Tag Archives: London

Snooker’s Masters growing into its home at Alexandra Palace

From the train window, out over the grey fog of north London, Alexandra Palace rises.

Its light beige facade shines bright against the grassy hill on which it stands. The iconic Rose Window sits proudly within its walls, surveying like a glass eye the city that stretches out before it almost endlessly. Alexandra Palace is an antidote to the greying, soulless railway lines and bland terraced houses over which it looms — a sight for sore and troubled eyes.

Venue for many a memorable music act, notably the Stone Roses, Blur and Björk among others, along with sporting events like the PDC World Darts Championship and the World Championship of Ping-Pong, ‘Ally Pally’ as it’s affectionately called now plays host to the Masters snooker, and has done since 2012.

Each year snooker’s top 16 ranked players are invited to compete, freed from the shackles of ranking significance to cement their status among the sport’s elite. 

Though Ally Pally has now become a much-loved and cherished venue, most will say that the original home of the Masters was the old Wembley Conference Centre where the tournament was staged from 1979 to 2006. A curved, futuristic construction in its day, the venue became famed for its uniquely raucous atmosphere, a far cry from the sombre silence of the Crucible and other snooker hotspots.

Close to 3,000 well-watered snooker fans would pile into the arena, where the players smoked and drank in their seats, creating a thin, grey, tobacco-scented smog which hovered above the table.

Members of the crowd were known to cough or rustle sweet wrappers in an attempt to distract players, usually those who threatened the success of local lads Jimmy White or Ronnie O’Sullivan. It was an atmosphere more akin to darts than the traditional calm of the baize.

London pride

The Masters has always been London’s snooker tournament, and the capital’s snooker faithful have always backed their men to the hilt, be it Jimmy or Ronnie, or even the Tooting potter Tony Meo who himself reached a couple of semi-finals in the 80s.

White especially has always been London’s darling in snooker, winning the Masters in 1984, and playing with the kind of flair that, barring Alex Higgins, had never been seen in the game before.

White’s well-documented defeats in six world finals seemed to galvanise his position as the likeable protagonist of snooker’s perpetuating storyline, the hero desperately trying to foil a villain who in this case was Stephen Hendry.

A prime example is White’s first-round victory over Hendry in 2004. Just listen to the roar that greets the Whirlwind’s game-clinching red. That is the sound of a sportsman on home turf, with an army of followers willing him over the line. As with another perennial Masters crowd pleaser Alex Higgins, it was White’s gung-ho approach to the game that won him so many fans. 

Sheffield may be snooker’s spiritual home, but it has always seemed fitting that the Masters should stay in London, that the country’s capital city should play host to the sport’s capital showmen. The magnitude of each match, whereby each could easily be the final, aptly reflects the magnitude of the city itself — a physical manifestation of the significant, of the huge.

The redevelopment of Wembley Stadium and the area immediately surrounding it meant that the old Conference Centre was demolished in 2006, and with it a part of snooker’s fabric. For the following five years, the Masters was held at the new Wembley Arena in an attempt to preserve some of the magic conjured by the locale.

But the same atmosphere could never be re-created, as the combination of a dull, insipid venue and a sport struggling at the time to attract new fans stripped the event of much of its allure.

Indeed, much like Wembley Stadium, the new Wembley Arena could not emulate its prior incarnation, awkward and uncomfortable like an ill-fitting pair of orthotics that can never quite be broken in.

New home

The decision to re-locate to Alexandra Palace, at a time when Barry Hearn was just beginning to breathe new life into the sport, has reaped dividends, reinvigorating a tournament which had stagnated during that vain attempt to cling to the past.

Now, the Palace seems the perfect home for this yearly clash of snooker’s giants, from the winding walk up the hill from the train station — itself a symbol of the toil required for a player to claim his place in snooker’s top 16 — and the fine stone and golden stair-rods which line the building’s interior, to the near 2,000 fans that hurry through those giant doors to see their stars in action.

Ally Pally is a fitting backdrop to the Masters, its inner finery and glass ceilings representative of snooker’s emergence from the dank, smoky confines of Wembley and into the light — an apt reflection of the sport’s growth into a global game.

Year upon year, the tournament grows more comfortable in its new home.

The atmosphere within may be slightly less raucous than the old days at Wembley, but occasionally cries of ‘come on, Jimmy’ still ring out around the arena, emerging from the mouths of fans keen to honour this tournament’s glorious past, as snooker’s most prestigious invitational bounds boldly over the horizon towards future traditions.

Video: Hiking, climbing and sliding on beautiful Box Hill

An outstanding area of woodland and chalk downland managed by The National Trust, Box Hill has long been famous as a destination for day-trippers from London.

The natural attraction is visited by over 800,000 thousand tourists each year, and is known for its amazing viewpoint, stepping stones and the River Mole.

This video contains hiking, climbing and sliding down trails on Box Hill.

Shot edited and produced by Yusuf Ali.

Click here to watch the video.

 

 

 

 

London 2017 World Athletics Championships Podcast

This summer, the London Stadium in Stratford will host the 2017 World Athletics and ParaAthletics Championships.

These will be the biggest and most prestigious athletics events staged at the venue since the glory days of the 2012 Olympic Games.

But how many people are actually aware that the Championships are coming to the capital in August?

Crystal Davis and Lucas Chomicki visited the Queen Elizabeth Park, home of the London Stadium, to ask people there about the 2017 Worlds.

These events should be the highest-profile entries on the UK’s sporting calendar this year, but are they still flying under the radar with less than six months to go?

Elephant Sport Podcast – The Rise of Online Streaming

Mike Newell and Lucas Chomicki investigate why more sports fans are turning to internet streaming to watch live events.

The increasing availability of illegal feeds is a growing problem for broadcasters anxious to protect their multi-billion pound investments in sports rights.

Sky and BT Sport paid £5.1bn between them for the current Premier League deal, but what happens when fans aren’t prepared to pay for what they view?

This vox pop features anonymous interviewees because of the subject under discussion.

 

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Having a go at BMX racing

Watching the BMX riders at the 2016 Rio Olympics riding at full speed and flying over those bumps made up my mind that I should give BMX cycling another go. 

The last time I tried it was was four or five years ago. It was a wet, damp day and I remember skidding on a curved bend in the track. Covered in mud and with cuts on my hands and knees, I decided to never try BMX again…

History

BMX cycling began in the 1970s in the United States where kids in Southern California rode their bikes on dirt tracks. The inspiration came from motorcross stars. The sport is hugely popular in the UK where it was first introduced around about the 1980s.

Since then, BMX racing has become more popular than freestyle BMX, eventually becoming an Olympic event at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Mat Hoffman is one of the best freestyle BMX in the world. Nicknamed ‘The Condor’ he is known for nailing dangerous tricks such as a 900 in events.

This video shows Hoffman showcasing his tricks at BMX free-styling events.YouTube Preview Image

Trying again

So on a sunny, winter morning, I decided to take my bike out and go for a normal bike ride through Brixton and Tulse Hill. I rode through Brockwell Park, where the BMX circuit was free and waiting for me to do my stuff.

I began going around the track slowly, wary of skidding or falling again. It was fun but I felt I should speed up. Luckily the track was not damp and wet like the last time, so it was easier to go around the bends with ease.

I was not able to do fancy tricks or anything like that but being able to ride the track at full speed was an enjoyable experience – much better than the last time, that’s for sure…

Learning from the experts

A coaching session was just getting under way,  with young riders doing some practice laps to get them warmed up.

“Seeing them flash past made my earlier efforts look like a Tata Nano compared to their Bugatti Veyron”

I spoke to one of the coaches, Andy, who has been training BMXers for six years. He told me: “BMX racing is really competitive and a lot more goes into the sport rather than just riding a bike around a lap.

“The training consists of strength drills, a lot of cardio such as star-jumps. Riders can get serious injuries if they do not train right, follow the right diet and other small factors. Essentially they are athletes.

“I have seen many riders have their careers ended early because they did not listen to their trainers, but sometimes those injuries can come from during the races itself. It’s can be dangerous but it’s a competitive and fun sport to watch as well as participating in.”

As we talked, the riders began doing some fancy tricks as well as trying to beat their personal bests in a race. Seeing them flash past made my earlier efforts look like a Tata Nano compared to their Bugatti Veyron.

Give it a go

Andy decided to organise one big race with all the riders, and asked me if I wanted to join in. Despite my nerves, I said yes.

The race began and the other riders went flying out of the blocks as I tried to keep up with them.

My main aim was not to fall off and totally embarrass myself in front of everyone. Luckily, I didn’t and crossed the line in fifth.

I would really recommend anyone to give it a go. It can be so much fun to try and be extreme and reckless with a bike. It is also always good to try a different sport now and then.

There are some places around London where you can try out BMX racing. Brockwell park in Tulse Hill, South London is one place where you can try it out. Burgess Park also has a track.

For more information about how to get into BMX, visit the British Cycling website.  Feature image courtesy of Phil Connell via Flickr Creative Commons.

Cycle touring around Copenhagen

Few sensations are more soothing than the reassuring feel of a mild breeze on the back and the sound of tyres caressing a bicycle path as it meanders through the outskirts of beautiful Copenhagen. 

Before this summer’s holiday to Denmark, the last time I had climbed aboard a bicycle coincided with the last time I fell off one. Despite this mishap, I was eager to explore Copenhagen on two wheels.

The Danish capital remains the benchmark for cities around the world as they try to figure out how to take the bicycle seriously as a mode of transport.

With the beautiful medieval city centre streets and the unlimited access for cyclists to ride on, Copenhagen continues to inspire, but where did the Danish cycling craze start?

History

Denmark is the epitome of a bike-friendly country. The opening of the city’s first bike lane in 1892 saw cycling become hugely popular, and in just 15 years the number of bikes on its streets rose from 2,500 to 80,000.

By 1960, however, using cars had become the norm, which brought with it pollution and traffic-related accidents.

The real problem, however, was the international energy crisis in the early 1970s. For a country which at the time depended on imported oil for 92% of its energy, this was a major issue.

This meant that much of the country went green and bikes now seemed more than just a cheap exercise.

Throughout the 1980s, Denmark saw a bicycle renaissance. Individuals lobbied for the introduction of bike lanes in cities and since Copenhagen began to observe its cycling rates to see how many individuals were using bicycles in 1995, the continuous rise has been spectacular.

In 2004, 41% of Copenhagen commuted by bike and by 2010, it had reached 50%. Today, the country sets a gold-standard for renewable energy and efficiency.

Cycling in Copenhagen 

Copenhagen is a cyclist’s dream. Throughout my week there, I biked to restaurants and famous sights such as the Little Mermaid statue, and through the city’s most elegant parks and attractions like Tivoli Gardens, the world’s second oldest amusement park.

Biking around in Copenhagen is so relaxing, it almost felt like meditation. People in Denmark obey cycling’s etiquette, so an obvious factor in feeling assured and pedalling at a safe pace.

After hiring out my bicycle, what really struck me about cycling round Copenhagen was how seamlessly one could weave through the city without feeling vulnerable. Sometimes the ride to a new destination in the city was as enjoyable as reaching the destination itself.

Difficulties 

Despite the highs of my cycling experience in Denmark, I did experience moments of frustration, mainly down to my general unfamiliarity with the city. Being someone who doesn’t speak Danish apart from the word ‘Hej’ – hello – remembering street names was a difficult task.

Parts of the city were a bit of a labyrinth, too. This is, of course, mainly a problem for visitors, and there were plenty of times when, seeing my confused looks at road signs, helpful locals asked if I needed help. There is a reason why Denmark is officially the happiest nation in the world.

Danish drivers were very patient with minor cycling indiscretions that would have caused road rage in London. Nothing in the city was hurried, and the main difference I observed from cycling in London is that in Denmark, cycling is an incredibly social way to get around.

I came across many friends and families cycling with one another and this is important for making a mode of transport more appealing.

The country’s wide cycle lanes mean people can ride side by side and despite the overcrowding at times, it is one of the most amazing things to witness.

Cycling and pollution 

It is common knowledge that cycling in polluted air is harmful to people’s health, but does that mean you shouldn’t cycle because of pollution?

If there is a cleaner alternative the answer is yes, but if the alternative is to drive or use bus, cycling is not necessarily the worst alternative.

Cyclists are exposed to pollutants more than car drivers – however studies have shown that the concentration of pollutants at rush hours is substantially larger inside cars than outside.

The reason for this is that cars’ air intake is close to the exhaust of the car in front, so depending on the relative speed and volume of air taken in per minute, cyclists may not be exposed to a higher amount of pollutants over the same distance.

Health benefits

If the thought of experiencing a capital city on two wheels is daunting, Copenhagen will help you conquer your fears, and as the cycling craze intensifies, so do the health benefits.

Cycling may save money and help the environment, but its biggest benefit is for health, and as a low-impact form of exercise, it is easier on the joints than running.

My view of cycling across central Copenhagen

The capital region of Denmark estimates that the city’s high cycling levels save one million fewer sick days per year and regular bike riding contributes to increased cardiovascular health and decreases in stress and obesity.

Visit Denmark 

If cycling is your thing, you would be hard-pressed to find a better-equipped destination than Denmark. With over 12,000km of signposted cycle routes, eye-catching scenery and short distances between amenities, the place is made for pedal-powered travel.

Copenhagen leads the way and the rest of Denmark follows. Cycling networks have allowed cities such as Odense to reinvent themselves as eco-friendly destinations, while Bornholm has made a huge transition from a simple beach escape once, to a place that boasts 150 miles of cycling routes.

Denmark has many cities to visit and cycle from and it is safe and great fun. So get on your bike and pedal away to take a cycling holiday in Denmark because it will be the most enticing thing you will ever try!

Click here to learn more about cycling in Denmark.

Two fingers to the establishment: Reviewing ‘A Yorkshire Tragedy’

Award-winning journalist Anthony Clavane is right to have a chip on his shoulder over what he calls ‘a culture of neglect’. Having been raised in Leeds and worked in the capital, he is all too familiar with the increasingly glaring north-south divide in Britain. 

In his new book A Yorkshire Tragedy, he illustrates in heartbreaking detail the extent to which a formerly industrial and sporting powerhouse has been rendered a national afterthought.

Moreover, the hollowing out of working classes, so integral to Yorkshire’s character and communities, has transformed once bustling areas into ghost towns.

“I’m most upset by the idea that the working classes are being cut off from leisure,” reveals Clavane.

The economic growth enjoyed alongside the industrial revolution during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Clavane argues, was driven by a local trinity of home, work and leisure.

In Hull, St Andrew’s Dock, the Boulevard and Hessle Road were pillars of communalism, binding players and workers together in the name of advancement by co-operation.

Expression of community

Workers felt that they played a significant role in local life, and that local teams embodied a spirit not quite seen in a “less communal and more atomised” London.

yorkshire-tragedy“If you look at sport, where was it invented? In the north,” explains Clavane. “And which communities did it emerge from?

“The very first modern football club was in Sheffield. Modern sport and cricket was played in Sheffield and Leeds and came out of the industrial working classes.

“What I’m arguing is that these industrial areas – which grew directly as a result of industry – sport was their expression of community.

“When Featherstone won the Rugby League Challenge Cup in 1983, most of their players were miners. They had just lifted the trophy in Wembley, millions watched it, and two mornings later they were down the mines.

“Could you imagine Lionel Messi or Wayne Rooney going to the mines?”

The decline of Leeds United, once a formidable top-flight force, is also particularly telling.

Leeds have spent the majority of the last decade sitting precariously below the elite tier of English football, and Clavane jokingly expresses his frustration.

“It upsets me that Leeds United are not the greatest team the world has ever seen any more.”

Under chairman Peter Ridsdale, Leeds encountered severe financial problems, including large loans which could only be repaid by selling key players.

The resulting implosion sent the club crashing into League One within just a few years, seemingly wiping clean all the progress that had been made in the late ’90s and early 2000s.

Blame game

The Hillsborough disaster of 1989, too, was an incident so tragic that in many ways it was microcosmic of the marginalisation of Yorkshire.

Families and friends of the 96 victims, knowing full well what had happened that day, were ignored and repeatedly demonised by a largely ignorant London media.

The Sun, in particular, is infamous for the blame game it played in the ensuing weeks. The stadium’s chequered safety record was not addressed sufficiently, as it may well have been had it been located in London, echoing the horrific fire at Bradford just four years earlier.

“Very simply, up until 1989, Hillsborough was a symbol of ambition, aspiration and majestic football because the stadium was the Wembley of the north.

“After ’89 it became a symbol of death and everything bad about football and society,” Clavane points out, clearly in saddened agreement with my suggestion that it was emblematic of Yorkshire as a whole.

Condescending neighbour

A Yorkshire Tragedy is alone worth reading for the rich history it unearths.

Drawing upon a wealth of sporting and political knowledge, as well as important critiques of the cultural effects of neo-liberal capitalism, Clavane can best be commended for capturing the rancorous nature of the lament felt by a substantial part of Yorkshire’s working class.

“Clavane notices an ominous connection between neglect and Yorkshire’s rejection of the political status quo on June 23rd this year”

There is no denying their ostracism from the centre of the political consensus. Government funding (or lack thereof) tends not to be afforded to worthy northern programmes and the media, too, seem fixated with events in London.

“There has always been a certain ‘chippiness’ towards the south, or at least the idea of the south as a condescending neighbour that sucks in the north’s skill, goods and talent,” writes Clavane, astutely.

Globalised capitalism, of which the author believes there exists a socially responsible version, has made a mockery of the very values which made Yorkshire a 19th and 20th century powerhouse

Beginning in the Thatcher years of the 1980s, strong social principles of togetherness and collectivism were thrown out, with the individual placed before the community.

Disenfranchised

‘Right to buy’ increased homelessness throughout Yorkshire, the closing down of mines, decline of the fishing industry and outsourcing of factory work broke that spirited link between work and play, and left many in the north unable to reap the rewards of the south’s economic growth.

A Yorkshire Tragedy reaches out to those who have been left behind and reminds them that they are loved. It tells the disenfranchised men and women of Yorkshire that they are a cherished part of Britain, with a rich and respectable history.

“Sport is unpredictable, and these things go in cycles. But I don’t see the downward cycle coming back up”

Like me, Clavane notices an ominous connection between neglect and Yorkshire’s rejection of the political status quo on June 23rd this year. “What I think has happened is that whole swathes of the country have got chips on their shoulder over being left behind and betrayed, and that to me could help to explain the Brexit vote.

“These deep-rooted, long-standing communities have gone into decline and they’ve stuck two fingers up to the establishment and they will continue to do so.

On the question of an upturn in fortunes, Clavane is characteristically unmoved

“I’m a glass half empty man, so not very. It’s very strange. If I was writing about the decline of the economy or the film industry, you can forecast a trend. But let’s say Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday go up, all of a sudden my theory is buggered. That’s what sport is, it’s unpredictable, and these things go in cycles. But I don’t see the downward cycle coming back up.”

Yorkshire has been left behind. Of that there is no question. The author was understandably “very moved and angry by the absence of communities, shockingly impoverished” while writing his book. If only the political elite had an ounce of his consideration.

A Yorkshire Tragedy: The Rise and Fall of a Sporting Powerhouse, Quercus, £16.99. Feature image courtesy of the72.co.uk

I’ve got Olympic fever again after my first velodrome visit

Since the 2012 Olympics, I’ve only felt truly patriotic three times.

They were when the England Lionesses were knocked out of the Women’s World Cup last year, when the Tour de France passed by the top of my road and yesterday: when Sir Bradley Wiggins led Team GB’s Men’s pursuit team to the final in the Track World Championships at the Velodrome.

“I honestly hadn’t felt such pride in my country since we were in the thick of the Olympic and Paralympic Games”

The only time I’d ever actively watched cycling before yesterday’s session at the Olympic Park, was during the 2012 Olympics when I watched on TV as Wiggins won the road race and Sir Chris Hoy score his final gold medal on track. And aside from the 10 seconds of action during ‘Le Tour’ opposite my local pub, I’d never seen cycling live.

That changed when I attended the UCI Track World Championships, to get a real taste of why it’s becoming so popular in the UK.

The Lee Valley VeloPark is a very impressive venue in which to watch live sports. It’s small, but feels huge, it’s enclosed, but not overwhelming, and modern, but not bland. I must admit however, that my first impressions of the actual event weren’t all that good.

Shaky start

The women’s pursuit qualifiers after a while, became quite monotonous, with little notable action. When it comes to motorsport for instance I’m quite happy just relaxing and watching the ebb and flow of quiet moments – because I find just ‘watching cars’ move interesting. But bikes don’t give me the same feeling of excitement.

“Team pursuit in country vs country form encapsulates everything I love about sport”

That quickly changed after that session was finished, and the 6000-strong sell-out crowd were treated to some pure competition in the form of keirin heats, 1k time trial finals and team pursuit heats; three events I hadn’t seen before, even on TV.

Keirin gave me a real sense of speed, as the women participating took part in two-and-a-half laps of sprinting after the warm-up laps behind the motorbike. It extremely entertaining to see just how often the finishes were decided by thousandths of seconds, with some riders using slingshot tactics on the banked turns similar to that of NASCAR drivers on super-speedways.

Seeing Theo Bos dominate the men’s time trial, with an early time that was over a second quicker than seemingly everyone else – only to be pipped on the final run by Germany’s Joachim Eilers was mind-boggling to witness. But that wasn’t really what grabbed me during the afternoon, instead, it was the sheer patriotism expressed by the fans surrounding me when the Team GB riders were competing.

I honestly hadn’t felt such pride in my country since we were in the thick of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. It was the men’s team pursuit which I will remember for a very long time.

Unforgettable

Team pursuit in country vs country form encapsulates everything I love about sport. I love the speed, the endurance, the strategy, the teamwork and the ability to get an impression of just how hard the athletes are working.

“I took the energy out the door and back onto the train home”

When Sir Bradley Wiggins, Ed Clancy, Owain Doull and Jon Dibben all stepped onto the track to face off against Italy to secure a place in the final, the crowd erupted, it was exactly how I’d pictured the atmosphere to be during the Olympics when I entered the velodrome for the first time a few hours earlier.

Soon after the two teams set off, it seemed that Team GB were set for the win, taking a lead and holding it for the remaining tours. It wasn’t the dominance that got the crowd going though, it was the pace.

The announcer over the PA began getting louder and louder as the race continued, and at one point revealed that the four riders were on pace to break the record they set back in the Olympics.

YouTube Preview Image

Infectious

The fans went mad – and I did too. Union flags started being waved furiously in the stands and the riders seemingly used the energy coursing through the building to spur them on to the finish.

In the end, they didn’t break the record, but that didn’t detract from the experience. Any time 6,000 people are loud enough to sound like 60,000, it’s impressive.

I took the energy out the door, back onto the train and all the way home; I had caught ‘Olympic fever’ again for the first time since the Opening Ceremony almost four years ago.

For me, visiting the Track World Championships in the end was the best way to spend a quiet Thursday afternoon in March.

Bring on Rio!

Organising the Race Of Champions

Since 1988’s inaugural event in Paris, the Race Of Champions (ROC) has been travelling the globe, bringing some of the biggest names in motorsport together to compete for personal and national glory in equal equipment at various world-famous venues.

This year the ROC was held in London for the first time since the event took place at Wembley Stadium back in 2008. Tt this time, it was run at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Stadium situated in the Olympic Park in Stratford after ROC president Fredrik Johnsson, who had been openly keen about running there for a while, struck a deal.

Then came the process of organising it, and as usual, it was quite a task. It’s safe to say that in every facet the RCs has come along way since the first event, but that’s not made it any easier to put together. In fact, it requires more time and effort than ever.

Months before a horde of workers set foot in the stadium to build the circuit, there were all sorts of hurdles to jump for the event organisers. Every aspect has to be meticulously planned to ensure it’s an enjoyable time for both the drivers and fans.

All together now

One of the toughest parts of making the ROC happen is getting the drivers together, in one place, on one weekend; and with a seemingly ever-expanding/never-ending global motorsport calendar, finding the right weekend at the end of the season – when the ROC is traditionally held – has become quite a challenge.

Drivers, media, organisers, team members and fans alike complain each year about the sheer number of event clashes. Take a look at the weekend the World Endurance Championhsip is held at Silverstone as an example, as it has run parallel with the opening rounds of the British GT and Blancpain Endurance Series in recent years.

“If available, most drivers lap up the opportunity to compete”

For those at the top of the ROC, it’s even more of a headache, as for one weekend, they try to get drivers from every corner of the motorsport world to attend.

“Because we are very limited on what weekends we can run at each stadium, ROC usually takes place after the racing season has ended, during December. But this time round it was even more dictated by the stadium’s availability so we had to organise it before the end of the Formula One season,” explained operations director Dominic Olliff.

Then there’s selecting the drivers themselves. With a limited amount able to compete, and so many series to consider, creating an all-star-cast is no easy task. Thankfully, if available, most drivers lap up the opportunity to compete in what has become a United Nations-type selection.

Diverse line-up

Olliff said: “We try to avoid clashes, especially with the big series, but the stadium’s very limited availability meant we had little choice but to run it the weekend we did. That was great for F1 drivers but disappointing for the likes of WEC, GP2 [which added their Bahrain round after ROC’s event was announced] and F3.

“But I think we did a great job to still secure such a diverse line-up, and one of the best in recent memory actually. F1 is the most well known form of motorsport so it’s important to have those established, household names like Vettel and Button for casual fans.

“They all come along for the pleasure of doing it, because they get back to the essence of why they love racing”

“But ROC is also about bringing the best of the best together, and the likes of Tom Kristensen, Alex Buncombe and Andy Priaulx provide credibility from the wider spectrum of motorsport. That Priaulx and Jason Plato beat Vettel and Nico Hulkenberg in the Nations Cup final proves how important diversity is.

“When it comes down to securing drivers, it’s a combination of things, as they want to drive at the event and they want to know who else will be there too.

“The drivers this year were so relaxed,” he said. “As it’s not like a race weekend, there’s not much pressure or media – it doesn’t exist at ROC. They all come along for the pleasure of doing it, because they get back to the essence of why they love racing, and thet get to socialise and test themselves against key names in their field in equal machinery.

“They have a good time, it’s refreshing. There’s a real camaraderie at the event, guys like Vettel are a real advocate for that, as he claims he ‘get’s to know the driver under the helmet’. It’s old school.”

Vettel-ROC-2015-600x400
Vettel proved why he’s one of the World’s best, winning this year’s event

While the drivers love it, trying to keep a consistent roster right up until the day can be difficult, however. Olympic track cycling gold medalist Sir Chris Hoy this year, for example, was drafted in to compete in place of MotoGP’s Jorge Lorenzo, who was busy celebrating his title success.

More than just racing

Outside of the drivers, there’s other forms of entertainment to think about. Over the years those looking at the target demographic of the ROC have realised that not only is it best to cater for every type of motorsport fan, but also for more of a casual audience who enjoy just seeing a different kind of sporting event in such a rare setting like the Olympic Stadium.

Therefore, other forms of entertainment have become part of the programme at the ROC, and rightly so.

“Of course it’s a motorsport event,” Olliff stated. “But you have to attract casual fans too, which is why there’s celebrities, Terry Grant, FMX, all those things going on too. You have to come up with something that works for everybody, and everybody can be impressed by Terry Grant, it doesn’t matter how many times he does a donut around someone’s leg, it’s amazing!

“Not only is it best to cater for every type of motorsport fan, but also for more of a casual audience.”

“Then with the celebrities there’s always going to be people there at ROC who will get something out of it, it’s all entertainment in the end. A lot of people come in groups, half will love these things, half may not be interested, but overall, everyone leaves feeling like they’ve had their money’s worth.

“It’s important, especially in a place like London. It’s more than just an event for hardcore motor racing fans.”

Transformation

Before they know it, the set-up process then dawns on the team, which while quick, is by no means simple. An army of contractors comes in, sets it up and dismantles everything to suit both the stadium and ROC organisers’ needs.

The first time everyone from ROC got to take a look round the stadium was the end of June in the same year, which stresses how much of a challenge it is to get everything together so quickly at a place which they don’t have access to freely.

Later on in the year, two more recce’s happen as things come together, and before the big week arrives. This year in particular, a change had to be made to the Olympic Park circuit due to its size. Instead of a dual-lane layout, a single track, pursuit-style system had to be created.

It didn’t detract from the experience however.

“They were keen to try something different anyway,” Olliff revealed. “We didn’t have a great deal of time on our hands because of the Rugby World Cup finishing and England playing New Zealand in the Rugby League series. You can’t just build a track and hope it works, it has to be tested.

“The track itself was built in four days in the pursuit style, an awful lot goes into it. Michele Mouton, Audi’s Group B rally driver is still involved primarily and is responsible for the design and concept. When she’s happy with how it is after it’s in place it gets handed over to other departments.”

“An hour after the racing finished on Saturday night people were digging up the track.”

“The transition between the Olympic Stadium and what will become West Ham United’s stadium was still going on around us during planning, so we had to factor that in. It wasn’t until the Rugby World Cup that we could get a real feel for where everything was going to be. A lot of the areas like the media centre, mixed zone, press conference room, places like that were in action for us to see.

“We work with the stadium, but we take it over when the time comes, it’s our responsibility.

“We broke the record of de-rigging afterwards, the previous one was 40 hours and we did it in 27 this year! An hour after the racing finished on Saturday night people were digging up the track and everyone worked on their own areas. It’s difficult to get the stuff out, especially all the concrete metal work and tarmac from the track so we could hand the stadium back on time which was Monday morning this year.

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“It’s like a building site,” Olliff concluded. “But on fast forward.”

And once the final piece of track leaves the stadium, the focus immediately shifts to the next year, when behind the scenes, the same process starts all over again.

Cycling in London is getting safer

Being a cyclist in London is garnering a reputation as being a risk-filled exercise.

All too often we hear of another tragic tale of a cyclist suffering an accident on the road – 14 were killed last year in the capital, while over 400 were seriously injured.

Measures are being taken to ensure the safety of cyclists, such as introducing cycling ‘Super Highways’ across the city, placing much-required distance between drivers and their two-wheeled adversaries.

But with the number of cyclists in cities increasing worldwide, will the roads become far more perilous? How dangerous are they in reality, and are we moving towards all out war between motorists and cyclists?

The relationship between the two is steadily dissolving into a tribal state of affairs.

Each side tends to accuse the opposition of foul play, whether that is lack of awareness from those on bikes as to the laws of the road, or the poor driving of the petrolheads who believe most cyclists are just accidents waiting to happen.

Road rage

I’m a cyclist myself, perhaps jeopardising my impartiality, but I will attempt to discuss the problems for both sides here.

Thankfully, I have never been involved in a serious altercation, however, I have been subject to the road rage of an angry motorist. Apparently, the reason for their fury was based on the assertion I was riding too slowly…

It appears to me that those in cars feel are far more easily agitated about sharing with cyclists than vice versa.

“Overall my experience of cycling in the city has not been a terrifying one”

London’s cycling population is at an all-time high. According to Transport for London (TfL), the total number of journeys rose by 5% to 610,000 a day – 23 million a year – in 2014.

Against that backdrop, the number of deaths and serious injuries last year was actually the lowest since records began, yet cycling is increasingly seen as a gamble.

According to national cycling charity CTC, 67% of non-cyclists in the UK feel cycling on the road is too dangerous, and yet the same website claims the risk of injury from cycling in Britain is just 0.05 injuries per 1,000 hours of cycling.

I may not have cycled for that amount of hours, but so far I’ve never felt overly at risk.

Yet precautions tailored to protect cyclists are appealing to me. Along with an increase in cycle lanes, proposals to allow cyclists to ignore traffic lights in certain circumstances have also been floated.

In the spotlight

Many cyclists already runs lights, and doing so in a designated lane with the knowledge that what you are doing is safe and legal is surely a positive step.

Similar schemes are already working in a number of cities globally, most notably in the Netherlands and Germany, with Paris introducing its own this summer.

Signs at 1,800 junctions across the French capital allow cyclists to continue on (with due care and attention) even when the signal is red.

“In my eyes, cycling is getting safer”

Overall my experience of cycling in the city has not been a terrifying one.

I’ve cycled on roundabouts, T-junctions and had to annoy many a motorists whilst pedalling furiously up a hill, but I’ve never felt in danger, and from the numerous cyclists I know, not one of them has been troubled either.

A mixture of tragic incidents which sometimes lead to fatalities, along with rising agitation amongst motorists over the rocketing numbers of commuters using a bicycle, has led to a glaring spotlight placed firmly on the topic.

In my eyes, cycling is getting safer, and the furore from motorists is utterly in vain; people who regularly cycle understand the risks and do their best to avoid incidents.

New measures to aid them will minimise accidents, and I – along with more and more every day – am looking forward to my next ride through London’s gridlocked roads.

Feature image courtesy of Flikr Creative Commons.