I’m one of those people that didn’t get any Olympic tickets at each round but was determined to allow my kids the ‘memory’ of actually being there at some point. So I managed to bag 4 tickets to the official opening of the stadium last Saturday. It’s not the swanky opening ceremony of the actual Olympic games obviously, just the first ‘test event’ for the stadium to make sure it works with 2012 hours to go.
So with my Creative Director, UX and member of the public hats on and family in tow, what did I found.
1: London transport
I live in North London so it was just a blast down the Northern Line, then Central Line to to Stratford Station. 45 mins? Only the Northern Line was closed for engineering. So our journey was a bus to Camden, then to two tube journeys as planned. 1 hour and 45 minutes. Luckily, we left 2 hours for the journey. On the way back we had to get the late bus replacement from Camden with all the flotsam and jetsam trying to get home from the pubs. Cool experience for the kids. They certainly heard some new words…
Not the fault of the Olympic organisers but this could be a feature if Bob Crow gets his usual disruptive union way.
As far as transport links go, I worry. Stratford station seems pretty rammed and although we dived into a restaurant at the end to let the crowds die down, I can imagine how busy it was with 40,000 people all trying to get into tube trains on a two platforms. I guess I was hoping for slightly more development to Stratford station itself.
I did notice the car park at Westfield had a few spaces left in it… may be worth a punt if you decide to drive in, but I didn’t tell you that.
2: Initial impression… Westfield Shopping Centre
I hadn’t realised that the entrance to the Olympic Park was right next to Westfield shopping centre. Initially it felt a little cheesy but when we came out, it was good to have a few restaurants on hand.
3: Security checks
* No pictures of the security checks… as they had my camera.
Wow, didn’t quite expect that. Just like the airport. Coats off, no water, belts and coins in the box etc. Walked through the metal detector and was subjected to a pat down and a further challenge over my wallet. Not a fantastic experience but I guess it’s necessary. Could have been done with a little more sensitivity or humour though. First impressions and all that.
4: Queueing… and queueing
Once through security you walk through the various buildings towards the main stadium. The queues where maybe 150m long and 4 people wide… and there were maybe 8 of them. Hopefully everyone won’t descend on the stadium at the same time like this during the actual Olympics (except for the opening ceremony), so this is a pretty good ‘load test’ I guess.
We joined a queue and waited patiently. Others joined behind. After 25 minutes, two officials stood between us and the people in front and said “You can’t queue here, go to the other queues around the corner at “Bridge A” and join those.”. I offered “We’ve been here for 25 minutes, you’ve been stood there directing people, why didn’t you say 25 minutes ago?”. He replied, “We did tell you”. Pause. I replied “That’s a lie! Why would we stand here for 25 minutes and people also join the queue if you had told us all?”. His reply “We did tell you all, now move away!” I took real offense at being called a liar and being talked down to. I didn’t buy tickets for that. I gave him a piece of my mind, as did others. But realistically, one rude official isn’t what the night was about so we agreed to disagree. So not a fantastic start to the Olympic PR machine.
Thanks to our grumpy official friend, we now joined the very back of another 150m, 32 people wide queue at the mysterious “Bridge A”. This split and rejoined in weird, self regulating waves. Then we got sight of the front and realised that you just squeezed through a few tents at the front so the queues just disbanded into a mass of people filing through. Got to love how us Brits will make a queue happen even if it’s not needed.
I didn’t take a picture but there was a ‘food village’ as you neared the stadium. Well, more of a set of food huts really. You queue then eat your food on some pretty standard wooden picnic benches. Not exactly in keeping with the architecture, aspirations or style of the park though. I was maybe expecting funky looking tents that resembled mini Sydney Opera Houses with crazy-coloured, canvas covered seating areas and funky chairs… or something. Not wooden huts and picnic benches. Still, the food range seemed ok… Eastern, curry, fish and chips… beer and sweets… you know, the basic food groups. The fish and chips did look great though, proper big fish and chunky chips so the ‘food’ itself looked spot on.
When we met the grumpy official, he gestured sideways and said “Queue at Bridge A”. The sign for Bridge A was at the far end and only the size of an A4 page, so the signage already had my radar on alert. At this point I have to declare an interest, my Information Design degree thesis was a comparison of the signage used in the 1968 and 1972 Olympics. So I have a thing about Olympic signage (cue stifled yawn). I assume that there weren’t any event signs up yet as there are still 80 or so days to go, but the stadium seating signage was really, really confusing.
You are allocated blocks, then rows, then seats. Pretty simple. However, there is no indication which way to start exploring to find your block. We were block 207 but were initially dumped opposite block 220. Did we go left or right? We eventually started to see the right kind of numbers and got to 209 but then the next number was 108, then 107, then 106. No block 207. We asked some official looking types but they didn’t know. Most officials were guarding places you shouldn’t go in to so didn’t really know much about seating. It turns out you have to look behind you to a sign on the far side of a staircase that indicated 207 is upstairs. It seems they only label the blocks on the level they they are actually on. Sure enough, up a flight of stairs it said 207. Very tedious. How were we supposed to know that.
Interestingly, the girls went to the toilet and us boys assumed we’d wait then nip to the one next door when we’d hooked up again. Turns out all the toilets on the ground floor were women’s. And came in blocks of 3 at a time. That’s 3 separate toilet blocks together. Nice to see the age old queues outside women’s toilets have been addressed. Mens toilets seemed to be upstairs in the stadium with more women’s toilets. They were clean. There wasn’t any hand paper though but the air dryer had a cool blue light in it. This was a highlight of the evening fro my 8 year old son. Men’s toilets were pretty good. The report from the women’s wasn’t so positive though. Toilets themselves were fine but other people’s hygiene seemed to be a factor. Wee on the seat and paper everywhere apparently. Could also be a maintenance / cleaning issue that wasn’t addressed?
8: Mind your head
You know when they put scaffolding up and have to put red tape around overhanging bits to try and avoid you hitting you head on it? Well you may have noticed that the Olympic stadium leans out like a big bowl and has lots of angled beams for you to hit your head on. You guessed it, just wrap them in red stripy tape. Job done. Interested to see what the solution is there.
Actually, the seats were comfortable. They did however cause my daughter an injury. Sounds silly but we saw a Mexican wave coming our way, we all jumped up and waved. I looked down to see my daughter on the floor in tears. The seats flip up like cinema seats and caught her out. She hit the floor after scraping her back on the underside of the plastic seat. Drew blood and left a nasty scratch. Just one of those things but at least she has the honour of being the first person to be injured in the London Olympic stadium as a result of a Mexican wave. With the world descending on London, I can only think of the dodgy injury claims that will emerge…
But ignoring that, the seats were padded and after 2 hours seated, no numb bums to report.
10: Audio and visual
The seats gave a really great view. We were quite high up but having seen a few photo posted by others, every image looks spectacular.
The public address sound was clean and crisp so you could hear the commentary well and the big screens either side were massive so you could focus on close shots from the TV cameras instead of squinting at the teeny weeny athletes.
One thing I was a little dubious about were the ‘clacky fan things’. These were given out on the door and were just zig-zag card when make a loud slap noise when you flapped them. They sort of sounded like clapping but not. Now give two of them two a kid and the noise is bloody endless. It was a fun night and everyone was doing it, so everyone got into the spirit but they are up there with vuvuzelas. I’m hoping they were a one off, not a sign of things to come. Check out my video of the first full mexican wave in the London 2012 Olympic stadium… you can hear the ‘clacky fans’.
Bonus point… Cameras
For those with cameras, our Nikon D50 digital SLR with a 70-300mm zoom lens was just about up to the job. You could just about take a pic at the other side of the stadium, just. I’d recommend something over 300mm though.
Have a look at the full stadium image for point 10 above. Look carefully in the top-left of the image. See that blue and red pole vault mat? The zoomed-in image above was at full zoom with the 300mm lens.
So there’s my top 10. I’ll not mention the national anthem as it wasn’t ideal. Hopefully the opening ceremony will kick ass and we’ll all be proud.
In summary, loved the stadium, signage was poor and a few of the officials let the side down somewhat, but the others were polite and helpful.
Total score: 59/100 or B- in old money. Good start and we do still have a few months to go, so hopefully all the above points will get sorted.