Last night we went to the Olympic Velodrome to the test event for the Olympics. Last year we travelled to Manchester - a much longer distance, however, it was much less hassle! With Manchester, there were only half as many seats, but as it wasn't an Olympic test event, they were much easier to get (annoyingly, though I'm a member of British Cycling, I didn't notice they had an advance booking period until 30 minutes after it closed - so I could only get tickets for Thursday). The 'Olympic fever' has attracted a lot of folks who don't usually follow the sport - this has both it's good and bad side.
Arriving at Stratford tube, I had expected the route to the Olympic park to be clear, it really wasn't. There were no big obvious signs, or clearly marked walkway - instead we had some guys with foam fingers. Being human, from time to time they forgot to point the foam fingers in the appropriate direction. Arriving at the park, we had to cross a big road. Admittedly, there was not much traffic on it, but it did strike me as bad planning for it not to be pedestrianised.
The queue was huge - though reasonably fast moving - though this was for one venue, I dread to think what the queue will be like when it's all running. The marshalls were all very polite, but a little bit jobsworthy ('keep walking' was a constant refrain, even when we already were walking - or unable to walk as they were checking tickets).
Once in, transfers were by bus, which seemed to take the most long winded way around the park. I hope that the buses will be optional when the Olympics themselves are on. Honestly, we could have walked that journey twice in less time by taking a more direct route.
The velodrome as a whole is impressive. It looks wider than Manchester - and there are good views all around. (There is something about the geometry of Manchester that I prefer, though - but London has the better building).
There are two big screens (they should put small screens on the back of the big screens, so that those queuing for refreshments can still see what is happening). The refreshments are pretty good actually, I had feared that as a sponsor, MacDonalds would be the only option. The food wasn't *great*, but it could have been a lot worse. They're not as cheap as they could be, but they're not massively overpriced by London standards either. There were good sandwiches, porridge(!), wine, beer etc. That said, the food isn't 'cheap', nor is it diverse - the beer wasn't a particularly good one, and it was of the brand 'take it or leave it'.
The velodrome is kept warm as it makes the air thinner (hence the track faster) - it is supposed to be cooler for the spectators. That's as may be, but it was still like being in a swimming pool (without the chlorine smell). If visiting, I strongly recommend that you are able to remove layers. I do hope that the upper levels were not hotter.
We were watching the Team Pursuit heats. It's not my favourite discipline - I prefer the Sprint, Keirin and Points races - but I like the spectacle of the close riding. Individual pursuit and time trials don't, as a rule, do it for me - though I do like Australian pursuit. When Team GB rode, the atmosphere was electric, especially when the men's team saw the lap times tumble. Some of my favourites, are sadly not Olympic disciplines any more, e.g. the Madison - that doesn't work well on TV for me, though - much easier to follow live.
Both the men and the women are in the team pursuit finals for a gold/silver medal.
Coming out of the velodrome, we had to queue for buses again - this was mostly orderly, though it took ages. At one point they asked people to come forward and we had three queues side by side, so the orderly queue turned into a bit of a scrum when the bus arrived. This was entirely created by the marshalls, and it all would have been more orderly if they'd have left it as a queue!
Simply getting from the velodrome onto the tube took over an hour, again, I dread to think what the congestion will be like in the summer. Hopefully, if it's walkable, then it shouldn't be a problem. I also hope that the finish times for different events are staggered so that the demand on the transport links can be spread out.
Though it was my top priority, there was no way to express that on the Olympic ticket application (nor was there priority for members of the relevant organisations) - and so I'll be watching the track cycling at home in the summer. I'll be relying on auntie Beeb. Dear BBC, don't cut the shots so that the viewer can't keep an overview - especially on points races - you need to get a sense of the whole track!
Adding to my summary of events:
- Track Cycling.
<Positives>: Great Atmosphere from the crowd. Guy on PA was excellent.
<Negatives>: A bit too warm for punters (I don't see a fix for this, but they organisers should forewarn people). If sent for a drink, can't see action, so put small screens on back of big screen. Loos were non obvious, and inadequate (even for men!). The ergonomics of them were poor as you had to walk across the entrance to dry hands (and it's a small space). The flooring in the loos shows up every drip when people shake their hands, which doesn't look good. Access times - it took far to long to get to and from the tube station.