Jun 23

What to Expect at the London Games

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By Ron Vaccaro

When London hosts the Games of the XXX Olympiad from July 27 – August 12, 2012, it will become the first city to stage the Olympics three times (Athens and Paris have hosted the Summer Games twice, and Lake Placid and St. Moritz have held the Olympic Winter Games twice.)

In 2012, London will become the first city to host the Olympics for the third time.

In 2012, London will become the first city to host the Olympics for the third time.

London also hosted the Games in 1908 and 1948, and both times played a vital role in the development of the modern Olympic movement. London’s first go-round, held just 12 years after the first modern Olympics, set a new standard for host cities, particularly with respect to organization. In 1948, London was the site of the Olympics’ revival after a 12-year absence because of World War II. Those Games, held in spite of the ruins of the war, were subdued in tone but not in meaning, as the Olympics have been held every four years since.

Sixty-four years later, London will confront a different type of challenge – following the majestic Beijing Games, which re-defined Olympic grandiosity with what was essentially an unlimited budget. London will have no such fiscal luxury, but it does have several other things going for it – principally the ability to integrate historic sites and venues with fresh locales.

Tennis will be played on Wimbledon’s prestigious lawns, soccer at the venerable Wembley Stadium. Beach volleyball – one of the Olympics’ newer sensations – will be held at the Horse Guards Parade in the shadows of Buckingham Palace. Hyde Park, steeped in 400 years of history, will host triathlon.

As for the new, London’s Olympic Park in the East End – an area that was heavily bombed during World War II and has recently been industrially contaminated land – is the largest urban development in more than a century. One of the goals for the Park will be to bring the festival nature of the Games to life with riverside gardens, markets, events, cafes and bars. The Olympic Park will be the site of the new 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium, which will host track and field and the opening and closing ceremonies. The Stadium is on an “island” site – surrounded by waterways on three sides. Spectators will be able to reach it via five bridges that connect it to the surrounding area.

The signature venue of the Games – perhaps fittingly given the ever-growing international presence of the sport – should be the new Aquatics Centre, also housed in Olympic Park. Organizers are calling it the “gateway” to the Park, and in an effort to blend form and function, it will feature a wave-like roof that is likely to provide one of the lasting architectural images of the Games.

The sports program itself will have two notable absences from the Beijing Games, as baseball and softball have been dropped from the Olympic slate. No new sports have been added, though several new disciplines will be contested. Primary additions include women’s boxing for the first time at an Olympics, and a re-configuring of the track cycling program. In Beijing, there were seven track cycling events for men and three for women; each gender will have five track cycling events in London. Also, tennis has added a mixed doubles competition.

Back in July 2005, when London was awarded these Games, Lord Sebastian Coe, the two-time 1500m Olympic champion who has led the London 2012 effort since the bid phase, declared: “This is our moment. It’s massive. It’s huge. This is the biggest prize in sport.”

We won’t know for two years what Coe and his team have done with that prize, but it’s shaping up to be a Games rich from both honoring the past and embracing new birth – in terms of geography, venues, and sport.

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