The 2012 Games will take place throughout London, with events scheduled for existing stadiums like Wembley and Wimbledon, but the bulk of the venues are being constructed in east London in what is being called the Olympic Park. The Olympic Park is located in Stratford, so on a cold February day I left my east London flat and headed there by bike. After manuevering through Hackney I rode down Bow Road and caught my first glance of the Olympic Stadium from the Canal Bridge:
Turning a corner, I rode toward the Pudding Mill Lane Docklands Light Railway (DLR) stop and had the brilliant idea to go up on the platform for a closer look. Of course as I walked up the station steps I saw a photographer with a telephoto lens walking down the stairs, checking pictures on his LCD screen. Turns out someone else had already thought of my brilliant idea. I took a pic from the platform anyway though:
To the right of Olympic Stadium, I caught my first glimpse of the Aquatics Center. As I left the train station I passed the security check-in for Olympic Stadium. There were numerous security guards in neon green jackets and hard hats. One guard was yelling at a taxi for dropping off his passengers near the security checkpoint; apparently this was a no-no. With the amount of security visible I imagine it would be a long and arduous process to actually get in closer to see Olympic Stadium, and I hadn’t contacted the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) for access permission prior to my journey so I didn’t even bother trying.
Weaving my way between condominium construction and an old council estate, I made it as close as I could to the Aquatics Center:
Northeast of the Aquatics Center is the Stratford town center, where the bus, tube and rail station are located, along with the Stratford Centre, a shopping mall around since the ‘60s, the kind of mall where you won't recognize more than three stores. But one of the reasons Stratford was chosen to host multiple Olympic venues was to rejuvenate one of London’s most economically deprived areas. And what better way to rejuvenate the area than to build Europe's largest urban shopping mall right across the street? The 1.9 million sq. ft. Westfield Stratford City Mall is under construction, and according to the mall’s PR: “As the gateway to London's Olympic Park, Westfield Stratford City is part of one of the largest urban regeneration projects ever undertaken in the UK.” Because the Olympics and consumerism goes hand-in-hand, right?
After snapping a pic of what will soon be Europe’s largest shopping mall, I stopped at the top of the Angel Lane bridge, jumped off my bike, and stood on the seat. I peered over the wall to see the progress being made on the Athletic Village, the apartments being built for the athletes and their trainers during the Games:
Next I cycled down a small hill away from the bridge and went halfway up an access driveway. A security guard came over to me, asking, “Can I help you sir?”
“Oh, I was just wondering what the name of these building were?”
“This is called Athletic Village, why do you want to know?”
“Well, I was just passing through because I wanted to see what was going on with the Olympics and taking some pictures, you know.”
“You know you’re not allowed to take pictures of the construction areas. Due to terror concerns and whatnot.”
“Oh, it’s not like I have a telephoto lens, I’m just taking pictures from the street, on public property.”
“Still, you’re not supposed to do that. If I see you taking pictures, I am instructed to call my supervisor and he will then summon the police.”
“Ok, I didn’t realize, I’ll move on, thank you.”
I turned around and exited the driveway of the construction site. Was it true I wasn’t supposed to take photos from public property? This seemed a bit odd. I concluded that he was just a gate security guard who didn’t know anything about media law or photojournalist’s rights so I pressed on.
After heading north on Leyton Road, I turned left down Temple Mill Road where I saw the basketball arena:
It's an all-white rectangular building with diagonal white shapes protruding from the sides. It looks like the sort of structure that would make more sense on the moon or Mars, but that's where Kobe, LeBron, Dwyane and co. will take on the world next summer.
Pushing on, I cycled down the hill, closer to the basketball arena. As I weaved around the trucks and cars to get to the front of the intersection, I suddenly felt quite out of place; I was the only cyclist among huge trucks, security vehicles, and a few passenger cars. The sidewalk had ended and I felt like I was on some sort of access road and maybe I shouldn’t have been riding my bike down there. The light changed and I pedaled hard and fast so that the vehicles behind me wouldn’t be held up. I managed to go about 200 yards until I pulled off to the left into a driveway to let the trucks and cars pass me. To my delight, the driveway I pulled into gave a perfect view of the new Velodrome:
To the right of my view of the Velodrome was another security checkpoint; I quickly took a pic of that as well. I looked on my LCD screen at the two photos I had just shot and realized the pic of the Velodrome was slightly tilted, so I shot the Velodrome once more with the sun setting in the background. Just as I finished snapping the picture, I noticed three neon green suits sprinting towards me. There’s something amusing about adults running in public without jogging gear on, but these guys certainly weren't laughing.
“What are you taking a picture of?!? Can I see some identification?!?”
As I handed them my wallet I explained that I was just cycling through and I liked the way the sun was setting over the new Velodrome so I took a photograph. To my credit, the sun at the moment did make the view quite unique, so this seemed a plausible explanation. They asked if I was a student, and I said I used to be, and then what appeared to be the main guard in charge walked off with my wallet and began to talk on his walkie-talkie. Another guard stood with me and explained that I wasn’t allowed to take photos of the Olympic construction sites because it was a “sensitive area.” I told them I wasn’t a terrorist, I just thought the sun looked nice setting over the new stadium. The guard standing with me said it would be a lot easier for me if I deleted the photo of the Velodrome. He said that they could not force me to delete the photo, but if I didn’t I would have to wait till their supervisor came down for further questioning. I immediately obliged and showed him as I deleted the flick, knowing full well that two photos back I had another slightly tilted shot of the Velodrome. By this time the main neon jacketed guard walked back over to me with my wallet and ID. The guard I was with told him I had deleted the photo and then he said that I was clear and free and I could go.
I cycled off, a bit shook up by the whole incident, and I wondered how I would be able to continue on with updates about the Olympic venues if I wasn’t allowed to take photos of them. I cycled for a couple of minutes till I got to the backside of the Velodrome. I got off my bike and nervously took out my camera. Suddenly I was worried about every single person around in a neon green jacket. Unfortunately, this was the standard attire of all the construction workers and security guards alike. I waited till I thought no one was looking and took a hurried pic of the Velodrome:
I decided to call it a day; my feet were freezing and I didn’t feel like getting detained by security again. I cycled by the International Broadcast Centre/Main Press Centre (IBC/MPC), but there were too many neon jackets around for me to stop. As I left the Olympic Park, I stopped on a small bridge over the canal and took a final picture of the backside of the Olympic Stadium:
Stay tuned for more reports from London; that is, if the neon green jackets don’t get me first.