Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Paralympic Effort

Well after a long delay, here I am to tell you about our Paralympic experience. If I can remember back that far!
Our tickets to an evening session of Paralympic swimming also gave us entry to the Olympic Park, so we decided to take full advantage of this and set off mid-morning. The Olympic Park was already a hive of activity, and there was a buzz of excitement in the air (like what I did there?). We walked the entire length of the park to find the embankment and big screens so we could watch the Kiwis – Sophie Pascoe and Cameron Leslie – in their swimming heats. Neither were shown, but we enjoyed sitting in the sunshine and sharing some banter with the locals.
We relished the chance to sit on our free Union Jack plastic picnic mat.
After this, we explored the park and got some exorbitantly-priced sandwiches for lunch.
Across the Lee River is the Olympic Village athlete accommodation 
Adam in front of the Gloriana - the gilded boat which led the Queen's Jubilee Flotilla in June

Some handsome people posing in front of the Olympic Stadium, designed by
Buro Happold  - the company Adam is working for in London.

After posing for some photos, it was icecream time, and we joined the McDonald’s queue for a McFlurry (A sort of ice-cream sundae with chocolate pieces and sauce). The queue was epic – around three hundred (give or take a few) people were all waiting to get some McDonalds for lunch. We actually quite liked the architecture of the McDs, and its wildflower and green-roof surroundings. We found out afterwards that it was an “eco” structure, designed to be removed after the Olympics. The service indoors was very well-coordinated and the menu had been simplified, meaning that it didn't take anywhere as long as we thought it might to get served.
(Yes, the ice-creams were worth the wait)
Then it was time for our visit to the AcelorMittal Orbit.

In 2008, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson (remember him? You can laugh at him some more at this webpage ) (And yes, yes we voted for him in last year’s election…), decided that London needed “something extra” in the East London skyline that would “arouse the curiosity and wonder of Londoners and visitors”. 
The Mayor decided to hold a competition to design an artistic structure that would serve as a reminder of the legacy of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. In March 2010 it was announced that the winners of the completion were Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond (of engineering Group Arup) with their ‘Orbit’ tower design. The project was expected to cost £19.1 million ($38 million NZD), with £16 million coming from Britain's richest man, steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, chairman of the ArcelorMittal steel company, and the balance of project costs to be paid by the London Development Agency.
The Tower was the source of some controversy, not least because Boris Johnson had campaigned on a pledge to crack down on tall buildings that spoiled London’s skyline… 

An article in The Guardian from May this year points out that public opinion at the time of the Orbit’s construction saw only 39% of local residents in support of the structure, whereas the remainder (the majority) were overwhelmingly negative about the design, seeing it as ugly, expensive, and pointless. (This is an interesting article and so is this.)

Eventually, the tower, by this stage referred to as a sculpture, was completed. It stands 115 m (377 ft) high, is 56 m taller than the Olympic Stadium, and is the largest sculpture in the UK. 

For the Engineers out there - the trunk has a base diameter of 37 metres (121 ft), narrowing to 5 metres (16 ft) on the way up, then widening again to 9.6 metres (31 ft) just under the observation deck. The trunk is supported and stabilized by the tube, which gives a structural character of a tripod to the entire construction. Further structural integrity is given to the construction by octagonal steel rings that surround the tube and trunk, spaced at 4 metres (13 ft) and cross-joined pairwise by sixteen diagonally mounted steel connectors. A special part of the construction is the canopy, the conic shape that hangs off the bottom of the trunk. Originally planned as a fibreglass composite construction, costs forced the use of steel for this section as well. Centraalstaal was approached as a special consultant for the design of the steel cone and came up with a design for a cone built out of 117 individually shaped steel panels with a total surface area of 586 square metres. The entire cone weighs 84 tonnes.

Yes, friends, that is a lot of steel.
Spotting the flaws in the steel...
The designers, Kapoor and Balmond, believe that Orbit represents “a radical advance in the architectural field of combining sculpture and structural engineering, and that it combines both stability and instability in a work that visitors can engage with and experience via an incorporated spiral walkway.” Balmond envisaged an electron cloud moving to create a structure that “appears unstable, propping itself up, never centred, never quite vertical”. Both believe that the Orbit represents “a new way of thinking, a radical new piece of structure and architecture and art that uses non-linearity.” Yeah, what they said.

With grand visions of the radical non-linearity of an electron cloud pulsing through our heads, we booked tickets to go up the Orbit. We knew that it was now or never, as post-Olympics the whole park is closed and the Tower won’t re-open until Easter 2014. Thankfully, we were required to go up in the elevator, rather than climbing up its 455 steps…

The Olympic Stadium

A bit of London smog

At the top of the Orbit are two observation platforms, and while I could categorically say that someone needed to hire a window cleaner, the views (around the finger and nose-prints) were amazing.
We even managed to spot the tall council-apartments near our house.

(Can anyone tell me if that is a missile-launcher in the circular pit in the middle of the picture, or just something mundane?)

After taking copious pictures of London, we began to make our way back down the Orbit. All 455 steps of it. 
Ouch! Who even knew I had muscles in those parts of my feet and calves?

After grabbing some dinner, it was time for THE MAIN EVENT – some Paralympic swimming. We joined the throng of people moving towards the Acquatics Centre (Time for a quick British pronounciation lesson – it is not said /a-kwot-ik/ as in ‘kwot’ with a vowel sound that rhymes with ‘pot’;  but /a-kwa-tik/ with a ‘kwa’ that sounds like the start of 'quack' - you know, the sound a duck makes.) (I have to stop here and also point out that over here, shampoo pantene (“pan-teen”) is pronounced “pan-ten” and maggi noodles are not said “mad-gee” but “mag-e”. And on that note, ‘jif’ has become ‘cif’, and ‘rexona’ has become ‘sure’. And no, baked beans and weet-a-bix don’t taste as good as they do at home. And “extra-lean” beef mince is allowed to contain up to 14% fat, and sausage rolls are made from pork. Hmph!)

Er,I digress…
Our seats were very high up in the stadium

It was a great evening of swimming, even if NZers Cameron Leslie and Rebecca Dubber didn’t do as well as hoped.
Cameron Leslie prepares for his race

Then came Sophie Pascoe.

The race was incredibly tense and we screamed ourselves raw willing her to hold on to her slim lead. And she did! GOLD, and a Paralympic record, TO NEW ZEALAND!

Sophie's slim lead
On the home straight - can she hold on?!?
 As it was the second-to-last event of the night, by the time of the medal ceremony, many of the crowd had left. We took advantage of the mostly-empty stadium and scrambled down numerous rows of seats to get a prime position for the ceremony.

Our Anthem efforts were much improved on Eton, though a big Maori fella came and stood beside us and sung in Maori. I soldiered on in English, figuring it was only fair to everyone else to be able to hear the glorious words of our anthem in their own language, while Adam switched to Maori. Nevertheless, we were a proud little bunch of Kiwis.

We poked around the stadium for a bit, and checked out the beautiful view. Just after taking this picture there was an almighty ROAR from the Olympic Stadium - Johnnie Peacock had won the gold medal in the 100m on home soil. It was an absolutely spine-tingling, electric moment for us to hear the crowd’s ecstatic cheering. Another moment I’ll never forget.

We were soon shooed inside so the stadium could close up for the evening, and as we walked for the stairs who did we see but our hero, Sophie Pascoe! She was so friendly and cheerful, and was chuffed to hear that we are from Christchurch, her hometown. Sophie is such a legend and it was amazing to get to meet her – I got to hug her, and Adam got to hold her gold medal. I’m not sure who was more thrilled of the two of us!
What an exciting day!! We walked around the park for a bit, admiring everything while it was all lit-up, and then we began the trip home.

I think we floated home... 
What a magnificent day!

Rowing excitement

For the past two months I have been meaning to share our video of Mahe Drysdale winning gold, and finally, here 'tis. You will need to watch it with the sound on your computer turned on - our cheering is loud, so be warned, but if you want to get the full feel of the Olympic experience then turn up the sound and enjoy the ride!