordination Commission for London 2012

How would you assess London’s preparations to date?

When London was elected as the host city for the Games back in 2005, they got to work straight away and laid very solid foundations for the coming seven years of preparations. Since then, they have been unrelenting in their pursuit of excellence and I have been very impressed by the quality of their work. They are on schedule to host outstanding Olympic Games next year. 

What is so special about London as an Olympic host city?

As an Olympic host city, I believe that London is special in many ways, but there are two areas in particular that stand out. Firstly, there is its sporting history. London has already hosted the Games twice and is the capital of the nation that codified many of today’s Olympic sports. If Athens 2004 was the Games’ home-coming, London 2012 sees sport coming home. Secondly, its multiculturalism – no matter where an athlete comes from, in 2012 they will have a compatriot living in London who will be rooting for them during the Games. This will make for a fantastic atmosphere in the stadiums and around the city, as knowledgeable fans from across the planet celebrate together.

What are the biggest challenges the organisers face?

I would say that London 2012 is in a very good position as it enters the final sprint. Obviously, they are now really getting into the minute details of their operations and bringing all of those little points together at the right time. An on-going challenge for the Games is transport, as you cannot test for the stress that your transport system will be put under by the arrival of the thousands of people that attend the Games, but London is doing some excellent work in this area and I’m sure they’ll do a good job.

What events are you particularly looking forward to following at the Games?

Well, clearly as President of the International Rowing Federation, I’m looking forward to seeing the world’s best rowers compete at Eton Dorney! However, if I look beyond my own sport, I would say that the Opening Ceremony is always a big highlight for me.

It is the culmination of seven years of hard work finally coming to fruition and it’s always a great spectacle – I’m sure that London will be no different. In a sporting sense, I’m really looking forward to seeing some of the events in the Olympic Park, bringing this fantastic example of urban regeneration to life, and to seeing the events that will take place in front of some of London’s historic landmarks.

How do you assess the facilities that will be available to the athletes?

The facilities for the athletes are outstanding. The Olympic Village is of the highest quality and will provide many of the athletes with accommodation on the doorstep of the venues where they will be competing. The venues are also of the highest standard and will provide the athletes with a fantastic canvas on which to create the memories that will go down in Olympic history.

What reaction are you getting from Londoners as they look forward to the Games?

Very positive. During our last visit with the Coordination Commission, I joined Seb Coe on a visit to Tower Hamlets, one of the host boroughs for the Games, and the reaction from the people was tremendous. You can really feel the passion for the Games and the expectation that has been building up over the past few years. These Games will change the face of east London forever and leave some great legacies to the city and country. I think people are very proud of what they have been able to achieve and will welcome the world with open arms next year.

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