The first piece of the London 2012 jigsaw was put into place yesterday as the velodrome was officially opened, and some of the Great Britain medal hopefuls – including the quadruple Olympic champion Sir Chris Hoy – were able to ride in the completed venue for the first time.
It is one of nine new centres that are being built at the Olympic Park site in east London and after 23 months of construction at a cost of £90m, all 6,000 seats are in place – 521 days before the Games opening ceremony.
The baton now passes to Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London Organising Committee (Locog), who must liaise with the international federations and the various teams to ensure venues are ready for competition in 2012.
"It's a massive responsibility not to screw this up," Coe said. "But it certainly doesn't scare me. What it does do is show that I'm no different than everybody else in our various teams – we all wake up every day realising it's getting a bit closer.
"When you watch the world's greatest cyclists out on a track in a venue that is structurally complete, it's a good message to send to the public. There's a myth that our country does not do construction very well, that we haven't done it well in the past – and this project thus far has really managed to dismantle that myth.
"But there is still a long way to go, even with the velodrome. It's completed in terms of infrastructure but there's still a mountain of technology, equipment, merchandising outlets and catering facilities to work on. There's still a long way until it becomes a theatre [but] it's nice... to at least start ticking the venues off."
Hoy, who could become the nation's most successful Olympian if he wins two more golds in 2012 to overtake Sir Steve Redgrave's five, was on the panel that chose the design team and represented the cyclists to give the athlete's point of view on what made the velodrome good for them.
It certainly looks impressive, with a striking exterior of red cedar wood tiles fixed on to 16km of cables netted together to form the roof. Inside, the 6,000 seats curve all the way around the track, as opposed to most velodromes that only have stands alongside the straights. "Having seating all the way around gives it the feel of a bowl, as if everyone is focused on the track – it will make a big difference," Hoy said.
On the track, the corners climb almost vertically at either end of the straights. It took 26 specialist carpenters, 56 km of Siberian pine and 350,000 nails to make it, and Hoy's verdict on the result was simple: "It feels fast."
He added: "The most important feature is the ability to maintain a consistent environment for the track. In some venues the doors open straight to the outside, which drops the temperature. It can make it completely different for the first and last competitors."
"The track itself is important but the conditions play more of a part. If it's warm and the air pressure is not too high, you will see records broken."