Press will burn the midnight oil from Opening night

The final World Press Briefing staged by LOCOG this week sought to show that everything is in place for next year’s Games, PHILIP BARKER reports

It is not on the sporting timetable, but journalists could face a marathon on the very first day of the 2012 Olympics.

London's blue and pink (yes) hockey pitches were unveiled this week while the world's media were in town for the WPB

The international media gathering in London for the World Press Briefing this week, they discovered that the opening ceremony proper will not begin until 9pm local time (there had been an earlier suggestion that the ceremony would begin at 8.12pm, or 20:12 on the 24-hour clock).

By 9pm in London in July, it is only just getting dark and the modern Olympic ceremony needs the cloak of night time for all the theatrical lighting to work. Organisers have a target time of midnight for it all to finish, which might prove a bit on the optimistic side.

More than 200 national teams are expected to parade at the Opening Ceremony (exactly how many is not yet certain because some NOCs are under suspension). By the time they’ve all made their way into the stadium it won’t be much before 11.30, assuming not too many of them dawdle, when IOC President Jacques Rogge invites the Queen to open the Games, which she will do in only 16 words.

Add another 10 minutes for the oaths to be taken by a British athlete and a judge, and it will approach midnight before the flame finally burns. Then there’s the post-ceremony press conference from Danny Boyle, so journalists covering the occasion could end up seeing the sunrise. And that’s only Day One.

This week’s briefing, the last one before the Games, offered a first chance to see inside the Main Press Centre. It is commendably close to the Olympic Stadium. With no fixtures and fittings yet in place, it was difficult to reconcile the vast empty spaces with the bustling centre it will become. One thing to note, unlike recent MPCs, there are no escalators, only stairs and “smart” lifts where you select your floor by pressing a button on arrival at the lift. The “smart” computer selects which of the multiple lifts you should use. Needless to say, the lift we were in didn’t quite work as it should.

The venue media centres will include one in the Athletes’ Village, where media access will follow previous Games conventions. There’ll be no access to the residential areas once the Games begin, but media tours of the village accommodation will be on offer on July 12, 24 and 26.

The Aquatics Centre is all but finished. Even the showers work in the diving area, to the chagrin of some reporters who were caught unawares while viewing the facilities. Apparently, someone leant on the on button.

The Velodrome is another venue that is all but ready. “The best Veoldrome I have ever been in,” one senior agency journalist would say (surely it could not be the first veoldrome he had ever been in?). Destined forever to be known as “The Pringle” we learned that Sir Chris Hoy has had a hand in the design, even to the extent of making sure that there’s a handily placed toilet within easy reach.

Looming over the whole park is the Westfield Centre, where the British Olympic Association will have much of their media operation. They’ve given an undertaking to bring every medallist to the off-Park facility. This will come as a relief to non-rights holding broadcasters and non-accredited journalists.

More details emerged about the facilities on offer at “Boris’s Boudoir”, officially the London & Partners non-accredited media centre. Based at One Great George Street, it opens before the official MPC and remains open until the end of the Paralympic Games. It will feature press conference rooms and has a spectacular working room. It will also rent office space and offer filming positions from London beauty spots. They hope to be able to offer a city-wide filming permit, though two boroughs have not yet signed up.

Travelling around London remains a hot Games topic, for journalists probably more than the competitors. The WPB had a reception at The Guildhall in the heart of the City of London on Tuesday; 24 hours later, the roads leading there were entirely snarled up with traffic tailbacks a mile-long in four directions from Ludgate Circus, while all trains from south of the city into London Bridge and Victoria were subject to delays. And as for the Tube network…

All the meetings at this week’s briefing were held at the University College London’s Institute of Education. Close to Russell Square, the designated media transport hub, it meant media were able to check the projected journey times for next year when on excursions.

LOCOG claims a journey time of 35 to 40 minutes from Bloomsbury to the MPC. During these briefing sessions, without the Olympic lanes in operation, colleagues from overseas reported that this journey time was achieved. On the final day, the trip to Wimbledon took an hour door to door, which is five minutes more than the estimate.

So far so good, but those journalists who opt to stay at (cheaper) hotels that are not part of the official packages might yet encounter problems if there are snarl ups on the public transport system.

SJA WORKING LUNCH: Baroness Grey-Thompson on the 2012 London Paralympics. Thu Nov 17: click here for booking details