Cameras, noise, action: velodrome all a whirl

Preparations for the Olympics are cranking up with some of the highest profile venues in the park getting tried out for the first time. PHILIP BARKER, notepad in one hand, digi-cam in the other, reports on media arrangements at the cycling World Cup

The last time any of us saw inside the Olympic velodrome, it was still a building site. Chris Hoy was riding a bike on the track, though.

That was nearly two years ago. Yesterday, Sir Chris was back on the track, but this time in earnest, racing in the first competition to be staged in the £105 million venue.

To walk into the Olympic cycling arena this week was to be hit by a wall of sound from a packed arena and the sight of the feverish activity in the centre of the track. All the teams are assigned an area where the final tweaks to their bikes are effected. All, incidentally, within easy reach of a loo, installed close by at the insistence of none other than Sir Chris himself.

The architecturally impressive Olympic velodrome

This weekend is not, yet, the complete Games experience we can expect come July. The velodrome is architecturally impressive from outside, if you can approach on foot. But for this weekend’s World Cup, most of the full-house 6,000 spectators are being bussed in (so this is what Boris has done with the loathed bendy busses), across the Olympic Park which is still a work site.

Almost as confusing as the wall of sound that greets you upon entry at this key pre-Games test event is the multitude of different races, including the omnium, new for London 2012. This is meant to be a test of a range of cycling ability, with six different events.

Then there’s the points race, where riders go for 120 laps of the track with a sprint every 10th lap. This information was helpfully put on the big screens, but those covering cycling for the first time at the Games would be well advised put in a bit of homework ahead of time.

Printed information was available in the media workroom and up in the tribunes, distributed by the ever enthusiastic band of runners. Managing the information is invariably a challenge in a sport like this, where so many results are available in so many ways.

The mixed zone is in the middle of the track and you reach it by a subterranean passage. It is certainly advantageous to be able to watch the races unfolding around you, but the sheer wall of sound, the combined efforts of the sound system  and crowd, makes it difficult to hear your own thoughts, let alone those of the riders.

Sir Chris Hoy warms up for his team sprint race on Friday, cheek by jowl with the media in the centre of the arena - the BBC's Jill Douglas can be seen (in pink) in the background

If they’re British, those riders are and will be in greater demand than at any time in the past. Victoria Pendleton won gold last night with Jess Varnish in the women’s team sprint, setting a world record, before the women’s team pursuit took gold, also in a world record time.

British cycling boss Dave Brailsford, a pre- Beijing SJA lunch guest, has seen his sport undergo a radical transformation in terms of profile. Picture stories on the front pages of three national dailies today underline the amount of attention – and expectation – on Britain’s cyclists. “You turn your telly on and you see Chris Hoy with his bran flakes then he is having a shave and Vicky Pendleton doing all her stuff… it’s a different world that we live in now,” he said.

“The media coverage has changed dramatically.Whereas previously, we were used to cycling specialists, that has really broadened out now.

“In order to create a real interest, beyond the cycling enthusiasts, then you have got to get the mainstream media on your side and work at supporting it. Most of the more experienced riders are used to the media but we’ve beefed up our operation in terms of trying to handle that side of it,” Brailsford said.

At the World Cup, the capacity crowd was encouraged to Tweet their innermosts, with the incentive of seeing them displayed on the huge scoreboard cum television screen at either end. There were many who did, the BBC’s interviewing team of Jill Douglas and Matt Dawson even got a mention, but although Jake Humphrey, short-listed this week for the SJA Broadcaster of the Year award, was in the building, standing by to present, he was ignored by the Twitterati.

Organisers said that almost 900 press from across the world had been accredited for the World Cup. This figure included broadcast technicians. Over the first two days, the media population was around 150 and the media stand and workroom always appeared well populated. At Games time, the room will have 160 working spaces. The tribune will accommodate 220 during the Games, with more than half of these places are tabled.

To the chagrin of some, it was only tea and coffee within the press workroom; we were assured that more substantial catering will be on offer for the Games themselves.

At least there were catering outlets at the venue, but as one colleague on a deadline observed, there was a queue and time was tight (although that begs the question -couldn’t they have waited to eat after they’d filed?). The public refreshment stands did seem a little pricey, if the chocolate (all from Olympic sponsors Cadbury’s, naturally) was anything to go by.


Tue Mar 6: SJA Ladbrokes Lunch with former England rugby star Simon Halliday. Click here for booking details.

Mon Mar 12: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards in London. A gala dinner celebrating our colleagues work. For ticket details, click here.

Mon Apr 16: SJA Spring Golf Day, Surbiton GC. Watch the SJA website for booking details.

Thu Apr 19: SJA Annual General Meeting. Details to be announced on the website and in members’ emails.

Thu May 10: SJA Ladbrokes Lunch with former England cricket captain Alec Stewart. Booking details to be announced.