With Jessica Ennis leading the way, the much-anticipated start of the track and field action at the Olympics did not disappoint
For many people the Games only truly starts once the athletics begins. Cyclists, gymnasts, sailors and swimmers have so far enjoyed the spotlight, but the biggest gladiators in the Olympic arena are undoubtedly the runners, jumpers and throwers.
The track and field stadium is the showcase stadium in the Olympic Park – dwarfing the Velodrome and Aquatics Centre – and is traditionally chosen to house the Olympic cauldron. There have been plenty of empty seats so far, but the Olympic Stadium was packed on the first morning of track and field action.
Travel to the venue had been hectic for many fans, with problems on the Central Line and queues for the Javelin trains at St Pancras. It was also a typically grey summer’s day in London.
Yet the inside of the Olympic Stadium enjoyed its own microclimate with temperatures of around 22C by midday, a breeze that was gentle enough to usher Jessica Ennis to a fabulous UK record of 12.54 for 100m hurdles, plus enough noise to blow the roof off. If the stadium had one, that is.
Of course there was rain too. What else could we expect from this eternally wet British summer of 2012? But it was not enough to dampen the spirits of the capacity crowd.
Commentators Geoff Wightman and Garry Hill informed the crowd, interspersed by loud blasts of music. The pop songs are not to everyone’s taste, but the choice of Girls Aloud and the soundtrack from Kick Ass was somewhat appropriate.
Ennis received rapturous cheers from the moment she appeared out of the tunnel to take her place at the sprint hurdles start line. Such was the excitement in the crowd, there were some Wimbledon-style screams of “Go Jess!” even as she was settling into her blocks.
Other Brits in action, such as fellow heptathletes Louise Hazel and Katarina Johnson-Thompson, together with gold medal contenders Dai Greene and Christine Ohuruogu, were also drowned in noise. Hazel had the honour of being the first British athlete to compete in the Games, while Johnson-Thompson seemed to mouth ‘wow’ when her name was called and crowd roared – overwhelmed by the moment.
The Athletics Weekly team has a bird’s eye view as the excitement unfolds. Myself and Paul Halford were level with the finish line and high enough to be just undercover during the first morning’s action – although strangely no seats are allocated and writers pick their own. AW colleague Jon Mulkeen is blogging for the IAAF this week and was nearby with staff from the global governing body. Then there’s photographer Mark Shearman, who is amazingly attending his 13th Olympics.
Having the best seat in the house is a privileged position and on such a feel-good morning it seems inappropriate to complain. But if there are any grumbles so far they include the fact less than half of the 20 or so seats on my media aisle are actually taken up. Although this will surely change during evening sessions and some accredited media are no doubt in the mixed zone or venue media centre.
Also, getting from the tribunes to the media centre is like finding your way out of Hampton Maze – and even the ever-helpful volunteers manning the doors didn’t have a clue. Finally, an Olympic cauldron that sits at ground level inside the stadium as opposed to glowing majestically overhead doesn’t seem quite right. Although like most things at London 2012, I’m warming to it (no pun intended).
Certainly, if this first athletics session is anything to go by, these Games could be the greatest ever. Now, I’m off to buy some ear plugs so I don’t get totally deafened during Mo Farah’s 10,000m and Ennis’s 800m on Saturday, not to mention the appearance of Usain Bolt in the 100m.