Though there are venues set up throughout London and across the English countryside to host different athletic events, the beating heart of the 2012 Summer Games is the Olympic Park.
Home to multiple venues, including the Olympic Stadium and the indoor cycling Velodrome, the Park sets in the far East London neighborhood of Stratford (not to be confused with Stratford-Upon-Avon – Shakespeare’s birthplace well outside London). On the end of the Jubilee and Central Underground lines, the park stretches from Straford down to West Ham with a good 45 minute walk between them.
The Park is large enough to hold 357 soccer fields inside 75 miles of fencing. Only individuals with tickets, press credentials or other official passes can gain access to the Park. Others can visit the surrounding grounds, but they can’t pass through the gates.
Any visitor to the Park should bring the most comfortable shoes possible as its an Olympian walk making it to and around the joint from either the Stratford or West Ham side. There are plenty of smiling Olympic staffers with megaphones reminding everyone to stay to the right along the pedestrian walkways. Basically, the tone is: “Hello. Welcome to the Olympics. Just get out of each other’s way by staying right, and you haven’t a hope in hell of getting into the park without a ticket. Enjoy your day.”
Once inside the Park, the crown jewel is the Olympic Stadium at the heart of the grounds. The world was introduced to the Stadium during London 2012’s Opening Ceremonies. The facility seats 80,000 and stands out with fourteen lighting towers. All that illumination is on the menu because these Summer Games are the first to be broadcast in HD. That 1080p demands plenty of lumens.
Amongst the other athletic venues, the Velodrome is the Park’s major star. The locals call it the Pringle because it looks like the kind of chip you might want to slam a stack of out of a cardboard tube.
The tallest feature of the Park is also easily the ugliest. The Arcelor MittalOrbit is a huge, twisting metallic tower. It was built to give paying customers an overhead view of the entire Olympic Park. I’m sure it serves that purpose, but it looks like it was made out of scrap metal – like a failed set piece for a “Terminator” movie. It doesn’t fit the brighter aesthetic style of the park and will always look out of place – even after the Olympics when the Park becomes a general sports and tourism attraction.
The Olympic Park snuggles up next to what is easily the busiest shopping center in the world as long as the Games continue. Massive crowds flow in and out of the specially built Westfield Mall, creating a cash happy attraction that recreates the energy of the Olympic Park for those who can’t get access to the real thing.
The entire scene is so bustling, so hectic, so packed with people from around the world both inside and outside the Olympic Park grounds, it stands as a monument to tolerance. The simple fact that so many folks bump and bounce into each other while throwing a lot of money around without kicking each other’s backsides proves just how well these Games can bring people together.
Basically, we’re all just having a good time watching sports.