Diving under the belly of the whale

Diving is a minimalist sport. This was our observation as we walked into the afternoon sunshine after the Women’s 3m Springboard preliminaries. It was a contrast to the array of visual spectacle of athletics, say, or gymnastics, where your attention is drawn to multiple sources of stimuli as someone vaults over here or throws a somersault over there. In diving you focus. It’s all over in a flash. Then they do it again. And again. And again.

My more expert companion explained that the water sprays improve the visibility of the surface of the diving pool as you leap in from a great height

The more you watch something the more you understand it. By the end of Round 1, I could predict the score, more or less. OK, my scores were a bit more than theirs, but I’ve always been a generous marker. And anyway, they discount the bottom two and the top two, so that makes me spot on. The free programme tells you what you need to look for: starting postiion, approach (the run up), take-off, flight and entry. Now, it would strike me that one of these things is way harder than the rest. The flight is actually where they do the impossible acrobatics, twists and turns. Nevertheless, if you see a splash – in the prescient words of Grumpy from last week – they’ve blown it.

The building was very good. The programme tells you all about it. It is designed so that you feel that you are under the belly of the whale. It has been freezing in London for too long now, but the freak nice weather made us feel a bit like we were inside the belly getting a bit too warmed up. Remember that for the Olympics, folks – it is hot in there!

Gasping for air and food (Question: when would you actually miss Mcdonalds? Answer: when there is no alternative), we made our way to the surface and back through the gates to the joys of Westfield. No-one body searched us on the way out. Simultaneously, we were put in mind of our trip to the dressage in Hong Kong – exciting for the aficionado, but nothing much happening for us plebs.

Headline reads "Dressage proves not a draw just a bore" with pictures of people asleep

It wasn't that bad ...

Going up Westfield

We didn’t feel much Olympic spirit as we struggled along The Street in a bleak, rain-swept Westfield on Saturday afternoon. I was just checking I knew the way to the Aquatic Centre before I turned up with a bunch of students for the diving next Thursday afternoon. My grumpy companion (he doesn’t like the rain) was giving indications that he would rather be downloading apps for his new iPad, but we found the “signs” to follow without too much problem. Lots of people were going to the cycling so we fell into line and were waved across the road by helpers in red anoraks, who looked half-drowned but nevertheless quite official with “Olympic Park” written on their backs. Since we didn’t have a ticket for the cycling, we had to make a subtle U-turn and pretend we were with the exit group as we were waved back over the crossing two minutes later.

Grumpy hadn’t been out that way before, so despite his protestations, and the limited visibility occasioned by the downpour, we found the entrance to John Lewis to seek out their viewing gallery over the Olympic Park. We floated up the escalator past the many shiny things on display to reach the third floor, where for the first time a flicker of interest played across the countenance of my companion. “What is that?” and “Why is there more than one building?” he asked. The Aquatic Centre looked magnificent, and so did the Olympic Stadium, but I wasn’t so sure about what appeared to be the water polo building that looked like a giant, grey inflatable.

Grumpy didn’t want to leave John Lewis without checking out the London 2012 shop. By this time, he was warming up and I overheard him by the strangely coloured Union Jack Minis and Concordes advising another browser that there were “London buses over there”. I wanted to investigate the mugs. I, personally, am not taken with the London 2012 mascot. I think it is silly. Since images of the mascot grace nearly everything, this is a drawback for me. What is worse is that the mugs are the wrong shape. Geographically, I have come quite close to the last few Olympics (e.g. Hong Kong during Beijing and Edmonton during Vancover) and have been bringing back Olympic mugs for a friend of mine. Admittedly, she is also in London for this one, and so can buy her own, but I felt I should look anyway. But they didn’t have any regular shaped mugs, just the sort that taper at the base. This was a big disappointment. And even when I cast an eye over the glassware as an alternative, I couldn’t help thinking they were quite horrible. As Grumpy observed, “I think they’ve blown it”.

I was starting to tire, but my companion was fast becoming entranced by the magic of Westfield and insisted we cover all the three floors of shopping centre. I was taken aback a little by the video screens showing Iranian Female Ninja Assassins on an ITN news loop, somersaulting their way through an indoor assault course. Was this a real news story or a fashion-meets-fitness promo? I couldn’t decide.

Westfield is something to behold, on a Saturday afternoon. Gorged with people, it is reminiscent of a very nice airport. Where else do you see smart people hanging out in imprecisely demarcated champagne bars with hordes of people aimlessly milling around them as if they hadn’t noticed? The food floor offered all kinds, with KFC and McDonalds giving way to more upmarket eateries as you neared the entrance to Waitrose. And there’s a big Jamie Oliver presence all over the place.

Roll on Thursday, when I will actually get to see inside the Park!

London prepares … for security checks

In the next two weeks, I will be visiting two Olympic venues with a group of American students – Wimbledon and the Olympic Park Aquatic Centre for the FINA Diving World Cup. I am used to negotiating the circuitous public transport route to Wimbledon with a horde of people in tow. It is a bizarre journey for out-of-towners, but an authentic Wimbledon experience necessarily entails going on a magical mystery tour to the heart of surburbia. It is no surprise that there is only one bus that serves the All England Club, and that is diverted during the Championships. It is all part of the exclusiveness that is built into the Wimbledon brand.

Getting into the Olympic Park is new to me, though, so I made sure to look up where to go. The London Prepares website informs me that I need to get to Stratford station and follow the “signs” to the Olympic Park. Another mystery journey to look forward to. I was a little perturbed by their advice to leave 70 minutes to go through security. The diving event we are going to only lasts 120 minutes. A little excessive, perhaps?

The list of prohibited items in the Olympic venues was announced late last year. The BBC said there were to be no water bottles, no food (except baby food), no alcohol … even in venues (like Wimbledon) where you are normally allowed to come fully self-catered.  Rules for the diving differentiate between restricted items (allowed but not to be used as you would like) and prohibited items. There may be some confusion. You can bring in food, but can you eat it? You can keep your vuvuzela, but can you play it? Will the logos on your clothing be considered ambush marketing? Think twice maybe about wearing your Superdry jacket.

You might think sport spectating is all about letting your hair down and yelling for your team. Just as much of the experience is about standing in line to submit to surveillance and then modifying our behaviour inside the venues so they can keep us under control. But even if they take your sandwiches away, you are always free to buy some more inside the park…

Rent generation

Apparently, landlords are planning to kick out existing tenants in order to quadruple rent on properties during the Olympic period. This is an interesting dimension of the Olympic legacy. According to Seb Coe last year, the Olympic village will become 1379 affordable homes

when beds for athletes become essential new homes for Londoners after the Games, creating a vibrant new neighbourhood on the doorstep of the Olympic Park

People looking out from Westfield Shopping Centre

In economic terms, it is worth reflecting that research has shown there to be both winners and losers in previous Olympiads. As Preuss observes:

It is not surprising that many negative effects have the greatest impact on the poor

Preuss goes to observe that, despite indications to the contrary, there are some hidden impacts resulting from the redevelopment of urban areas during the Olympics. He says that in the past it has appeared that host cities have improved public space for everyone by installing pedestrian precincts or public parks

but the precincts contain shops for the affluent and the parks host fee-paying events.

You can think about all this as you admire the construction of the Olympic Park from the viewing gallery on the third floor of the sparkly new John Lewis store in Westfield Shopping Centre. But for the moment, it looks like the Olympics is all about rent generation rather than regeneration.