Olympic Park taking shape for 2012 London Games

BY foxsports • March 26, 2010

The light towers are in place atop the Olympic Stadium. The diving pool is filled with water. The athletes' village is expanding daily.

With less than 2 1/2 years until the opening ceremony, the Olympic Park is rapidly taking shape for the 2012 London Games.

A bus tour of the 500-acre site on Friday revealed steady and visible progress in turning a once-unused swath of east London into the centerpiece complex for the Olympics, as well as a new city neighborhood after the games.

The $13.8 billion project has taken on added urgency now that the Vancouver Winter Games are over, leaving London as the next Olympic host city.

One of the biggest construction sites in Europe, the area is covered by cranes, bulldozers and trucks, and crisscrossed by 30 permanent and temporary bridges. About 10,000 construction workers are on the site, with the figure to grow to 14,000 next year.

The most striking venue on display is the $788 million Olympic Stadium, whose main external structure is already in place and has been a fixture on the east London skyline for months.

Newly installed are the 14 light towers - each weighing 34 tons - which have been lifted into place above the field of play over the last three weeks, taking the stadium to its full height of 175 feet above ground level.

Olympic Delivery Authority chief executive David Higgins said the next step will be to install the roof in the next three months. He said the structure will cover about 40 percent of the seating areas of the stadium, which will host the opening and closing ceremonies and the track and field competition.

``The roof is not to keep people dry,'' Higgins said. ``It's to deflect the wind from the track.''

The stadium will have 80,000 seats during the Olympics, but is designed to be dismantled to a 25,000-capacity arena after the games, mainly for track and field. However, the post-games capacity and use of the stadium is now back under discussion, as soccer and other sports have expressed interest in moving in.

A separate London Olympics legacy company invited expressions of interest in the stadium this week, with the West Ham soccer team immediately declaring its hopes of relocating to the venue after the games. A final decision will be made by May 2011.

Despite the current size of the stadium, the design is relatively intimate, with even the highest-level seating areas providing good views of the field.

``The stadium is much tighter than Wembley or other stadiums,'' Higgins said.

The stadium will be completed by Christmas, except for the track and infield grass, which will be installed around May 2011, Higgins said.

Still under wraps is the planned location of the Olympic cauldron, where the flame will be lit at the opening ceremony and kept burning throughout the games.

``We've got some interesting ideas and options,'' London organizing committee chief executive Paul Deighton said. ``I guarantee we will surprise and delight you on the night of the 27th of July.''

Another signature venue is the $500 million aquatics center, which had its 525-foot wave-shaped roof lowered into place in November. The 17,500-seat venue, which is scheduled to be completed in mid-2011, will host swimming, diving and water polo finals.

``Water is now in the diving pool,'' Higgins said. ``It hasn't leaked. So far so good.''

Rising rapidly on the northeastern edge of the park is the Olympic village, which will house 17,000 athletes and officials in 2,800 apartment units during the games.

Also under construction are the 6,000-seat handball arena, 20,000-seat field hockey center, 12,000-seat arena for basketball preliminaries and handball final, and 6,000-seat velodrome. The international broadcast and press center, which will accommodate 20,000 media members, is well under way.

The Westfield shopping center, billed as the biggest urban mall in Europe, is being built just on the edge of the park's main entrance near the Stratford railway station.

``This is the first time such a major center has been located next to the Olympic Village,'' Deighton said. ``This creates a bit of a problem. Do we let the athletes loose in there? Or do we give them a few more pool tables in the village? We've never had so much stuff next to an Olympic village.''

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