3 Oct 2011

London 2012 Olympic stadium athletics track unveiled

Chief Correspondent

Channel 4 News Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson dusts down his trainers for a lap of the new track at the London 2012 Olympic stadium.

The new, super-fast running surface at the 80,000-seater Olympic stadium in east London was officially opened by Olympics chief Lord Sebastian Coe.

British 2012 hopefuls have been putting it through its paces. They were joined by Channel 4 News Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson, who wrote the following blog about his experiences.

“Ok. So I don’t want to pour a bucketful of bile over proceedings, but having a completely broken down railway line on your first attempt to access the British Olympic Park is not a great start.

“An omen? Probably not. I fervently hope not, as I sit on a fully-functioning Docklands Light Railway train to pick up my stadium pass.

“‘It’s working.’ I hate the feeling that in the UK you even register this fact with palpable relief. Never crossed my mind in Paris, Tokyo, Beijing (add in your own).

“But then again, few of us would want the coming track and field fest to be along the perfectionist, totalitarian lines of Beijing.

Channel 4 correspondent Alex Thomson does a lap of the new Olympic running track

“Enough! I’m here now, outside the stadium. They’ve seen my passport – an NUJ press pass is not good enough – and we’re good to go.

“Will my trainers pass muster? Must be white-soled to avoid marking the track, I’m told. So there I was banging on the door of my local sports shop at 9am to stock up – all my others seem any shade but white.

“But now inside, there’s lots of hi-vis types pacing around with walkie-talkies and workboots (not white) on said track. Sacrilege!

“Testing the track, and not in workboots, we have world record holder and Paralympic gold medallist Dan Greaves, British long jump record-holder Chris Tomlinson, and IAAF World Championships silver medallist, Hannah England.

“There is an oddly expectant feel in this empty 80,000 seater stadium.

“My favourite factoid is that the turf is from Scunthorpe. Which I like. The track, however is Italian – where else – and makers Mondo say it’s one of the fastest. But at what point does an ever faster track become a factor in records, I wonder?

Lord Coe and Hannah England in first lap of the new Olympic stadium

“Lord Seb Coe, chairman of the Olympics 2012 (pictured right with silver medallist Hannah England) has already been out in the stadium and it’s a big day.

“‘Today marks a huge milestone for the project,’ he said, and indeed it does.

“But also here today are the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) who take a keen interest in the Scunthorpe turf and Italian track. Could this be the venue for 2017 World Athletic Championships? Only if the track stays. And after the games, this place will probably be the new home of West Ham. They’ve said they’ll keep the track – but nothing is in law so far.

“If they don’t get the noises they want to hear then the championships could go to Doha – yes Doha, fresh from World Cup surprises.

“So not everyone is here today for a simple celebration. Right now various people are limbering up to have a trot around. And then – alarmingly – the producer points at my kit and says: ‘You’re on Tomo.'”

Watch Channel 4 News tonight at 7pm to see Alex Thomson’s lap of the new Olympic track.

Alex’s verdict on the stadium’s new running track:

“You have to say, please make it just a little cooler come 2012! The stadium is curiously intimate -even when empty and the track – well, beautiful to run on. If, like me, your normal running surface is tarmac, mud, potholes and bits of rotting roadkill, this really is a step up.

“I am unworthy. Hannah England is though. Silver medallist at 1500m World Championships, she graciously agreed to waft along beside me. She kept talking effortlessly about her training 4 hours per day. I kept trying to talk back above pounding heart and general physical collapse, and pondered my rigorous training schedule of 4 hours per decade.

“Hannah peeled off gracefully and segued into another interview. I Iay on the ground and heard the paramedic scream for the oxygen tent before the stadium went dark.

“Well, almost. Though it did feel good to run the track once – just once – and for a second imagine the buzz. Small wonder that the athletes gathered here like Hannah said they’ll now go back training seriously reinvigorated, having paused, wondered and breathed in the atmosphere of this place, and its potential to deliver on dreams.”