London Olympics: Can Park cope with busiest days?
- 3 August 2012
- From the section UK
The Olympic Park welcomed up to 200,000 people on Friday, its busiest day of the Games so far. How did it cope?
"So when does the Olympics start properly then? The running and jumping and stuff?"
It was a pertinent question from a London cabbie earlier this week. And the answer was "today".
It was as if the tap marked "people" has been turned on at Olympic Park. The stadium welcomed its first athletics spectators on Friday after the Velodrome had opened on Thursday night.
That meant all the venues on the Park were open, with action also at the Aquatics Centre, waterpolo, handball, basketball, and hockey's Riverbank arena. Up to 200,000 people were watching sport here, with more to come over the Games busiest weekend of "Super Saturday" and Sunday.
The volume of people arriving through the gates was astounding on Friday morning. Three wide rivers of footfall flooding across the bridge between the Aquatics Centre and the waterpolo arena and up to stand in the shadow of the stadium.
The London transport network hadn't completely observed the "Please, we have an Olympics on here" rules, and the Central Line was partly suspended. But resourceful Londoners and overseas Olympics fans had coped, via other lines, trains, buses and the hour-long queue for the high-speed javelin train from St Pancras to Stratford.
The vast majority were here in time for the start of their sessions and the opening of the athletics at 10:00 BST, some having left as much time as it might take to travel to another European capital for the day.
"We were up at five and have travelled in from Heathrow," said one woman, shooting a rueful look at her husband.
By lunchtime, the best way to assess the situation on the ground was from above.
Olympic organisers Locog had predicted the pinch points of people pressure would come as morning, afternoon and evening sessions in different venues opened up and then turned out, and spectators crossed paths on the open concrete and gravel walkways.
Looking down from the Orbit Tower, 86m below, they were as ants, marching from the stadium to the food outlets, from the hockey back across to the live screens, bunched together on the bridges and divided by control barriers, gathering around the shops and sponsors' attractions.
Down at the low exit from the Aquatics Centre, the swimming heats were coming to an end and people were spilling down the steps.
"It'll be unarmed combat out here when they come out," said one Gamesmaker volunteer, who was arranging all the mobility scooters in a row as his colleagues gathered babies' buggies from the floor and tried to get them in to some sort of order.
"The busiest we've seen it so far? I should think so, yes," he said, pushing a scooter up against the barriers.
By lunchtime the queues for food were mounting. Especially for the fish and chips, at the sponsor's burger outlet and at the shop.
And into the afternoon, some stalls did run out of food - the sandwiches were all gone at the bakery. Tonight more will be ordered, the staff said.
"There's no rice to go with our curry, so we've been given two naans," said Chris Spillar, who was standing outside the Velodrome and basketball food area with husband Alan.
On a mostly-hot day, save for one intense shower, there were also lines at the water fountains. In the evening, it was a wait of half an hour in the queue for fish and chips.
Some people with accessibility and mobility difficulties also had a trying day. "On foot, it's easier to dodge through, but I've been having to call out," said Lisa Worden, up from Cornwall, who had been struggling to push her daughter Phoebe through the crowds.
She said staff at the venues were well-meaning, but they had had problems with getting to and from their seats in a late rush to see basketball.
The live screen site in the centre of the Park has frequently been one of the busiest spots since the Games opened, popular because it allows people to watch the sports they cannot get in to see, or those happening at non-Park venues.
Today it was "heaving", said the staff who man it and give out waterproof mats to sit on. A queue to get in was snaking away towards the hockey venue and they had "never seen so many people in one place".
The gardens were suffering a fair bit, as people squashed down on banks filled with lavender and meadow flowers, eager to watch from some vantage point.
"This entire place has been resurrected from a scrap heap, so why have this as a planted area, when it could be like Murray Mound?" said Amy Jackson, who had been watching Team GB take track cycling gold after a morning at the athletics. She gestured at a shrub-covered hill.
But through the crowds, the queues, the shuffling from venue to venue, did people mind?
Apart from one person, who said: "There's far too many people, and there's no places to go," everyone else asked said "no".
"Ce n'est pas grave!" exclaimed the Frenchman, who had bought his fish and chips.
"It's great, no problems at all," said the double-naan Spillars.
"I would have been watching it all week, but I was at work. Here I am today," beamed Natalie Randall in the water queue.
This was like a festival crowd, some in fancy dress, in the sunshine, taking photos, smiling.
For most, the Park has coped enough with them today.
"Ahh, it just makes you want to come back tomorrow," one man said to his family as they crossed in front of the full stadium, heading home.