Cutting through the new King's Cross station to St Pancras International at breakfast time yesterday, it was like entering the past of LP Hartley's imagining. Bright, airy train stations with the kind of shiny shops and cafes that make you want to linger... surely this must be a foreign country?
It was the same in St Pancras, catching the 10.10am South Eastern Trains service bound for Dover Priory. This was one of the new "Javelin" trains, with Steve Redgrave's autograph on the side. It left at 10.10am on the dot and pulled up on the platform at Stratford International precisely 6mins 35sec later.
Walking up the ramp towards the Westfield Shopping Centre was a young man in a blue Bedford and County Athletics Club hoodie. Craig Emmerson, a member of the club made famous by Paula Radcliffe, is one of the 1,700 athletes taking part in the official test event at the 2012 Olympic Stadium, the four-day British Universities and Colleges Track and Field Championships, which runs through to tomorrow.
"I'm running in the 5,000m," the 19-year-old said. "I hitched down from Staffordshire University yesterday and went to the stadium to register. It's an overwhelming thing when you think the world's best are going to be on the same track there in the summer. It's awe-inspiring."
It was also a thing of wonder to get through the shopping centre, through the security checks, into Olympic Park and into the vast bowl of the 80,000 seater stadium all in 27 minutes from King's Cross. The queues will be greater come Games time on 27 July; there were just 6,000 souls in attendance for the morning session yesterday, with an additional40,000 to follow for the official opening ceremony last night, making it the highest attendance for an athletics event in Britain since the last days of the White City in the 1960s. Still, such speed and efficiency bodes well for the big event.
So does the speed of the track. After easing to victory in his semi-final of the men's 100m, in 10.51sec, Harry Aikines-Aryeetey could not stop raving about the synthetic Mondo track. "Oh, it's a fast track," the Loughborough University student and former world junior 100m champion, said. "It's very, very fast."
Might what Usain Bolt puts into it produce a world record time in August? "You'd imagine so... If he's in that shape and in that mood and there's a bit of sunshine," Aikines-Aryeetey replied. "I think the track is ready for that. It's definitely going to be a fast Olympics." While Aikines-Aryeetey was getting a feel for life in the 2012 fast lane, Bolt was preparing for his first 100m race of the year, at the Jamaica Invitat-ional meeting in Kingston, overnight British time.
"I wouldn't rather be over there running against Bolt," Aikines-Aryeetey, a south Londoner, insisted. "Rain or shine, I wanted to get in the stadium here and see how it felt.
"It's kind of breathtaking, because when you're inside it still has an atmosphere and there's hardly anyone here watching. So you can imagine when it's packed full of Brits shouting 'Come on Harry' it's going to be immense."
For Sebastian Coe, the chairman of the 2012 organising committee, seeing the showpiece arena stage a track and field event for the first time brought home the significance of securing the looming home Games. "For me, everything hung on those four votes that swung it for us in Singapore," the Olympic 1500m champion of 1980 and 1984 said. "If those four votes had gone the other way, we'd still be sitting on a 50ft pile of rotting fridges.
"If I think back eight years, I'm standing at the top of a tower block looking at this site with the International Olympic Committee's evaluation team, feeling a bit like a Costa Brava timeshare salesman, saying, 'You see that rotting pile of fridges; that's where the stadium is going. And that's where the velodrome is going.' And I'm hearing the words coming out and they're looking at me. We've come a long way, really."
Argentina advert row: Hockey coach gives Britain stick over Falklands
The coach of Argentina's women's hockey team made a sly dig at Britain yesterday when questioned about a TV advert featuring a member of her country's men's team training on a war memorial on the Falkland Islands.
After the Argentine women's team were beaten 2-0 by Britain in the final pool match of the Olympic test event tournament in the East End of London, Carlos Retegui was asked what he felt about men's captain Fernando Zylberberg running through Port Stanley in an advert that used the tag-line "To compete on British soil, we train on Argentinian soil." Retegui said.
"We can talk about the Malvinas after the Olympics." But he added: "They're Argentinian."
The teams meet again today in the gold medal match.
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