x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Time at Greenwich good sign for Olympic Games

A year ahead of the 2012 Games and London is holding its "London Prepares" series of events to help get the city and area ready for next summer. And it is all going well, if a bit unnoticed.

Greenwich Park in London makes for a pretty backdrop as Italy's Claudia Cesarini navigates the show jumping section during the Modern Pentathlon World Cup Finals on Sunday.
Greenwich Park in London makes for a pretty backdrop as Italy's Claudia Cesarini navigates the show jumping section during the Modern Pentathlon World Cup Finals on Sunday.
Given the multibillion pound cost of staging the London Olympics, the organisers of the 2012 Games might be forgiven for thinking that theirs will be the only show in town come next summer.
However, judging by the opening phases of the London Prepares series - a programme of test events ahead of next year's real thing - the primacy of the Olympic events is not necessarily a given.
Events such as the modern pentathlon, for instance, might not even be the No 1 attraction in the park in which they are being staged, on the evidence of this weekend.
The top 72 male and female pentathletes were gathered at Greenwich Park to compete at the Modern Pentathlon World Cup, on a temporary course which will now be dismantled and then reassembled - bigger and, the organisers hope, better - for the Games in 12 months' time.
The take-up of tickets indicates there are early symptoms of Olympic fever. The vast majority of seats, which had been shared out between Greenwich residents and the British pentathlon community, were filled in the 2,000 capacity-scaffolding stand erected for the World Cup.
Further to that, the local council website suggests there were 12,000 requests for tickets within six days of them going on offer.
But clearly not everyone got the memo. As a world heritage site and home to the Royal Observatory, from where Greenwich Mean Time originates, there are numerous other distractions around.
Greenwich Park swarms with tourists and idlers. As Lena Schoneborn was busy putting the finishing touches to her World Cup win in the five-discipline sport on Sunday, the competition between the pedalos on the children's boating pond neighbouring the course seemed every bit as fierce.
Two little girls went charging into the park, then as soon as their interest had been piqued, they turned around and charged straight back to their parents shrieking: "Can we go on the boats?"
Nearby, just outside the vast, cordoned-off facility in the centre of the oldest enclosed Royal Park in London, one American tourist sounded lost.
"We are right by a field where they are having some kind of sporting event," he shouted into his mobile telephone, while standing on the Prime Meridian.
Sandwich boards giving advance notice of possible inconvenience caused by staging the test event were all around the park.
When the schedule for the test series was announced, Lord Coe, the chairman of the organising committee for the Olympics, said his team would try "hard to minimise disruption" of the daily routine.
It is difficult to imagine Fifa ever asking for the public's understanding while the football World Cup is taking place, or the International Cricket Council asking for people to bear with them during theirs.
But this park is much loved by the community it serves. According to the Greenwich Council website, only eight trees in the park will require anything more than "minor pruning" while "no branches of more than 150mm will need to be trimmed" in building the pentathlon course.
The sport may not be one of the best known events in the Olympic movement, but it is likely to throw up one of the biggest logistical challenges next year. With five disciplines - swimming, shooting, show jumping, fencing and running - the athletes will be transported between three separate venues, culminating in the combined pistol shoot and run in the Greenwich Park.
"If I am honest, we are one of the smaller events within the Olympic family, but logistically, we are one of the most complex," Jon Austin, the chief executive of Pentathlon Great Britain, said. "It will be complicated, but in terms of it being something to see, you are going to get to see sport in two different venues on the Olympic Park, plus the fantastic backdrop of Greenwich.
"The capacity will be increased significantly from the test event for the main event. I think the atmosphere is going to be unbelievable ... The fact it is in a great venue in Greenwich, with a great backdrop and fantastic weather [during Sunday's trial], certainly showcased the sport as well as it possibly could do."
  pradley@thenational.ae