London’s 2012 Olympic Stadium is off and running

London’s half-billion pound Olympic Stadium has a press box without a roof, as PHILIP BARKER reports while trying to keep his laptop dry

Loughborough psychology student Justine Kinney will go down in history as the first winner of a championship race on London’s Olympic Stadium’s track.

At least the media mixed zone in the London Olympic Stadium is in the dry

Kinney came home in the first heat of the women’s 400 metres hurdles yesterday at the British University and Colleges championships which are being staged in the Olympic Park this weekend as one of the latest pre-Games test events, trialling all the systems and mechanisms which will be in use when Jessica Ennis, Usain Bolt and Mo Farah turn up here in August.

It meant an Olympic-style build-up for these student athletes.

Never before could a heat winner of a race at the students’ championship have been subjected to the interest of so many interviewers in the post-race mixed zone. “I was very aware of where we are because of the process we went through,” Kinney said.

“Normally with our championships, you are taken to a little call room, then you taken out and off you go, but here we had a 45-minute call up, so it was quite a big preparation before we’d even started ”

On a chilly afternoon, you felt for athletes who faced a long and winding path through broadcast and print mixed zones that must have seemed as long as the races themselves. This was all in the cause of testing arrangements, albeit with the consolation of making a small bit of Olympic history.

Few athletes were actually asked for an interview. How very different it will all be in August, when journalists will be happy to discover that the mixed zone is very close to the media work room. No long walk like we had in Beijing.

The press box exposes one of the predicted short-comings of the £496 million 80,000-seat stadium’s design. Many of the seats are in the open air. With the notoriously fickle English weather, media colleagues from across the world could be in for a soaking if we do get a downpour. Rain in London in the summer? Who’d have thought it?

This is the busiest week on the Olympic Park so far, with athletics sharing the stage with water polo and hockey.

Bring a pac-a-mac: the press box in London's Olympic Stadium, designed by an optimist who has never checked the weather in England. Photographs by Philip Barker

Great play was made of the television commercial shot on the Falklands showing an Argentinian hockey player Fernando Zylberberg training in front of various Port Stanley landmarks. The tag line “To compete on English soil, we train on Argentinian soil” in another context might have been quite witty, but it appeared calculated to offend, especially when the player was seen doing step ups on a war memorial.

The video has the stamp of La Casa Rosada, the Argentinian presidential palace, and flies in the face of the Olympic movement’s attempts to keep politics out of sport.

The IOC does have the right to ban a National Olympic Committee, but even if in the unlikely event that they did so over this incident, Argentinian athletes would still be allowed to compete in London, albeit as individuals, and not under their nation’s flag.

London 2012 organisers were probably breathing a huge sigh of relief that only the Argentinian women’s hockey team are in London for the test event, though the meeting of Great Britain and the South Americans is bound to attract more attention than might normally be the case for a hockey match on FA Cup final day.

Mind you the British tourist board has scored an own goal, too. In one television ad, Harry Potter actor Rupert Grint extols the virtues of staying at home. “You won’t see the Olympic torch in Crete,” he says. Except you will: Crete is where the Olympic torch is going on the first night of its journey to London. All told, the torch will spend the best part of a day on Crete, more time than it will be in most British towns during its 70-day odyssey once it reaches these shores.

“It is meant to be tongue in cheek,” a tourist board spokeswoman said. So that’s all right then, you can broadcast misleading and inaccurate information, providing it is “tongue in cheek”. The Advertising Standards Agency would doubtless uphold a complaint, maybe even get the tourist board to change its expensively shot and cast ad campaign, if only someone could be bothered to bring the matter to their attention.

For the record, the Olympic torch will be lit in Ancient Olympia next Thursday. The first runner will actually be a Scouser who competes for Greece, the Liverpool-born long-distance swimmer Spiros Gianniottis. More British media are set to cover this ceremony than at any time in the past.


Thu May 10: SJA Ladbrokes Lunch with former England cricket captain Alec Stewart. Click here for booking details.