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Olympic Park Still Under Construction

London officials insist it will be completed on time.

London officials insist it will be completed on time.

(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

Heavy machinery clatters ceaselessly at London’s Olympic Park, the massive construction site in East London which will be the centerpiece for competition at the 2012 Olympic Games. Last Monday, a group of journalists riding in a bus around the loop road of the complex peppered an official of LOCOG, the London 2012 Olympic Organizing Committee, with questions about his organization’s progress. The most important one was this:

“Will you be late in completing the work?” asked one reporter.

“No,” said a determined James Bulley, Director of Venues & Infrastructure, momentarily freezing his face with a smile after answering. “The fact is that everything is on track.”

Bulley, a 40-ish man with closely cropped hair, penetrating eyes, and a lot of patience, spoke rapidly into a microphone as he explained to the reporters that there was still much work to do, but that it would indeed be finished in time for the Games’ Opening Ceremony on July 27.

“It still looks quite a construction site at the moment,” Bulley said. He continued: “This brings back to life what was a heavily contaminated area.”

For the past 400 years, the Lower Lea Valley had been used for heavy industry and domestic and industrial landfill. The soil was so contaminated it had to be cleansed with giant soil washing machines to make the site safe for development. Moreover, there were 52 high voltage electricity towers which criss-crossed the site which had to be dismantled and removed, something organizers said was one of the largest civil engineering projects ever in Britain.

Organizers have planned carefully to only build permanent structures which will have a bonafide legacy use, something which has plagued previous Games organizers, especially in Athens.

“We won’t leave any white elephants,” Bulley said.

Within the park –which will be a secured area and have three tightly controlled entrances– the basketball arena is a temporary structure covered with a white PVC film. That building will be dismantled after the Games, with parts reused or recycled as appropriate. The Aquatics Centre has 17,500 seats for the Games, but 15,000 of those seats are temporary and will later be removed. The entire water polo venue is temporary and will be taken down.  The athletes village was designed to be reconfigured and become an apartment complex after the Games.

“For the period of the Games, the kitchens have been taken out,” Bulley said.

Amongst the permanent structures will be the Olympic Stadium, velodrome, BMX track (but not the spectator seating), and the massive International Broadcast Center for which Games organizers are reviewing three bids for its future use. No firm decision has been made for a legacy use of the Olympic Stadium; Bulley said that organizers are now looking to lease the stadium, possibly to more than one party.

To feed the athletes, a giant tent has been erected which will be run by the hospitality services company Aramark.  Bulley said that 6,000 athletes can be fed each hour with little waiting.

“There is a complete selection of foods (to meet all tastes and religious restrictions),” Bulley said. “We have a lot of knowledge from previous Games (about peak dining periods); there won’t be any ques.”

Ticket sales for the Games have gone briskly. Despite a top ticket price of £725 (USD $1,160) for athletics events, there are no more tickets available for any athletics events at the main stadium, marathon, or walks. To help open the Olympic experience to more people, organizers are considering opening the Olympic Park to fans who do not have event tickets. As it stands now, people will need event tickets (or accreditation) to gain access to the park.

“We are looking into the possibility of a non-event ticket,” Bulley explained, wrapping up the tour. “We’re still working on that.”