• Olympic Accessories

In the time-honoured tradition of ending reports with a mish-mash of curiosities that might have escaped notice, here are some final idle images from London 2012.  Until Rio, then!

The Park Live area was ringed by these incredibly powerful ground loudspeakers.  Cute, though.

The high-wire trapeze act of a stadium loudspeaker.

The Olympic logo being fired out of a cannon?  No, this was a monster of a telephoto lens.  It could even look round corners.

These were the dinkiest technology on show: two remote-controlled mini-Minis for retrieving thrown hammers (the ball – top left – was placed in the roof of the car and the wire along the aerial-like holder).  They whizzed back and forth, creating a web of track marks.

The party’s over – and my throat’s as dry as dust.

Just as well it didn’t rain.

Ringside seats.

This volunteer’s job was to put in the lane-break markers at the end of the first bend of the 800m and to whip them out before the runners came round again.

While waiting her turn in Group B, the Portuguese hammer-thrower Vania Silva practised energetically with her handbag.  She came last.

The winner of the Iron Man competition.  He went at it flat out.

If you entered by the Eton Manor Gate, having parked your cycle at its transport hub, the first thing you came across was a steep-sided mound covered in green mosses.  And this sign – another prone figure.  A bit drastic, but no-one died and everyone had a great time!

• Olympic Curves (mostly)

The Olympic Park is more functional than parading as an architectural showpiece, and most of its buildings are temporary.  The theme for the best of them seems to be ‘being curvaceous’.  Here are a few snaps taken mostly at breakfast-time last Wednesday, when the weather was glowering over the still-deserted concourses.

One of the protruding ends of Hadid’s Aquatic Centre, right by the Stratford entrance.  It should look amazing once the angular sidepieces are demolished.

This is one of the temporary structures, the huge white box of the Basketball Arena, viewed from the riverbank.

To the left of the Basketball Arena are the unmistakable concave roofline of the Velodrome and the comfortingly convex shape of the Bandstand below.

Not so comforting now, eh?

Here are five shots of the Velodrome, venue for some of the most exciting races of the 2012 Olympics.

Velodrome with red railings and red/blue flags.

Velodrome, north end, with seagulls.

The shark theme reappears.

At both ends.

Velodrome, south end, weather cauldron.

And a final couple of shots by the Olympic Stadium, with some blue sky!

I hadn’t realised that the dagger shapes were made by twisting the banners like ribbons.

These elegant lighting masts, topped by wind turbines, were so discreet as to be almost invisible.

• Olympic Orbit

The Orbit tower by Anish Kapoor dominates the skyline at the Olympic Park.  It’s not perfect – the commercial pressures and health and safety put pay to that (the silver casing and solid greys spoil the essential redness), but it’s wild and fascinating, especially at close quarters.  When it’s free to go up, I’ll go (it’s an exorbitant £15 at the moment), but I suspect that the best views are at ground level!  Here are eleven, taken with my little Canon IXUS.

• Olympic Runners (incl. Mo)

Last Wednesday morning was a mixed bag, much of it happening at the other end of the stadium (Decathlon Pole Vault, Long Jump, and Shot Putt). We saw some good running though: Decathlon 100m, and the heats of the men’s 5000m and the women’s 800m.  Here are a few distance shots from these races.

Britain’s Daniel Awde convincingly winning his 100m Decathlon heat.  Unfortunately, he was injured during the second event (long jump) and had to withdraw.  Here he is savouring his brief moment of glory:

Next race: 5000m, Heat 1.

UK’s Mo Farah – who won Gold in the 10,000m last Saturday – is in the further row, five from the left.

At the second bend, Farah was looking good in second place, but on successive laps he slipped back.  Keep an eye on the guy at the back, Rene Herrera from the Philippines.

By lap 4, Mo Farah (hidden) was in sixth place and Herrera was dropping off the back.

Both dropping back further, though the pack remained tight. Farah was subjected to excessive barging.

By the last lap, the runners were strung out.  Was Ferrera now in front?  No, he was about to be lapped…

Farah was in fourth but not looking fluent or at ease.

Ferrera is lapped on the back straight, Farah still in fourth place.

Somehow, Farah managed to finish third in his heat.  But his was 15th fastest time overall because Heat 2 was so much faster. His fellow UK runner, Nick McCormick, who ran in the second heat, posted a marginally faster time than Farah but didn’t make the final as one of the fastest losers.  Farah’s training partner Galen Rupp (USA), who gained a fantastic silver medal behind him in the 10,000m on Saturday, ran eight seconds faster than Farah.  So it was a tough race for Farah.  I hope, fingers and everything else crossed for this evening’s final, that Farah is back on tip-top form and that he achieves the double!

Meanwhile, …

Ferrera ploughed on to complete the race in 14’44”.  That was 80 seconds behind the winner.  Even so, he achieved a PB, which surely raises a question about the application of even entry standards in different countries. The second heat also had a valiant laggard, Ruben Sanca from Cape Verde, who was only nine seconds faster than Ferrera. Still, a (largely) British crowd loves someone who has a go, and both Ferrera and Sanca received almost as loud a roar of approval when they finished as did the winners!

The final track event was the women’s 800m, in six heats.  It was fascinating to see the imposing figure of the South African Caster Semenya, who finished second in the first heat, but posted the fastest time in the semis two days later. The major casualty was Merve Aydin in Heat 2, who sustained an injury in the first lap and bravely limped all the way round again to finish over 80 seconds behind the winner.

The curiosity – if such it can be termed – was the participation of runners from Muslim countries.

In Heat 6, Woroud Sawalha from Palestine posted a respectable, if slow time of 2’29”, 21 seconds behind the winner.

In Heat 7, it was the turn of the first female Olympic participant from Saudi Arabia, Sarah Attar.

It was, however, obvious from the start that Attar was out of her depth, as this shot of the first bend shows.  She’d not even run 100 metres and she had been overtaken by the other seven runners.  When the first runner crossed the line, Attar was still only 600m into the race.  She finished in 2’45” – a Saudi Arabian national record – 44 seconds after the winner.  It was great to see her able to participate, but there must be some Olympic rule-bending going on if this level of qualification is being allowed.  Yet again, however, the spectators roared and cheered on the gallant back runner.  A significant moment in Olympic history, but an odd one nevertheless.

• Olympic Panoramas

I’ve been lucky enough to go to three Olympic events: two tennis and one athletics. The atmosphere in London itself was high-spirited, quite unlike the capital’s normal demeanour.  Cheery guides and ‘Games Maker’ volunteers were everywhere, as were supporters in their national colours (the orange of the Dutch certainly stands out in a crowd). Everyone was having a very jolly time – a resounding “Boo!” to all the naysayers leading up to the Games.

I took a few photos with my trusty little Canon IXUS, so here’s an initial sampler from my day at the races, the morning of Wednesday 8 August.

I reached the Olympic Park at 07.15 (…).  The weather didn’t exactly look good, though it brightened up after lunch.

Off to the left is the Hadid’s Aquatics Centre, not yet a thing of beauty.  In fact, it’s pug-ugly, like a stranded whale being lifted on a stretcher.  But it should look stunning when the extra seating is taken away.  There’s some well-designed soft landscaping around the stadium ahead.

And, from a distance above the wetlands around the River Lea, with the Orbit tower by the Olympic Stadium.

There’d been the inevitable rough treatment of the landscaping by the host of visitors around the Park Live screens. The elegant mass of the Velodrome just about rises above the recycling and commercial clutter.

Early morning wildlife in the shape of Games Makers!

The Velodrome is still the most stunning building in the Olympic Park, viewed here from the banks of the River Lea.

And now for something vertically elegant: a lighting mast with a wind turbine on top. Its design seems to hark back to the 1951 Festival of Britain.

Inside the Stadium, we had seats very close to the Olympic flame, designed by the wonderfully creative Thomas Heatherwick, and to the two flags. One of the most moving parts of the Opening Ceremony was the carrying of the Olympic flag by the real great and the good, including Daniel Barenboim, who’d hot-footed it from the Royal Albert Hall where he’d just conducted a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

We were right behind the hammer net, looking down the back straight. Here’s when British thrower Sophie Hitchon broke the UK record in the qualifying round with 71.98m.  The 74kg hammer probably weighed more than she did.

More photos to follow, including some runners, curvy structures and a few oddities.

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