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London unveils 2012 stadium plans

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Mihir Bose | 18:10 UK time, Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Stadium launches are a bit like the confirmation of a royal birth. Everybody is keen to say how well the baby looks, the future is presented in rosy hues and any talk of the infant not turning out to be a royal success is played down.

So it was with the unveiling of the design for the Olympic Stadium today at exactly the spot where the 100 metres will finish in 2012.

London 2012 should have every reason to feel pleased with the launch.

It saw all the right noises being made about how stunning the stadium will look and the clever way, as architect Rod Sheard put it, an 80,000-seater stadium will be converted into a 25,000-seater stadium for post-2012 use, providing London with a permanent athletics home.

Indeed, some of the businessmen associated with running the Olympics project were pretty amazed that an event like this could generate such media interest.

It is, as one Olympic insider conceded, " a one picture story" - the picture of what the stadium will look like in four-and-a-half years.


City stories of much weightier importance would never generate such media attention.

Rod Sheard easily deflected questions about the roof. Initially the stadium was not going to have much of a roof but the plan is for it to cover two thirds of the spectators, so some could still get wet.

There will also be a roof when the stadium comes down to 25,000 seats.

However, for an architect who can be innovative and has in the past spoken of how curious and old fashioned he finds athletics stadia, attention focused on the track around the edge.

Meanwhile, the field events in the centre of the stadium which will use the bulk of the playing area get obscured, so the design keeps to the old and tried athletics stadium model.

The designer may have toyed with more imaginative designs but the sporting federations, who can be very conservative, would have had none of it.

Besides track and field the post-2012 use could also involve a football club (Leyton Orient are strong favourites) and a rugby club (Saracens and Wasps have been in discussion).

Other legacy plans like specialist sports schools are also being considered. Plans for these are likely to be announced later.

An intriguing question that kept coming up at the launch was how much it would cost to convert 80,000 seats into 25,000.

The estimate for the stadium project is £496 million, up from just under £300m in the bid book - an increase explained by VAT, rise in costs since 2003 etc.

But neither John Armitt, chairman of the ODA, nor Sheard would say how much of the £496m was for conversion.

However, Olympic minister Tessa Jowell later told me a figure of £38m has been allocated for it.

The conversion is crucial to the success of the legacy which was central to London winning the Games, and in which 2012 continues to invest so much capital.

However, there are those connected with the project who will privately tell you that unanswered questions remain about whether legacy costs add to the budget of £9.3 billion announced last March.

The official word at the moment is that the organisers have no fear the budget will rise and are keen to broadcast how far ahead of previous Olympic cities they are at this stage.

But with so much still to be resolved, like a royal child, the finished article may not turn out quite as expected.

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