Plotting a route to London 2012
The countdown to the Olympic Games has begun in earnest. Robin Scott-Elliot charts what lies between Team GB's athletes and a place on the podium six months from now
Wednesday 04 January 2012
January: Gymnastics at 02 and six months to go
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Yesterday morning around 6am Rebecca Adlington slipped into a swimming pool in Nottingham; some hours later in Stellenbosh in South Africa's winelands Dai Greene, Britain's world champion hurdler, began his latest warm-weather training session; in London Sebastian Coe made his daily commute across the capital to his office in one of the Canary Wharfs towers with its views over the Olympic Park, and Andy Hunt, the man in charge of the British Olympic team, returned to his desk near Oxford Street. "Ready for 250 of the busiest days of my life," tweeted Hunt.
This morning it is 205 days until the Games begin – Hunt's duties include the fall-out/open-top bus tour – and 238 until the Paralympics. For Adlington, Green, Hunt and Coe and an expanding cast of athletes, support staff and Coe's organising army, the countdown is entering the critical phase.
The scramble for tickets will continue until the final race is run (it's the marathon) and the first chance for those who missed out last year begins on Friday when the organisers launch their resale website. If you ended up with two dozen for the Greco-Roman wrestling, here's your opportunity to find a wrestling enthusiast to take them off your hands – tickets have to be exchanged at face value and only through the official website. All details are at www.tickets.london2012.com, which also has a list of links to other European Olympic associations, where some diligent scouting could unearth tickets to events where this country's allocation has long since been sold out.
Throughout the next six months there will be further events at the Olympic venues to test the facilities, some of which will be part of the particular sport's World Cup circuit or act as qualifiers for the Games themselves. The best of them are ticketed (www.ticketmaster.co.uk/londonpreparesseries) and provide the opportunity to see some of the stellar British Olympic names in rare action on home soil.
The first comes at the 02 Arena on 10 January, where Britain's male gymnasts will look to earn one of the four remaining team spots in the Games – the women have already taken their places. The likes of Louis Smith, Beijing bronze medallist, and Daniel Keatings, world silver medallist, have the ability (along with Beth Tweddle, the stalwart of the women's team) to make this Britain's best ever Games in the sport – it's an event that is breathtaking to see in the flesh – provided they come through qualifying. The men were expected to have earned their place at the world championships in Tokyo in October but Keating suffered a spectacular fall from the high bar as Britain tumbled to 10th.
A feature of the next few months will be landmarks, not least for the palpations they will cause in the organisers' offices. January's is six months to go, which comes on the 27th.
February: Velodrome put to the test
Two high-profile test events dominate this month. For four days starting on 16 February some British Olympic giants will get their first taste of the Velodrome, sleekly situated at the northern end of the Park. Sir Chris Hoy and other leading British riders were closely consulted in the venue's design – moving the toilets closer to the athlete areas was one of the outcomes – and a number of them will find out whether everything from the plumbing to the speed of the track is all in order during the final round of the UCI World Cup. Cycling has been one of Team GB's banker sports but new rules introduced in the wake of Britain's domination in Beijing – they took seven of the 10 track golds plus three silvers and two bronze – mean each nation now only gets one place. The battle for a spot in the British team will be almost as competitive as the Games itself – selection is settled in June.
Tom Daley was the first man to hit the water in the Olympic pool (Britain's synchronised swimmers beat him to it) to mark one year to go last summer. The first competitive dive for the 17-year-old who will be one of Britain's most high-profile competitors is set to come between 20-26 February when the diving World Cup comes to London. Tickets for the diving go on sale on 17 January while this month, on 6 February, sees the closing date for the remaining football tickets – there are plenty left – and the Paralympics.
March: Adlington faces ultimate trial by water
The pool, which internally at least is one of the most stunning venues in the park, will be busy again with the trials (3-10) for the British team for the Games and the Paralympics. The evening sessions, featuring the finals, are already sold out but tickets remain for the morning heats (same details as above). For the likes of Adlington, Fran Halsall, Liam Tancock and Ellie Simmonds it will be their most important swim since Beijing. The top two in each event will make the Games (provided they are within the qualifying time) – one bad performance and that Olympic dream will be gone.
A day after the swimming focus switches across London to Eton Dorney for the rowing trials (8-11). With the trimming of cycling places, the rowers have a big part to play in helping Britain match their target of equalling fourth place in Beijing but with a greater total of medals. Britain's rowers have performed well over the last year and will be expected to return five or more gold medals – they won 10 medals in total at last year's world championships. There will be further trials out of public sight before the crews are finally settled.
Away from the UK, the world indoor athletic championships take place in Istanbul (9-11) which will be the first significant outing of the year for Dwain Chambers, Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis.
March also sees the deadline for the new round of bidding to take over the Olympic Stadium – West Ham United remain favourites. The month end with the International Olympic Committee's final inspection of London and the Olympic Park. They are unlikely to find any problems with the venues – the build is already 95 per cent complete – but transport remains the main concern.
April: Olympic D-day for Chambers and Millar
A big month for Chambers and David Millar. The British Olympic Association's appeal against against the World anti-doping authority's decision to instruct the BOA to drop its life ban on doping violators will be heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne. The court is expected to side with Wada, thus freeing Chambers and Millar to compete – a verdict is pencilled in for the end of the month.
Melbourne hosts the world track championships (4-8). Hoy will be there, but the race to watch is the team pursuit where Australia have established themselves as the men to beat. Geraint Thomas, who won gold in Beijing, will again be a key rider in the British quartet.
This month's countdown comes on 18 April which marks 100 days to go. On the same day the next round of test events begin, including synchronised swimming, a shooting World Cup event at the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich and wheelchair rugby – known as murder ball for its brutality – in the basketball arena in the Park.
Olympic football is the big unknown of the Games – how much will Britain buy into it? It is the only event scattered around the country, with matches at Hampden Park and the Millennium Stadium. On 22 April there will be a hint as to its possible popularity as Coventry's Ricoh Arena (which will be called the City of Coventry Stadium during the Games so not to upset sponsors) hosts a play-off for the remaining Olympic place, although which teams will be there is yet to be determined.
May: Lucky students first to try out stadium
The future of the £438m stadium will become clearer when the Olympic Park Legacy Company decide (almost certainly) once and for all who the post-Games tenants will be, but of more immediate interest to Coe, Locog, the organising committee, and a handful of lucky students will be the first competitive athletics event inside the 80,000-seat arena itself. The British Universities and Colleges Sport Championships will never have attracted so much interest as from 4-7 May they test out the stadium.
It comes as part of another slew of test events early in the month, with hockey – both British teams are ranked fourth in the world – and water polo, a sport thats surprisingly physical nature may appeal to an unfamiliar audience.
On 18 May the Olympic torch will come ashore at Land's End to begin its 70-day journey around the country. The organisers say the torch, which will be carried by 8,000 bearers, will come within 10 miles of 95 per cent of the population.
The European swimming and diving championships take place mid-month in Antwerp and Eindhoven, while the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham will host the BMX world championships with Shanaze Reade and Liam Phillips expected to use it as an important staging post towards the Games. Reade is a hot tip for gold, while Phillips is one of Britain's better outside bets.
June: Torch lights up Britain – and Ireland
The torch leaves the country on 6 June for a brief visit to Dublin – Locog had to get permission from the IOC to take it out of the host nation. From the Irish capital it will be taken to Belfast, then Glasgow, Stornoway in the Hebrides, Shetland and the Orkneys before the relay heads south to reach east London in time for the opening ceremony.
By the now the selection process will be in full swing – the BOA plan to stagger announcements of the various teams and sports in an attempt to give each the maximum publicity. The cycling deadline is 7 June, while the swimming team will follow further trials Sheffield (20-23) that offer a last chance to fill any of the slots not taken in March. The main athletics trials come in Birmingham – they double as the UK championships – at the Alexander Stadium. The first two in each event will be in London – provided they have met the qualifying times/distances – while a third place will be available at the discretion of the selectors.
The month finishes with the European athletic championships in Helsinki, which will be duly ignored by any athlete with genuine Olympic aspirations. The Tour de France begins on the last day of June – Mark Cavendish, currently slogging through the rain and the wind as he trains in Essex, will be there. The race ends in Paris on 22 July from where he will dash under the Channel to begin preparations for the Olympic road race – and potentially Britain's first gold medal –six days later.
July: Let the Games begin – at last
Crystal Palace hosts the British Grand Prix (13-14) before athletes disperse to their various training camps; Team GB will get away from it all in Portugal, while Usain Bolt and his Jamaican team-mates and the US athletes head for Birmingham. All Britain's Olympians will eventually pass through the holding camp in Loughborough before entering the Olympic Village. The first action of the Games comes on 25 July with the women's football in Coventry, Glasgow and Cardiff. On 27 July the Olympic torch will make its last journey, down the Thames then into the stadium to light up Danny Boyle's opening ceremony and, finally, the Games will begin.
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