Olympic year is almost here – but are we ready for it ?

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UK Sport, the body responsible for investing more than £100m a year of public money in Olympic sport, has recently reiterated its belief that Team GB will meet lofty expectations and the recent round of test events have stoked those hopes.

Britain's athletes are, they insist, on track to record their best performance since 1908 by finishing at least fourth in the medal table with "more medals in more sports" than Beijing.

With British Cycling unable to match its extraordinary 2008 haul due to rule changes, there will be more pressure on rowing and sailing to deliver. Other sports in which Britain is traditionally less strong will also have to step up to the plate – taekwondo and hockey among them.

Tracking the number of world championship medals won in 2011 provides further reassurance they are on track. The one unquantifiable factor remains the home Games effect – some will shrink in the face of huge pressure, others are bound to come from nowhere to be inspired.

Verdict They appear to be on track by every available measure, and UK Sport's high performance system inspires confidence in the 550 athletes who will represent Team GB. But fourth in the medal table remains a huge challenge and the margins impossibly fine


The £438m main stadium divides opinion with its stark appearance but all who have been inside praise its sightlines and intimate feel. With 80,000 ticket holders packed in, organisers stand a good chance of generating the electric atmosphere they say will set London apart.

But the stadium also remains a totemic symbol of the ongoing arguments over the legacy of the Games. Upon coming to power the coalition government and the London Mayor rightly decided tearing down half the stadium immediately afterwards to reduce it to a 25,000 capacity athletics bowl in the name of sustainability was the wrong call.

But having decreed that only a top flight football team could support a larger stadium, a hugely damaging and bitter battle was set in train between West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur. The east London club won preferred bidder status, only to see the process scrapped as it became gripped by legal paralysis and allegations of dirty tricks. With the capture of the 2017 World Athletics Championships having finally ended the debate over keeping the track, the Olympic Park Legacy Company will have another go at solving the conundrum with a new tender process that began earlier this month.

Verdict Completed on time and to budget, the Olympic Stadium, standing alone on its own island, looks better in reality than on the plans. It feels at once intimate and, when lit at night, suitably dramatic. But £438m still seems a lot to spend on what is essentially only the exoskeleton of a stadium – it will cost another £95m to make it fit for lasting use afterwards

Other park venues

The now completed other venues are a mixed bag but the overall report card is positive. The velodrome has been almost unanimously praised for its smooth lines and distinctive looks, while the handball arena has emerged as an unsung architectural hero.

Opinion remains divided over Zaha Hadid's dramatic £253m Aquatics Centre. Its sizeable budget was justified on the basis of its dramatic looks but at Games-time its sleek wave form will be obscured by ugly temporary stands. From inside, however, one can't fail to be impressed by the steepling stands, space and light. The temporary nature of the venues for basketball – a dramatically lit white cube – and water polo have been justified on the basis that they won't be left as white elephants. But there is a legitimate debate about how much they have cost for a few days of use and whether they will find genuine uses afterwards.

In many ways, the star of the Olympic Park may be the park itself. Because most of the venues were finished early, there should be time to make the Park feel like a living, breathing, mature space rather than the usual concrete wasteland.

Verdict Simply completing the venues on time and on budget in the teeth of a recession and in the wake of the embarrassments of Wembley, Pickett's Lock and the Millennium Dome was a big achievement. That a fair number so impressively marry form and function is a huge bonus

Other venues

The vision for a "compact" Games leaving no white elephants and making the most of dramatic London landmarks has proved difficult to deliver in practice. Greenwich Park, where a huge temporary arena will house equestrian events, has stirred local protest while the shooting range at Royal Artillery barracks in Woolwich sparked a debate about the lack of legacy.

But organisers believe the end result – iconic images that will showcase sports afforded little coverage at other times – will be well worth it. Following two batches of test events, teething troubles were identified but the plan appears robust – even if questions remain about the atmosphere at the cavernous Excel.

Verdict The test events have already proved that the strategy is sound – beach volleyball on Horseguard's Parade and equestrian events in Greenwich Park will be among the defining images of the Games – but loud questions will remain about legacy and value


Ever since London's victory in Singapore to secure the Games was followed a day later by the terrorist attacks on 7/7, security has been among the thorniest issues facing organisers. Shortly after coming to power, the coalition government launched a wide ranging review of security – which led to a realisation that, against the backdrop of a severe terrorist threat, more resources would be required.

At the same time, it became clear that Locog had woefully underestimated the number of guards that would be required as an initial estimate of 10,000 became 23,700. Costs doubled to £553m.

The risk of damage to the credibility of organisers has been outweighed by the argument that there is no room for scrimping on security. Overall, the budget for security has soared to well over £1bn.

As a result there will be 13,500 military personnel on duty during the Games, as well as 12,000 police, along with an impressive array of military hardware.

Verdict For all the concerns over soaring costs and the rare mis-step by Locog in underestimating the number of in-venue guards that will be required, there will be little criticism for spending whatever it takes to secure the Games.

The challenge for organisers will be to balance reassurance for the public with the requirement to maintain a party atmosphere and avoid overbearing or intrusive security


Along with security concerns, London's transport infrastructure has long been regarded as the most likely achilles heel for organisers. Responsibility has been passed from the Olympic Delivery Authority to Transport for London and much will depend on its ability to persuade businesses and individuals who are not going to the Games to change their routine. "Business as unusual" will be the message, but there are already signs of growing cynicism among the public.

The London Mayor, Boris Johnson, is buoyantly insistent transport will be the 2012 dog that doesn't bark, but those at the sharp end betray more anxiety. Among the challenges for the self-proclaimed "public transport Games" will be managing the perception issues around the Games lanes that will transport dignitaries and officials around London.

Verdict There is ongoing concern that local consultation over the detail of the impact of the transport plan at local level has been left worryingly late. Much will depend on the willingness of visitors and Londoners to put up with even more inconvenience than usual


There were conflicting emotions from organisers at the deluge of applications for the first batch of the 6.6m tickets available to the British public of a total of 8.8m (the rest go to sponsors, the media and overseas buyers).

The usually surefooted Locog looked unsure how to react to criticism that the process was biased in favour of those able to bid big money for large numbers of tickets. But, ultimately, the fact that every event bar football sold out was a huge result for organisers with around a year to go. The money was banked and, ultimately, the statistics proved the process was fair and offered plenty of reasonably priced tickets.

However the process was handled there would have been criticism and, within the strictures imposed by the International Olympic Committee and the proportion of tickets reserved for sponsors and officials, it was probably as fair as could be expected.

Locog's chief executive, Paul Deighton, has vowed to sell out every ticket, but women's football in particular will be a huge challenge. The final batch of 1.2m tickets across all sports will go on sale in April once the final venue layouts have been finalised and are likely to spark a huge stampede. Attention will then turn to touting, the grey hospitality market and the difficulty in policing it.

Verdict Criticism during the process from disappointed applicants was a small price to pay for the certainty of selling out in atmosphere and revenue terms. Locog has banked £537m with just £130m left to raise. Whether enough of those tickets found their way into the hands of a diverse population in terms of age and background will remain an open question until the Games

National mood

With the nightmare scenario of cost overruns and delays on the venues averted, and Locog successful in raising sponsorship money and shifting tickets, attention will turn to what these Games will feel like. Organisers have long insisted that it will be the unique atmosphere that will grip the capital and the nation, not only in the venues but at the huge live sites and elsewhere, that will set London's Games apart.

The Royal Wedding is the most often cited example of what they want to achieve. But that was a single day and the Olympics – together with the torch relay, Diamond Jubilee, Festival 2012 cultural programme and the Paralympics – is part of a summer-long orgy of flag waving.

Lord Coe has repeatedly said Britain is a "slow burn" nation but expects enthusiasm to begin to ignite around the torch relay in May. Whether communities up and down the land engage with that procession in the way organisers hope should be a fairly accurate barometer of the public mood. It will also begin to give an idea of the extent to which the Games will be embraced by the whole nation.

Moreover, no one really knows whether the size and scale of the capital will swallow up the Games or whether it will be transformed by them. As in Sydney, the 70,000 volunteers will play a key role.

The government and organisers had all hoped that mid-2012 would be the point at which the economy started to turn and chime with a more optimistic national mood. That now looks extremely unlikely and much may depend on whether the population at large is in the mood to forget its troubles and party regardless.

Verdict History would suggest widespread cynicism will reign up until the opening ceremony, whereupon the nation will enthusiastically embrace the Games in as yet unimaginable ways


Until recently, when intense focus began to alight upon operational issues around tickets, security and transport, the much vaunted legacy was a key area of controversy. Due to the unique range of promises loaded on to the Games in order to secure them, and later to justify the £9.3bn public sector funding package, the ambitious legacy aims were always going to attract intense focus.

The regeneration of the east end can already be judged a partial success, partly as a result of the gamble taken by an Australian shopping centre giant in building the Westfield that acts as the gateway to the Park in the teeth of a recession.

Assessing whether it has achieved the bold aim of rebalancing the poverty of the east of the city with the relative wealth of the west will take rather longer.

The legacy for elite sport will depend largely on whether a sustainable future can be found for the venues and whether confidence and investment in the high performance systems that won success in Beijing and beyond can be maintained.

And the biggest question mark hangs over whether the Games can truly be used to inspire generations of young people and adults to get off their sofas and do more exercise. No other Games has achieved that feat and, despite £250m of investment a year, adult participation targets have been scrapped in light of glacial progress. Meanwhile, the budget for school sport has been halved, which may in time come to be seen as a perverse decision a year from the Games.

Verdict Legacy has become the most over-used, and ill-defined, word associated with the Games and London is way ahead of most of its predecessors at a similar stage. But judged purely on the wide ranging promises made in Singapore and afterwards it is clear that huge challenges remain, particularly in sports participation. As the all-consuming focus becomes the Games themselves, the legacy questions may fade temporarily – only to return at even louder volume afterwards


Olympic opening and closing ceremonies are curious things. Almost everyone agrees they are too long and do little to boost the chances of the athletes involved. But they also insist that they are vital to the way the Games are perceived.

Danny Boyle and Stephen Daldry recently saw their budgets doubled to £81m when an extra £41m was found from the public funding package to boost Locog's investment, with the government determined it will act as a three-hour advert for UK plc. There are bold ambitions to use it as a showcase for Britain's strength in the creative industries but the red bus Beijing handover will remain a reminder of how not to do it.

Verdict Matching the scale and grandeur of Beijing will be impossible, while avoiding embarrassment is seen as the minimum requirement. But the names involved augur well and striking a balance between tradition and innovation will be key

1948 v 2012

London last hosted the Olympics 64 years ago; how will the two Games compare?

Budget 1948 Dubbed the Austerity Games and staged in the wake of European conflict 2012 £9.5bn and counting amid a double-dip recession and European turbulence

Television 1948 The opening ceremony, and around 60 hours of sporting coverage, was broadcast live on the BBC, who paid £1000 for the rights to the Games 2012 Every last leap, ball and throw, all 5,000 hours of it, will be live on the BBC via various channels

Opening ceremony 1948 When Big Ben struck four, George VI declared the Games open and 2,500 pigeons were released

2012 A secretive spectacular directed in an east London warehouse by film-maker Danny Boyle

Medal table 1948 USA top with 84 medals, 38 gold. GB only win three golds and finish 12th in the table, behind the likes of Finland

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Owen Gibson, for The Guardian on Wednesday 28th December 2011 22.59 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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