East London celebrated two years until the start of the 2012 Olympics yesterday, with a number of events which allowed the outside world the first close look at the Olympic Park.
Schoolchildren from Hackney and Tower Hamlets among others joined athletes, past and present and celebrities for a tour of the site before joining four-times Olympic gold medallist Michael Johnson for a race on a temporary 60m track inside the partially completed stadium.
Hackney primaries: St John and Jerusalem, Whitmore, and Colverstone were all represented by excited pupils as was the London Marathon Playing for Success Centre in Bethnal Green.
“It’s so awesome how LOCOG actually cares about kids,” said Aaron Lewis, 9, from the Tower Hamlets.
Elsewhere on the 2.5km square site, cycling hero Sir Chris Hoy, tested the track in the velodrome in front of cheering construction workers. London mayor Boris Johnson followed, but his ride was a bit more wobbly, much to the amusement of spectators.
Lord Coe, chair of the 2012 organising committee, said this event was: “The starting gun for people to start planning their games”. Yesterday also marked the launch of the committee’s volunteer recruitment drive, to encourage over 70,000 people to help make the games a success.
He said: “We want volunteers. Volunteers are the face of the games. I know the difference between a good games and a great games is the quality of the volunteers.”
With the Olympics still two years away, organisers hoped the day would heighten the capital’s excitement and a BBC survey suggests that people are ready to join in with nearly one in three Londoners are more supportive of the games today than they were in 2005.
Across the internet people voiced their support. “I’m looking forward to soaking up the atmosphere with thousands of spectators at the spectacular Olympic park!” said mattjanes100 via Twitter, while Jon_East reinforced the positive vibe: “Looking forward to supporting TeamGBR with the spotlight on London.”
Lord Coe stressed the games would provide a legacy long after the event had ended.
“We have the opportunity to put economic benefit into a lot of communities through a lot of these projects. These are facilities local people will be able to use.
“We’ve designed this stadium to make sure that there is a lasting legacy. Five years ago we were standing in a scene of relative desolation, the Olympic Games has transformed that. Legacy is very important for us.”
The sport stars shared his enthusiasm. Sir Chris said: “I had goose bumps on my arm. To me now the Games are coming alive.”
He added: “You can’t stop thinking about the crowds cheering for Team GB in here in two years time, it’s important that you do because it gives you that little carrot to chase.”
Johnson, a US track-legend who has embraced Britain since becoming a BBC pundit summed up the day.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said. “There is so much history behind the Olympics and people in London will get an opportunity to go to an event and say they have taken part in it. They will have that memory for the rest of their lives.”