Grounds for hope

24th June 2005 at 01:00
Next month London will learn if it has been chosen to host the Olympic Games in 2012. Chris Fautley tours the venues and explores what the city has to offer

Lord's: world stage for archery. Horse Guards Parade: arena for beach volleyball. Stratford: magnet for the world's greatest athletes. On July 6, London learns whether it has been successful in its bid to host the 2012 Olympics and whether the above will become a reality. In the interim, there are plenty of theories being offered on why it will not win. However, will infrastructure, facilities and resources, in toto, clinch it? Crucial they may be - but no candidate city would bid if it felt unable to match the required criteria. So what might that certain something be that could tip the balance in London's favour? Its history? Its heritage? Its parks and architecture? Or, simply, as Samuel Johnson put it, that, "there is in London all that life can afford".

Many facilities and associated infrastructure are already in place or nearing completion - the Millennium Dome and new Wembley Stadium, for example. Stratford International station on the Channel Tunnel rail link will bring central London within seven minutes of the proposed Olympic Park. Olympic Javelin bullet trains, with a capacity of 25,000 passengers an hour mean that, together with existing lines, a train will arrive in the Olympic park every 15 seconds.

The park will be built in the Lea Valley around Stratford, and extend across the Thames on to the Greenwich peninsula. A showpiece stadium, press centre, Olympic village and sports centres will occupy some two million square metres of one of London's largest areas of regeneration.

There are good views of the proposed sites from Stratford-bound trains on the Docklands Light Railway. The 110,000sqm press centre will be just south of Pudding Mill Lane Station, adjacent to the Lea Navigation, on the right when facing the front of the train. On the left, about 700m north of the station, the principal stadium, with a capacity of 80,000, will be built on a tongue of land on Stratford Marsh between City Mill River and the Old River Lea. Additional arenas, an Olympic village for 17,000 athletes, and Stratford International Station will be built north-west of the existing Stratford station. The plans will undoubtedly mean upheaval: many businesses in the Olympic zone will either be subject to relocation or compulsory purchase. But east London is becoming used to change and its associated success: Docklands is living proof of that.

What's where?

The Olympic Park: as well as the main stadium, which will host athletics and the opening and closing ceremonies, additional venues will be built within the Olympic Park. These include an aquatic centre, velodrome, hockey complex, sports halls (for badminton, gymnastics and table tennis), and a multi-sports complex (basketball, volleyball, modern pentathlon and handball).

Wembley Stadium: football finals.

Millennium Dome: gymnastics; basketball finals.

Regent's Park: baseball; softball.

Hyde Park: triathlon; road cycling.

Lord's cricket ground: archery.

Wimbledon: tennis.

Horse Guards Parade: beach volleyball.

Excel Centre: ring sports; weightlifting.

Royal Artillery Barracks, Woolwich: shooting.

Greenwich Park: modern pentathlon; equestrian.

University of East London: water polo.

Some venues in detail

Hyde Park

Tube: Hyde Park CornerMarble Arch

At 340 acres, London's largest park. On its southern periphery, Rotten Row was England's first road lit by lamps. It is still illuminated by gas lights, and is a splendid place to catch the Horse Guards galloping their horses. The Serpentine, built in 1730 for Queen Caroline, was created by damming the Westbourne river. The Crystal Palace was first erected here for the Great Exhibition in 1851, while in the park's north eastern corner, Olympic athletes with axes to grind may do so at Speaker's Corner - provided they are not obscene, blasphemous or inciting a breach of the peace. Tyburn gallows was close by.

Nearby Museums: Victoria Albert; Science

Greenwich Park

DLR: Cutty Sark; National Rail: GreenwichMaze Hill

How gloriously appropriate that the home of time might witness a spectacle where the merest fraction of a second means the difference between success and failure. A red time ball is still lowered from the old Royal Observatory at exactly 1pm daily, a legacy of when it was used by ships' masters to check chronometers. These days, the observatory houses a stunning collection of timepieces. Unsuccessful Olympians may take consolation from the breath-taking view of London across the Royal Naval College and Queen's House. Failing that, they can seek out its rose garden or the Ranger's House where there are some 650 works of art on display.

Nearby museums: Royal Observatory; National Maritime; Cutty Sark; Queen's House; Fan Museum

Regent's Park

Tube: Regent's ParkGreat Portland Street

The park as we know it was never meant to be. Intended as part of a larger, neoclassical scheme commissioned by the Prince Regent, it should have formed part of a development featuring villas, crescents and circuses fit for London's wealthy. That vision was only partially fulfilled, and thus today we have the best of both worlds: the formalism of its inner and outer circles; and, on its periphery, some of London's best neoclassical architecture.

For that, we may largely thank John Nash, some of whose finest masterpieces are on the Outer Circle's eastern side. Chester Terrace, (south of the Cumberland Gate entrance), has, at 287m, the longest continuous facade in the neighbourhood. Cumberland Terrace, to its north is, at 244m, one of the park's most eye-catching buildings with frieze, elegant stonemasonry, chimney pots by the dozen and Corinthian columns.

Wembley Stadium

Tube: Wembley Park; National Rail: Wembley Stadium

Seating 90,000, and more than twice the size of its predecessor, the new Wembley will open next year - its focal point a graceful arch soaring 138m into the London sky. It is just part of the district's own regeneration; infrastructure improvement, particularly rail links, is already well advanced. Wembley's refurbished stations will be linked to the stadium by a boulevard as wide as Regent Street.

Lord's cricket ground

Tube: St John's Wood

The current site is the third occupied by the famous cricket ground. In recent years, Lord's has witnessed much new development - none more eye-catching than the 1999 media centre, peering over proceedings rather like an enormous eye atop two antennae.

The Royal Artillery Barracks

National Rail: Woolwich Dockyard

Woolwich has been associated with the Royal Artillery since its formation in 1716. The barracks, on Woolwich Common, dates from 1775; its facade, fronted by an enormous parade ground is, at 323m, London's longest continuous architectural feature. Perfectly symmetrical, it features a white triumphal arch in its centre, flanked on each side by an unusual clock whose face is represented by compass points. Olympic events will be staged in a new hall. The barracks and much of the surrounding property form part of a working military base so be sure to remain on the public highway at all times.

Nearby museum: Firepower: Royal Artillery Museum

The Dome

Tube: North Greenwich

An 80,000 square metre footprint; a 100,000sq.m fabric roof; 90m high masts; a building cost of pound;40m... the vital statistics of London's most infamous landmark. Here is one Olympic site where there are no infrastructure doubts, for the Dome is served by a transport interchange which today functions as a park and ride for south Londoners. The Jubilee Line extension was diverted (at the cost of two river crossings) to serve it. At 358m in length, it would comfortably accommodate the Eiffel Tower.

There is little to see at ground level, but beneath the surface lies an ice-cool vision of blue glass, mosaic and stainless steel. The ticket hall is suspended on a raft above the trains, which glide to a halt in an enormous train hall.

Horse Guards Parade

Tube: Charing Cross Westminster

Once the site of Whitehall Palace. Of all the buildings in the vicinity, the most unusual is the Citadel. A black flint structure dating from 1939, with gun slits, it resembles an overgrown wartime pillbox. Beneath, lies a subterranean, fortified network of rooms and passageways for government use during the war. The Citadel served as its entrance.

Nearby museums: Cabinet War Rooms; Banqueting House

The Excel Exhibition Centre

DLR: Custom House

This centre, adjacent to the Royal Victoria Dock, opened in 1999.

Comprising three storeys, its 90,000sq m floorspace is greater than the Dome. The 87m wide, single span roof is Britain's largest.

Three hidden secrets

Queen Caroline's Bath, Greenwich Park: the behaviour - and allegedly poor personal hygiene - of George IV's wife attracted some largely unfair criticism. She lived in Montague House (now demolished), where she proved her reputation ill-deserved by building an opulent glass and lattice bath house. Its bath, which more resembles a plunge pool, is hidden close to the Ranger's House.

The Secret Garden, Regent's Park: incredibly difficult to find, but persevere and be rewarded by a peaceful, symmetrical and formal area comprising several gardens within gardens. Tucked away behind St John's Lodge on the Inner Circle.

Banqueting House, Whitehall: (near Horse Guards Parade) hardly secret, but often overlooked, the Banqueting House is all that remains of Whitehall Palace, once home to the sovereign. Designed by Inigo Jones, the star of the show is the main hall whose entire ceiling is adorned in artwork by Sir Peter Paul Rubens.

Outside London

Sailing: Portland Weymouth

Mountain biking: Weald Country Park, Essex

Rowing: Eton Dorney, Windsor

Men's and women's football: Glasgow, Cardiff, Manchester, Newcastle, Birmingham, Belfast.

What's in it for us?

A successful bid will mean jobs, improved infrastructure and much-needed regeneration. After the Games, the Olympic village will provide 9,000 new homes and community facilities. The multi-sports complex will be re-erected elsewhere in Britain. The aquatic centre will be built even if the bid fails.

How it was then: London 1908 and 1948

Rome was awarded the 1908 games, but when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 1906 they were switched to London. Accordingly, the capital became the first venue to erect a purpose-built stadium: White City. It was also the first occasion when countries marched into the opening ceremony behind their national flags. Great Britain won the games with a tally of 146 medals (56 gold). In the post-war austerity years, facilities for the 1948 games were, unsurprisingly, spartan: most athletes were accommodated in schools and military camps. Wembley was the principal stadium. Great Britain won 23 medals, but the largest haul, 84, went to the US.


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