Olympic Park, London

Olympics Watch

We take a final wander around the main Olympic venues, buffing up the floors, retesting the pH of the pool, and making sure that everything is in its right place for London 2012.

The Olympic Games may see athletes running faster and jumping further and higher but it seems that, where innovative technology is concerned, records are rather less likely to be broken.

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOGOC) stated early on that the technology used in 2012 "will be based on that used in previous games". Only technology which is commercially available and proven to be reliable by the third quarter of 2010 will be used. This is known as the 2010 'technology freeze' or 'lock down'.

The underlying approach to the Games was to focus on the legacy and regeneration in East London and many exciting projects have been realised. Attention has also been given to making the Games more accessible.


The Olympic Stadium is the centrepiece for all the Games and, whilst organisers have made efforts to create the most glamorous of venues, there has also been a conscious effort to make a spare, economic building. The overall vision was to turn a former industrial dump into a stadium fit for the Olympic Games.

First the site had to be cleared, and then a bowl was created by scooping out 800,000t of soil that was mostly relocated in the park. The stadium's foundations were secured by driving in more than 5,000 reinforced concrete columns up to 20m deep.

The day after the Games have finished, deconstruction of the stadium will begin and it will be reduced from 80,000 to 25,000 capacity. It will be the first stadium to downsize on such a large scale. Always conscious of this, the architects designed the stadium in two sections: one temporary and one permanent. The lower tier, the permanent layer, is made with 12,000 concrete terracing units, while the temporary upper tier is built with 112 steel rakers, which can easily be disassembled.

The roof compression truss is made up of 28 steel sections; each one is 15m high by 30m long and weighs 85t. The cable net roof, which covers two-thirds of spectators, has 112 panels of white material totalling 25,000m2. To ensure that the sporting action is illuminated and to meet high-definition TV standards, the stadium is lit by 532 individual floodlights housed in 14 towers. The top of the towers reach 70m above the field of play.

The designers had a vision to bring the people into as close contact with the action as possible and created an 'inside out' stadium. They have innovated by moving away from the traditional style of building arenas, by stripping out all but the essentials from inside the stadium. They have put toilets and shops, stalls that sell merchandise outside the stadium on the concourse. They call these units pods, painted in fluorescent colours.

Iconic aquatics centre

It has become something of a tradition at any Olympic Games for the host city to construct a building of outstanding merit; the Aquatics Centre is the London 2012 offering. Architect Zaha Hadid has created a sinuous, wave-shaped building, where the 'S' design is meant to be a reflection of the flowing movement of water. For the Games, however, the design has been distorted by the two temporary stands attached to the east and west sides for extra accommodation.

The outstanding feature of Hadid's design is the wave-shaped roof. The construction of the 11,200m2 covering, and its weight of 2,800t, involved complex design and construction challenges. It is shaped roughly like a diamond, stretching 120m north to south and 90m east to west. Such a long span is usually supported by columns but, to give spectators unimpeded view, a plan to use trusses resting on only three points was implemented to bear the load.

At the southern end, a concrete wall has been built standing 10m high, 30m long and 5m wide. Some 54m away rest the two northern core supports, each 10m by 4m. Two primary trusses rest on these, and between them another series of trusses fan out to span 120m. They cantilever out 32m past the base cores, north and south, and overhang the east and west sides by 27m, giving the unique undulating shape.

The temporary stands, on the two east and west overhangs, are constructed with fan trusses 11.5m deep which also contain inspection and maintenance galleries and house television lights.

The curved concrete dive tower underwent five months of trials in the laboratory and onsite. The complex six-board tower was built with 462t of high-tech self-compacting concrete poured into glass-fibre reinforced plastic moulds, computer-cut from a 3D model, around a skeleton of steel bars to make the distinctive shape. Over 30,000 sections of sustainably sourced Red Lauro timber, cut using 3D computer modelling, were placed on the curved ceiling.

Grounded in the earth

The Energy Centre and electricity substation are part of a group of utility buildings to be "grounded in the earth" to give them a separate identity from the main sporting venues in the Olympic Park.

The Energy Centre is designed to reflect the tradition of Battersea and Bankside power stations. As the building is 18m high, the architects introduced glazing to make it less imposing and to allow passers-by to see inside. Inside are biomass boilers, which use sustainable fuels such as woodchip and gas to generate heat and deliver low-carbon energy. During the Games, it will provide heating, air conditioning and power for all venues across the Olympic Park. It has an initial capacity of 46.5MW of heating and 16MW of cooling, and includes five cooling towers and two hot-water boilers, each weighing 60t.

The Primary Substation distributes electricity from the national network around the Olympic Park. The architects chose to use dark bricks to capture the site's industrial heritage and to create a sense of solidity appropriate to the building's role.

Where possible, contractors reused material from the demolition of buildings in the nearby Kings Yard. The use of more than 130,000 of Bitstock's Aldridge Homely Ebony Black bricks in the design echoes the traditional use of dark brick stock of the former Kings Yard industrial buildings on the site where the new substation has been built. A 'brown roof' has also been included to attract wildlife and help enhance the biodiversity of the area.


There might be no major innovations but technology has been pushing forward to help spectators find information and make paying easier. Wi-Fi links are surging ahead, for instance. To keep in touch with events, schedules and to check emails, Transport for London (TfL) has contracted with Virgin Media to provide a Wi-Fi service on platforms, escalators and ticket offices to 80'stations, but not on the trains themselves.

From July 2012 all Tube passengers will be able to connect to the Internet for free, but only for the duration of the Games. Transmitters are located throughout stations with signals being transmitted on the 2.4GHz frequency. The transmitters are low-power, with average Wi-Fi access point reach of about 150m. Virgin supports 802.11n devices and losses due to leaks are minimised by careful location of access points. Free Wi-Fi access will also be brought to Westminster and Chelsea by the network operator O2.

Visitors coming from France and Belgium on the Eurostar will have the benefit of a mobile telephone service 100m below sea level throughout the 53km tunnel. It will use a 2G (GSM 900, DCS 1800) and 3G (UMTS 2100) GSM-P telephone systems, with a transmitter cable and optical repeaters every 750m.

Contactless payment

The other growing technology is contactless or ticketless payments. Olympic Games sponsor Visa is installing about 3,500 terminals in Olympic venues for the Games. Ticketless terminals are similar to the ones used for conventional card transactions except it works by a radio-frequency 'detection method that requires the card to be placed close to the terminal for the details of the transaction to be transferred and logged. There is a limit of '15 for a transaction; if it is a larger sum, then the PIN number will be needed. Many taxis have also converted to this system.

Mark Roberts, general manager of VeriPhone, has been convincing taxi drivers of its merits. He has enrolled about 6,000 taxi drivers and his clients are increasing every day, he says. Secure terminals are connected to the partition between the driver and the passenger for easy and convenient use.

Payment in this way can also be made with some mobile phones such as selected Samsung models, which have a payment app. Transactions are made using a near-field communication (NFC) magnetic induction system and are completed when the phone is placed about 4cm from the terminal.

Broadcasting options

The BBC will provide blanket coverage of the Games, showing live footage of every Olympic sport from every venue throughout the day. Footage will amount to about 2,500 hours compared to 1,000 hours for Beijing.

Viewers will be able to see the Games in many formats - standard-definition (SD), high-definition (HD), super-hi-vision and 3D. Most operators will be showing the Games in the SD format, 768 x 576 pixels, while the BBC will also stream 24 HD channels at 1920 x 1080 pixels to satellite and cable systems on a non-exclusive basis. This content will be available through the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) and BBC Red Button, as well as on mobiles, tablets, connected TVs and PCs.

Viewers in some cities will be able to watch some Games coverage in super-hi-vision - 4320 x 7680 pixels - on a massive 600in screen. This system is likely to appear in London, Bradford and Glasgow.

The BBC will show only the opening and closing ceremonies and the final of the men's 100m in 3D, while Eurosport will broadcast more than 100 hours of the Games in 3D. Sky will also have access to this format and will provide this feed for all its HD subscribers. It will also broadcast the 24 SD and 24 HD BBC channels that are available during the Olympics.

As well as BBC Radio 5 Live and 5 Live Sports Extra, the BBC will be establishing a temporary digital radio station to exist only for the duration of the Games.

Reliable security

The technologies used by the Metropolitan Police will largely be established ones such as biometrics (iris scanning, hand scanning) for authentication and CCTV for perimeter control, intruder detection and traffic management.

Facial recognition technology might also be brought in for the Games. The system works by taking photographs of people and sending them back to Scotland Yard, which then employs face-matching software to identify people. The software maps the human face, dividing it into grids, and measures the distance between key features like eyes, nose and mouth.

Police will also step up monitoring of social networking websites such as Twitter before the Olympics, after admitting they were slow to do so during last summer's riots.


The government is gearing up to deploy missiles in an overt attempt to counter the risk of terrorist threats and attacks.

A battery of Starstreak surface-to-air missiles will be sited on a block of flats in Bow, East London. A surface-to-air missile weighs almost 17kg, is about 1.4m long and has an effective range of 0.3-7 km, with a warhead of 0.9kg.

Another missile, Rapier, a short-range air defence system weighing 45kg and with a speed mach of 2.5, will also be deployed.

A different sort of weapon, the Long-Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), a hailing device that can send harmful, pain-inducing noise over longer distances than normal loudspeakers, will be also be in the armoury.

The London Olympics has seen an intensification and development of technology since events in Beijing four years ago, including a huge expansion in communications. BT, for instance, will have four times the network capacity it had in China and at peak times its network will be carrying 60Gb of information - the equivalent of 3,000 photographs every second.

And of course, this is just before the Games begin. There will of course be much activity after the Games as well - temporary buildings will be taken down, some bridges will be removed, the area will become greener, grass and flowers will thrive, and the Games site will become known as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. *

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