12 Aug 2012 - Viewpoint
By Yasmin Shariff 12th August 2012
Gamesmaker and director of DSA reports from the Olympic Stadium. A look of amazement washes over peoples’ faces when they first enter the Olympic stadium. There is stunned silence whilst they take in the scale of the stadium. Moments later they recognise the torch (rather diminutive in real life) and have to be gently prompted to make their way to their seats.
As a volunteer gamesmaker arriving at 5.30am to see the stadium in the dawn light surrounded by manicured lawns and a kaleidoscope of flowering meadows was a magical experience- the colours, the smells and the freshness of the air gave it a surreal quality. The silence was soon shattered by the buzz from the workforce area check-in where the volume of chatter increased day by day as friendships and social networking mushroomed. People of all walks of life and backgrounds exchanged notes on deployment, events and the latest ‘knitted’ (the unofficial army of knitted mascots with distinctive gamesmaker uniforms in purple and red trim). Within an hour everyone dispersed into their positions. I was mainly charged with ticketing, crowd control at the bridges and ushering people to their seats.
The stadium island is accessed over five bridges A-E. It takes less than 5 minutes to get to your seat from a bridge. There were hardly any queues here – not even at the busiest bridges opposite Westfiled and near the Orbit. As a gamesmaker it was so easy to be welcoming, smile and point, knowing that they would be ‘wowed’ by what they saw and experienced. Everything seemed to work as planned and even the ladies’ wcs didn’t have queues! Teams running the stadium were very responsive to any reported incidents from a lost child, a trip up or a dirty wc. Incidents were attended to within minutes of reporting. I was touched by how much care and thought had gone into providing facilities for the elderly and disabled. My only criticism was the stranglehold of the sponsors and concessions which severely restricted the number of drinking water points. On hot days this led to long queues which were intolerable for parents with children and the elderly.
The feel good factor of the games comes as a surprise to many but make no mistake -this exuberance is a direct result of the masterly way the stadium has been designed. Accommodating overwhelming numbers of people with different needs, stars, egos, athletes, hierarchies as well as meeting technical aspects of safety, acoustics and media was just part of the complex brief. Like a fancy car-most are oblivious to what is under the bonnet or who designed it- they enjoy the thrill of the ride and the spectacle. Despite its scale the stadium is not overpowering -it is welcoming and does not upstage the participants. It provided a perfect stage set for the games and the extravaganza of the opening and closing ceremonies when it pulsated to a son et lumier of grand proportions. Its success is a testimony to the skill and experience of Rod Sheard (Populous) and Paul Westbury (Buro Happold)) and their highly experienced teams who have designed many sporting venues including Sydney, Millennium and Emirates Stadiums. It has been built with love and care. Every weld, mitre, bolt, nut and screw were in their place and beautifully executed.
Couch potatoes who think it is better on TV- think again. Seeing the athletes for real is a completely different experience. Watching my first race, I was captivated by the gazelle like women athletes limbering up for an event they had trained years for. Views from the stands are so good that you can see and feel the anxiety, tension, doubts, confidence, frustration and sheer excitement of spectators and athletes.
It is still not too late. Don’t miss the greatest show on earth. The Olympic Park has transformed the wasteland dumping ground of London into the most spectacular meadow and touched the hearts and minds of all who visit. There are all sorts of surprises in store in the park from water falling words under Stratford Bridge to the living willow sculptures filled with messages. Groups of performers dance and prance through the throngs to the delight of children and adults alike. If, however, you insist on remaining a couch potato you could join in the viral group of ‘knitteds’ (patterns can be downloaded free at http://www.ellieselite.org.uk/downloads/KNITTED%20mini%20MICKY_V2.pdf).