London 2012: Danny Boyle's opening ceremony set dismantled ahead of athletics events in Olympic Stadium


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The Independent Online

For all the many wondrous visions that the £27m Olympics opening ceremony presented to the watching world, one element missing from that visual feast was anything that looked like a stage for sport.

The huge and elaborate set that formed the backdrop to Danny Boyle's Isles of Wonder extravaganza took three months to build - and presented the organisers of London 2012 with the logistical headache of dismantling it and rendering the Olympic Stadium fit for the use of Usain Bolt et al by the time the athletics begin in four days' time.

At midday today, 60 hours of non-stop labour that began the moment the last spectator for the opening ceremony left the arena in the early hours of Saturday morning ended when the team of 600 workers charged with removing the stage and all its trappings - from seven retractable smoke stacks to 317km of cabling - ended with the handover of the stadium to the London 2012 athletics team.

Overnight today one of the more delicate tasks of this break-neck refurbishment was completed when the sculptural Olympic cauldron, consisting of 204 metal petals, was extinguished (the flame was placed in a miner's lamp to keep it going) and moved to its new home at the southern end of stadium. It was re-lit by 7.50am today by Austin Playfoot, who carried the Olympic torch for the London Games in 1948 and 2012.

Even tomorrow, after 333 lorry movements, only half of the epic task of converting the centrepiece of the Olympic Park in Stratford from a jaw-dropping Hollywood film set to its alternative purpose of hosting some running, jumping and throwing in the coming days will have been completed.

This afternoon, as 25 lorry loads of sporting paraphernalia from pole vault crash mats to photo-finish cameras waited to be unloaded, a squadron of 10 turf-laying machines began the task of putting down the 7,000 sq m of pristine grass required for the infield.

The lawn must be ready by this morning to allow for the process of setting up the athletics equipment held in ten 12 metre-long cargo containers, ranging from shot put cages to steeple chase hurdles, needed for the stadium events.

And then there is the small matter of the track.

Charles Quelch, the general manager of the stadium, admitted to some nerves before the brick red running surface, which has lain swaddled under five layers of protective covering since the process of building Danny Boyle's set began in May, was uncovered over the weekend.

He said: "The opening ceremony and athletics are the two biggest things at the Games, so getting them both right is not easy. This is the biggest challenge we face.

"I can't say I won't have some trepidation when we lift the cover off the track, but the ceremony has to happen and, if needs be, we can fix anything we need to before 1 August."

In order to ensure there is absolutely nothing on the surface to get caught in the running spikes of Mo Farah or Jessica Ennis, a motorised cleaner - the only one of its kind in Europe - will spend the next 24 hours meticulously scrubbing the surface laid by Italian specialist company Mondo. Any markings rubbed out by months of dancing will be renewed while three stretches track will be fitted with "track cams" to follow the 100m and 200m sprinters.

By 5pm on Wednesday all trace of last Friday's extraordinary son et lumiere - including 70,799 LED panels, 40 sheep and a flying system capable of carrying five elephants - will have gone in time for a full technical rehearsal.

Then, at 10am on Friday, the other miracle workers of the Olympics enter the stage.

What happens now

* 10 turf-laying machines will be used to construct a 7,500 sq m pristine infield by this morning.

* 10 containers of sports equipment 12m long will be delivered and installed, including pole-vault stands and hammer cages. Steeplechase hurdles and shot-put boards are installed, along with the medal podium, flagpoles and photo-finish equipment.

* 5 layers of protective covering were installed over the running surface, laid by Italian specialists Mondo, shortly after its installation in May. Once the covering is removed, a specialist cleaning machine, the only one of its type in Europe, will be driven around the track until it is spotless. Any painting of new lines will then be completed.

* 3 stretches of track will be fitted with "track cams" to follow the 100m and 200m sprinters as they run.

Timeline: getting the Olympic Stadium back on track

10pm Friday Three hours before the Opening Ceremony finishes, 600 workers gather on the stadium's warm-up track to prepare for the onslaught once the last spectator has left the arena. Among the initial tasks is a clear-up of the detritus left behind from Danny Boyle's extravaganza, including seven billion bits of paper dropped from a helicopter – one for every person on the planet.

Saturday and Sunday The complex stage, which took three months to build, is dismantled, including the "Glastonbury Tor" mound at the end of the stadium, complete with a real oak tree. There are 333 separate lorry movements in and out of the arena to remove material including 7,346 square metres of grass and crops, 317 kilometres of cabling and seven retractable chimney stacks.

Early hours Monday The Olympic cauldron is extinguished and the flame placed in a miner's lamp to allow the centrepiece of the Opening Ceremony, comprising 204 metal petals, to be moved to its new home at the southern end of the stadium.

Midday Monday The Opening Ceremony clear-up team hand back the stadium to the London 2012 athletics team. Some 25 truck loads of sports-related material must now be installed before 5pm on Wednesday in time for a rehearsal.

5pm Wednesday A technical rehearsal will be carried out using athletes, including equipment and procedures such as doping control.

10am Friday The first athletics events begin.