Yesterday, Friday, a few of us went along to one of the “London Prepares” events at the emerging London Olympics site. The occasion was the diving World Cup, in the new Aquatic Centre.
It was my first trip to the Olympics site. I was excited, looking forward more than anything to seeing the architecture, forming my own view instead of just reading about it in the papers, where everyone has their own agenda. It would be dark by the time we got there, but nonetheless, I couldn’t wait to see how things were shaping up.
Of course, before I got near to the Olympics site, I had the joy of Stratford tube station and Westfield Stratford City shopping centre. As a West Londoner, I’ve become accustomed to the wonder of Westfield, Shepherds Bush. You can rail against consumerism, sameness, soullessness, but actually, these shopping centres are really quite magnificent in their scope and design. And people like them – they are packed out. You can shop, but you can do other things too. Go to the cinema, have a bite to eat… or just meet. My children use Westfield as a place to meet their friends, hang out. And you don’t get rained on. In the Mediterranean, people promenade. The weather is lovely, it’s still warm in the evenings. Everyone can partake. In Northern Europe it’s not so easy to do these things. Westfield provides an alternative.
I was struck last night by just how busy the shopping centre was at 9pm. There were loads of restaurants and they were all full to the brim. Maybe in this part of London, the East, which has been neglected, there hasn’t very much locally until Westfield opened. There will always be great local restaurants – Indian, Chinese, etc, but maybe not the volume. It was so busy that we gave up on finding somewhere to eat and went home.
Anyway, we assembled beforehand at the interface of Stratford tube and Westfield and made our way to the Olympic Park. The signposting isn’t very good yet, so they had stewards with foam fingers pointing the way. I assume and hope this is just something that the authorities haven’t got around to yet. It could be farcical if they don’t put in better signposting before the Olympics. People could get lost in Westfield and never see the sports!
Then there was the security. Even for this low key event you had to take your jacket off, deposit all the contents of your pockets, and so on. Bit like an airport, although you didn’t have to shed your belt and shoes (not yet). I wondered what it would be like when the real Olympics starts. One guy said there were going to be 160 of the X-ray machines. Well, I hope they all work: otherwise people are going to be pretty frustrated. The Olympics IS going to be fun, isn’t it?
And so to the diving. The Aquatic centre is one of the first things you see. It’s impressive. Designed by the architect Zaha Hadid, the main feature is the wave-like roof. Except, for the Olympics, it’s surrounded by two temporary structures, which, while impressive in their own way, do rather ruin the beauty of the essential structure. There wasn’t the opportunity to have a really good look, and it was dark, so it’s hard to say how things will appear at the Olympics in the summer. But here are a few photos to give a bit of an impression. Shot with a simple digital camera with the flash off (getting my excuses in!). These were taken after the event.
That first one looks like a giant nose!
The competition that we saw was the womens’ three metre springboard dive. Now that doesn’t sound like much, but I can tell you it is when you see what they do.
The gymnastics in the air, the sheer daring of what they were doing, and the amazing technique was that bit more impressive than when you just watch it on the TV. Each competitor had five dives. There were seven judges and scoring was done by taking the middle three scores given, hence eliminating any biased outliers. It’s funny how you can quickly assume some pseudo-expertise in these matters. Given that all of the divers were pretty good in the air, the main thing seemed to be how they entered the water. Legs straight and minimal splash got the highest marks.
There were twelve competitors. This was the final, so these were the best. I looked at the list, saw that there were two Chinese women and predicted that they would be the top two. Aren’t they in most individual events these days? An early lead was taken by the Italian, Tania Cagnotto, and an American, called Cassidy Krug (great name) , shone briefly. But yes, the two Chinese women did come first and second, and quite right too. Their diving was astounding.
I think this picture is of the winner Wu Minxia.
This one definitely is…
And this is how she did it…
There was a British woman in the final, Rebecca Gallantree. She got a great reception, of course, and was excellent, like all of the divers. She came 9th on the night. Here’s a photo of her looking like she’s wondering what dive to execute next.
The arena itself was really impressive. It will be brilliant for the Olympics and the facilities thereafter will be fantastic. For the audience, the seating was comfortable and the ambience was warm but not too humid. Everywhere was so brightly lit, shiny and new. We sat near the main swimming pool. I thought how great it would be to watch some of the swimming races at the main event, so close to the competitors. Didn’t get tickets, so no matter.
I loved the shape of the high diving boards, too. There’s something classical about them, like dolphins rising from the sea.
As we walked back to Westfields and the tube, I took a couple of shots in the dark of the Olympic stadium and Anish Kapoor’s “Orbit” tower. In the darkness, the latter looks like some kind of coffee pot. I’m sure it will be magnificent on the day.
Just like the whole Olympics. I can’t wait. It is going to be brilliant. Of course it is costing a lot, but it will be a fantastic celebration of sport, and when you have things like the Aquatic Centre and the velodrome open to the public afterwards, it is going to be money well spent. Never mind West Ham’s will-they-won’t-they move into the Olympic stadium. I’m neutral on the matter, but if they do, I’ll probably get a season ticket. It could be the start of something…
Personally, I think the Aquatics Centre is the most impressive of the new Olympic buiilds…and hopefully it will lead Zaha to a hat trick of Stirling Prize’s!
The diving boards are fantastic
Such a shame about the horrible wings..
The Orbit…hmmm…I’m not sure how I feel about it. On one hand I know the artist is capable of producing, and has, exceptionally wonderful work. But this…it does look a bit of a mess in my opinion.
Thanks for the comment Tayab. Does seem odd to surround an elegant building with some ugly temporary structures, but I guess it’s a question of long term cost. Hopefully it will still look good in the daylight.