FolkestoneJack's Tracks

London prepares… British Gas Swimming Championships 2012

Posted in England, London by folkestonejack on March 7, 2012

The British Gas Swimming Championships 2012 (Selection Trials) offered a second opportunity to see the aquatic centre up close. Unlike the sold out diving test event in February, tickets for the swimming trials were still available the week before. I snapped up a ticket for one of the morning heats and enjoyed the chance to see the aquatic centre in a different configuration.

The interior presented a stunning and intimate view, though it took a few moments to adjust to the somewhat tropical environment. Admittedly, I was a little overdressed wearing a shirt and tie ready for an afternoon at work! I soon found my seat and settled in for an enjoyable couple of hours watching the heats, assisted by a helpful commentary team. The attention to detail and friendly welcome that were the hallmarks of my visit bode well for the main event this summer. It will be interesting to read how the experiences of those attending the Olympics compare to these test events, and even more fascinating to see this venue in in its post-games guise.

London prepares… FINA Diving World Cup

Posted in England, London by folkestonejack on February 20, 2012

A couple of days after attending the UCI Track Cycling World Cup I returned to the Olympic Park to visit the Aquatics Centre for the first day of the FINA Diving World Cup.

Arriving just before sunset gave me an impressive first view of the aquatic centre and the orbit from the bridge into Westfield Stratford City. As I had nothing better to do, I joined the queue around 5pm and watched as the line steadily grew. The mix of people seemed quite different to the previous week’s events at the velodrome and it was noticeable how many families had booked tickets as a way of seeing the Olympic venues with their kids. Around 5.30pm the gates opened and things moved pretty swiftly from that point on.

The aquatic centre and the orbit

The design that Zaha Hadid has come up with for the building is simply stunning. However, from the outside it is a little hard to appreciate the full beauty of the place as those two vast temporary wings really dominate your view – with only the curvaceous tapered end poking out. It seems a little strange to think that the full architectural wonder of the building will only be visible after the Olympics, when the two wings are removed and the gaps are plugged.

I followed a trail of visitors around the end of the building and through an open doorway on the side of the building farthest away from Westfield Stratford City. Once inside I found myself directed down to the permanent seats nearest to the beautifully sculpted forms of the diving platforms which gave me a great view and one that felt very close to the action. The temperature shift was a welcome change after half an hour queueing in the cold.

To keep things simple for the test event the organisers were using unreserved seating and filling each section in turn. It certainly appeared as though a good crowd was in attendance, filling up all the permanent seating and a good chunk of the temporary wing – though the higher reaches of the temporary wing were not being used on this occasion (indeed, on the opposite wing it appeared that seats had yet to be installed in the extension). In photographs the temporary wings seem to stretch upwards forever and I would love to have seen how different the view looks like from such heights as its really hard to appreciate from the intimate setting of the permanent seating.

Rush hour on the diving boards!

The first hour or so seemed to be a free practice session for divers from across all diving disciplines which was surprisingly fun to watch – it was a bit like watching a swimming pool overrun with kids diving in and splashing about everywhere! I’ve never been to a diving event before so I wasn’t much good at star spotting, though I did recognise Tom Daley and Matthew Mitcham amongst the divers practicing. As a novice spectator in diving it was fascinating to watch the unrestrained mix of dives, interrupted only by the occasional burst of applause from the crowd in appreciation of the most spectacular.

At 6.45pm a short speech heralded the opening of the world cup, followed by the final of the men’s 3m synchronised springboard. Each national team dived six times with the score coming from a combination of the complexity of the dive, technical excellence and synchronicity. I’ll be honest and say it was a little hard to follow – except when the synchronisation was noticeably out.

Over the next hour and a half I got used to the pattern of applause for each team, followed by silence during the dive and then more applause. This routine was only broken by the GB team – each time they appeared a roar went up from the crowd (heck, and even the scoreboard got applauded whenever it showed the GB team making progress up the table!). Finally, Qin Kai and Luo Yutong of China were rewarded with the gold medal.

Medal ceremony for the men's synchronised 3m springboard

Overall, it was an interesting evening. Whilst it hasn’t inspired me to come back again to watch more diving, it has given me a much better appreciation and respect for the remarkable skills required in diving (and if the practice was anything to go by, the sheer hard work involved).