The park itself wasn’t really the highlight of my tour: I didn’t find it that spectacular. The stadium is, at best, functional and minimalist. The aquatics center is architecturally interesting, but most of it is temporary. The structure I started this piece with would probably be improved by addition of rollercoaster cars: it will function during the Games as a viewing platform and after the Games as a wedding venue. The whole park is surrounded by a soon-to-be beautified walkway called the Greenway. Why is it green, you might wonder? Possibly because it’s well fertilized: the main pipe taking sewage out of London runs underneath the Greenway, and yes, you can smell it. If all this weren’t enough, there’s the matter of the mascots. Wenlock and Mandeville—though interestingly named after towns in England where forerunners of the Olympic and Paralympic Games were held—are meant to be animated drops of steel and represent the industry of the area of London where the Games are occurring. Instead, they simply look like monocular alien cartoons.
Despite all of this, the tour was very enjoyable. Our tour guide was a cheerful old Englishwoman, who walked quickly, was very interested in the sewage history of the place, and used words like “whiz-bang” and “bonkers” in regular conversation.
She made things fun, but the most fascinating part of the tour was realizing just how much work goes into planning the Olympic Games. Here are just a few things you probably never thought about.
The National Anthems. There are 205 countries attending this year’s Olympics, and somewhere in London, a symphony orchestra has just finished recording all of their national anthems. This time, they did the anthems of all the countries, not just those expected to win a gold: a few years ago, Luxemburg won gold and no one had bothered to record their anthem. Oops.
The Medals. There are 805 sets of medals that will be given out this summer. They’re kept at the Tower of London. Actually, that’s just a rumor and probably completely false, but our tour guide liked the idea of them all being guarded in the Tower so much that she decided to perpetuate the rumor.
Dispossessed Inhabitants of the Olympic Site. The building of the Olympic Park required space. There isn’t space in London. So space was made, mostly by uprooting people and industrial buildings already on the site. Since the whole point of holding the Olympic Games is to bolster the economy of an area and a nation, it wouldn’t be good to leave all these people unemployed. The Games made up for taking away factories and businesses by offering all the people from the area any construction jobs of their sort of labor that the Games required. But the construction site is also riddled with canals and tributaries, which means that it was the home of more than just people: many species of newt and frog were uprooted by the construction as well. Don’t worry, though! The Olympic committees took care of them, too. They were all captured and removed to a safe temporary home. Then experts worked over the next few years to grow exact copies of their habitats. When the construction was finished, the habitats were installed back on the banks of the river and the descendants of the dispossessed frogs and newts were returned home.
Temporary Structures. The committees who planned and designed the Olympic Park were concerned both with holding impressive Games and with having structures after the Games that could be useful to the people who live in the areas around the Park. Every structure in the Park, therefore, has a sense of the temporary. And indeed, much of the Park is already up for sale. For instance, the Olympic Stadium currently holds 80,000 people. But it consists of three levels: the first one holds 25,000 people, the first and second hold 55,000 together, and all three obviously hold 80,000. The committees estimate that the area won’t need a stadium that holds more than 25,000 people once the Games are over. So both of the upper two levels are up for sale, if any of you are in the market for bits of a stadium.
Green Toilets. The Olympic committees are also very interested in being environmentally friendly—or at least as environmentally friendly as one can be when one is bringing in five trucks of construction materials every minute. They’ve decided, therefore, that the men’s bathrooms won’t have any water running through the urinals and that the women’s will use collected rainwater. As our tour guide said, “It’ll be a bit grayish, but what’s the point in cleaning toilet water anyhow?”
Landscaping. And finally, the Park is dotted with hundreds of fully-grown trees, which have been in the works since London found out it had won the Olympic bid. Likewise, a unique blend of wildflower seeds has just been planted. The mix is intended to be blooming best during the weeks of the Games: it has been the job of a group of people for the last five years to perfect a combination of flowers best suited to the climate and season of London 2012. Oh, and if you want, you can buy a packet of the official Olympic wildflower seed mix to take home for your very own Olympic garden!
These details amazed me. So many things that I would never have thought of have been the sole occupation of groups of people for half a decade! It’s crazy to think about.
P.S. Check out this excellent article by the BBC talking about how Londoners should behave to foreigners during the Olympics.