London 2012 Olympics Preview: Construction and Venues

London has focused its Olympic energies on transforming the deprived East London, where the Olympic Park is under construction, but the occasion has been seized on to overhaul public transport, to showcase some sparkling new architecture, and to convert some well-known landmarks into Olympic venues. (Fun Fact: Watch as the Royal Wedding route passes Horse Guard’s Parade, the future venue for beach volleyball.)

Upgraded Public Transportation

More than £17 billion has been earmarked for transport development in the run-up to the 2012 Games in this city that sees 20 million trips daily on the transport system. Served by five airports, London has the world’s second largest (and oldest) underground system, but pre-Olympics development saw the extension of the East London line (May 2010) and the Docklands Light Railway, the upgrading and modernization of all underground stations, investment on the Jubilee Line (serving Olympic facilities) to handle extra capacity, and a high-rail link between St Pancras International and Stratford International for the Olympic Park, shuttling spectators to the Games in seven minutes from central London. New cycle and walking lanes are also planned to encourage healthier modes of transportation. London, however, remains one of the most congested cities in Europe, with an average vehicle speed of just under 12 mph.

Olympic Venues

England-London-Olympics-Aquatic-Centre-cgi.jpgMost big-ticket events will take place in the Olympic Park but some medals will be vied for in more unusual settings, many that are open to the public today.

The Olympic stadium’s design has divided opinion, with critics making unfavorable comparisons with Beijing’s iconic Bird’s Nest, but supporters have pointed to the 80,000-capacity stadium’s ability to be dismantled as a major plus point.

Gymnasts and basketball finalists will be limbering up in the O2 Arena, to be temporarily rechristened the North Greenwich Arena 1; badminton contestants and rhythmic gymnasts will aim for glory in the North Greenwich Arena 2.

The Beach Volleyball competition will be held in Horse Guard’s Parade in Whitehall, a beach ball’s toss from Downing Street and next to St. James’s Park.

Road Cycling takes to Regent’s Park. (For great views of the park and Central London head to nearby Primrose Hill.)
Triathlon contestants and Marathon swimmers will make a splash in the Serpentine in Hyde Park.

Swimming and diving will be held in the astonishing form of the signature Aquatics Centre, a curvilinear £303-million piece of eye candy due for completion in late 2011 and the gorgeous centerpiece of London’s Olympics display. Designed by Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, the center’s wavelike form has been scaled back from original designs, but it remains an impressive and inspirational building.

Lovely Greenwich Park—London’s oldest Royal Park—is the venue for Equestrian events and Modern Pentathlon.

In Woolwich, shooting will be staged at the Royal Artillery Barracks, while Lord’s Cricket Ground will host archery.

Football (soccer) matches will kick off in 90,000-seat Wembley Stadium, the home of the English National Football team.

Tennis can really only be held at one venue—Wimbledon—with its famous grass courts, but rowers, canoeists, and kayakers will be heading off to Eton Dorney, near Windsor Castle.

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Image Credits: London 2012