Park workers scramble to finish before Games opening
LONDON, July 27 — Carpenters, gardeners, crane operators and contractors of every kind were working flat out yesterday to prepare the London 2012 Olympic park in time to welcome the public for today’s opening ceremony.
The Olympic stadium, the velodrome, aquatics and basketball centres loom over the sprawling park that has transformed a formerly tired corner of east London into a hive of industry, with last-minute touches being carried out everywhere.
The BMX cycling venue still had several workmen in high-visibility jackets beavering away in the stands and contractors below cutting wood, while the course looked unfinished, with black plastic sheeting covering one part and cables appearing from the ground in places.
In the park, one of the giant megastores selling memorabilia was still having its front entrance design finished and an entranceway by the Stratford Gate was being fixed and painted at the same time.
Carpenter Frank Fitzpatrick told Reuters he had been working some “good long shifts” as he hooked himself into a harness to carry out work on the unfinished entranceway, but said the last-minute scramble was a fixture of all large-scale projects.
“It’s last-minute changes, last-minute jobs,” he said. “In an hour’s time it won’t be the same.”
Out across the park, most of the decoration is in place from benches to swathes of wild flowers while restaurants are up but not open.
Picnic tables are upturned and metal barricades lie everywhere as golf carts, organisers, reporters, cameramen, photographers whizz past the pink-coloured signs and maps to guide the visitors.
Although there was great attention to detail such as a “dog relief” area complete with a roll of toilet paper, the nearby drinking water fountains were leaking and farther along two workers were ripping into boxes of umbrellas to put on picnic tables not far away from Europe’s largest McDonald’s.
“When asked if things were frantic, one said: “No, no, no... well maybe.”
London’s organising committee LOCOG said that what may appear as a last-minute frenzy to the untrained eye was typical for such a giant project.
“We’re putting the final touches and we are looking forward to welcoming everybody,” a spokesman said.
On the vast apron of pavement near the Olympic Stadium, acres of wild flower, turf on forklift trucks and pallets of live vegetation lay waiting to be installed in the Olympic stadium for director Danny Boyle’s hotly anticipated opening show.
The flowers have survived a three-day baking heat wave that has been a welcome relief for most Britons after months of rain.
Landscape gardener Jan Oliver, who was watering the plants, turf, grass and wild flowers on plastic sheeting, told Reuters she had started growing all the vegetation from seed in March. But the past few days have been hectic.
“We’ve got a 28-hour-day today,” the 54-year-old said, adding that the plants needed the kind of round the clock care any mother was familiar with.
“It’s just like looking after a baby. They need food, they need water, they need shelter.”
Other contractors fixing the details on storefronts, logos and signs across the park said the scale of what had been accomplished over the last few weeks was astonishing.
“It’s a stunning achievement, though we are all absolutely dead on our feet,” said one who declined to give his name as his workers applied last-minute touches to a window front.
Just outside the gates, there were crowds of people craning for a look in, taking pictures, many there just to see the athletes and bask in the glow of an unusual event.
At a giant queue just outside the park, 46-year-old holiday cottage owner Fiona Robertson was waiting to pick up tickets for the opening ceremony and was brimming with excitement about a show that is expected to be all about the best of Britain.
“I might even cry with pride,” she said. — Reuters
* All eyes on London and spectacular Games opening