Welcome to the Olympic Stadium. Now get on your marks...
The Olympic Stadium
Saturday 05 May 2012
Outside Stratford station, you could hardly miss the volunteers with their pink foam hands, pointing the way towards Olympic Park.
Not that many folk in the Friday afternoon East End crowds were going past the Westfield Shopping Centre, with its M&S, its John Lewis and its McDonald's. There were precious few people heading for the showpiece arena of the 2012 Olympic Games.
Come 5pm, it was opening time for the four-day official test event for London's brand-spanking-new 80,000-seater £431m Olympic Stadium. The sunken bowl was sparsely populated – with barely 4,000 souls in attendance – as the runners got to their marks for the first event of the British Universities and Colleges Track and Field Championships.
Not that the athlete in lane one could care. Despite easing up somewhat as she entered the home straight, Justine Kinney took the opening heat of the women's 400m hurdles in 59.79sec, and in doing so the 24-year-old entered the history books as the first winner on the track that Usain Bolt, Jessica Ennis and Co will grace in August.
"I feel so privileged just to run here," said Kinney, who is studying for a Masters in psychology at Loughborough University. "I've been looking forward to this so much. The track feels amazing. It feels like you could fly down it." There is a chance Kinney could be flying down it again come Olympic time, too – but not as a member of Team GB. She is a native Brummie but competes for Ireland.
"Would you say you were Plastic Irish?" one mischievous member of the press pack enquired. "I wouldn't say I was Plastic Irish at all," Kinney replied. "My dad's Irish and my grandparents too. They're from Cork. I was born in England but I've always had two passports."
A smattering of British Olympic hopefuls will be testing the water in guest events today, when a crowd approaching five figures is expected. But the vast majority of the Great Britain athletics squad have chosen to bypass this chance to familiarise themselves with a venue that is still far from shipshape, with cables and steel tubing exposed from ceilings.
Christine Ohuruogu, the one reigning British track and field Olympic champion, is a Stratford woman but happens to be in the Caribbean. Tonight the 400m runner competes in the Jamaica Invitational in Kingston, a meeting that also features Bolt's first 100m of 2012. Perri Shakes- Drayton, another local lass (from Bow), had been due to race in the 400m hurdles today but has chosen instead to concentrate on preparing for the opening IAAF Diamond League meeting of the summer in Doha next Friday.
At least the absentees are getting into the Olympic groove, Greg Rutherford having equalled Chris Tomlinson's British long jump record with an 8.35m leap in San Diego on Thursday.
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