London gears up for the 2012 Games


London gears up for the 2012 Games

The energy in London is now almost palpable as the city gears up to host the biggest show on earth next year — the 2012 Olympic Games. In July thousands of athletes and hundreds of thousands of tourists will descend en masse for the experience of a lifetime.

The city, the organisers, developers and armies of volunteers have embraced the hosting of both the Olympics and Paralympics with a vigour and enthusiasm that is seeing the city and the East End, where many of the key venues are based, undergo a major rejuvenation.

Hosting the games is a massive undertaking in infrastructure development and organisation. But while taking a guided walk around the East End Olympic site it is impressive to see venue after venue completed or near completion. The whole Olympic Park area has been transformed from what was, only a few years ago, a derelict industrial backwater.

The final piece of turf has already been laid on the 80,000 seat Olympic Stadium, the nearby curved Aquatic Centre has been built, the Handball and Basketball Arenas have been finished, as has the Velodrome and the International Broadcast Centre. Add to this the completion of the main transport gateway to the games, Stratford International Station, and the 2800 apartments at the Athletes Village that are nearly built, and you get the feeling that from the moment the bid was announced, London took off from the starting blocks at lightning speed.

And now, nine months out from the opening ceremony on July 27, 2012, everything is coming into place. The once bleak landscape is beginning to shine.

Our Olympic Walk guide is bubbling with pride and is also an overflowing fountain of knowledge. We are told the nearby River Lee has been totally re-dredged and cleaned; 1.4 million tonnes of sand has been moved and placed around new parklands. Over 4000 trees and an estimated 500,000 plants have been bedded down and the river system has undergone extensive wetland planting. “It is part of the feel good factor; a carpet of yellow meadow flowers under the bridge leading to the Olympic Stadium will greet visitors. And hopefully it will be beautiful summer weather,” she enthuses.

The East End itself, for so long a run down mishmash of neglected docks, wharves and buildings, has been undergoing a transformation over recent years and has now become a hub for cutting-edge art galleries, restaurants and bars. There are the colourful East London markets, while Brick Lane is full of great eateries and vintage clothing shops, not to mention 16th century pubs such as Grapes, or Lord Nelson’s personal favourite, The Green.

There are cool art galleries like Whitechapel and White Cube and museums such as the Museum Of Childhood (showing middle class houses over the centuries) and Dennis Severs House (a time capsule of the 18th century Huguenots). Then there is the 19th century gin distillery and 18th century tidal mills. The area is positively steeped in British history.

Also worth a mention is the huge Canary Wharf development and the recently opened Westfield Stratford City — the largest shopping centre in Europe — and it is clear that the East End is ready to greet the world. And to get the hundreds of thousands of spectators to the Olympic venues, the transport system has had a total overhaul. A new high-speed train, known fittingly as the Javelin, will operate from central London’s St Pancras Station, whisking visitors in a fast ride to Stratford International Station — just a few hundred metres from Olympic Park.

In addition, a network of coaches and buses will operate express services from the centre of London to Olympic Park, as well as Greenwich Park, Weymouth and Portland, where the sailing events will be hosted. Nearly all will be wheelchair accessible. The Docklands Light Rail System will also be extended. And all transport will remain operational for the subsequent 2012 Paralympic Games that are also expected to draw record crowds from around the world.

In the build up to the Games, the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad — claimed as the largest cultural celebration in the history of the modern Olympic and Paralympic movement — is already in full swing. It culminates in the London 2012 Festival which will run from June 21 and throughout the games. Billed as the UK’s biggest ever festival, it will bring together artists from all over the world in a celebration of dance, music, theatre, visual arts, film and digital innovation, adding a cultural colour and edgy vibrancy to the city.

So, less than nine months out, it’s all systems go for the London 2012 Olympic Games — the 30th Olympiad. The London Philharmonic Orchestra has already recorded the 205 national anthems of the participating countries and the venues are being given their final finishing touches. The City of London, in true British tradition, has laid out the red carpet for what will no doubt be an Olympic Games that won’t be fast forgotten.

The writer travelled as a guest of Qantas Airways, Accor Hotels and VisitBritain