Olympic Stadium crosswinds buffet athletes at test event

• Competitors complain of crosswinds but compliment fast track
• Crowd votes with its feet during Vernon Kay’s tandem race

At some point in the not so distant past somebody – worse still, a group of bodies, with functioning brains and opposable thumbs – sat down together and asked themselves the question: “What should we do to mark the grand opening of the Olympic Stadium?” Astonishingly, the answer they came up with was this: get Vernon Kay to commentate on a celebrity pro-am tandem race involving Matt Dawson. Visa had kindly donated a prize for the winner – a credit card pre-loaded with £20.12p. And they said the 1948 Games were the austerity Olympics.

“Once you spend it, you can do what you want with the card,” Kay told the 40,000 folks in the crowd. At least, there had been 40,000, but by that point of the evening the number was falling rapidly. Kay’s tandem extravaganza, oddly, seemed to coincide with a mass exodus towards the exits. So there is still hope for the British public, if a little less for the Olympic opening ceremony. The 40,000 made a lot of noise given that they did not have a tremendous amount to cheer. Perhaps they were simply clapping their hands and stamping their feet to keep out the cold after an hour or so spent queuing outside the arena. The evening’s lineup included a lot of thrilled young students taking part in the British Universities and Colleges athletics championship, which was incorporated with the Olympic test event, but not so many thrilling headline names. Unless you counted Kay, Hugh Bonneville from Downton Abbey and the former Spice Girl Mel C.

Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, the former world junior 100m champion, was there, as was Holly Bleasdale, the British record holder in the pole vault. Jack Green was also running, and won the 400m hurdles in 50sec flat, and Robbie Grabarz took the high jump title with a leap of 2.26m. Neither Aikines-Aryeetey nor Bleasdale shone. He won the 100m in a time of 10.42sec and she came second to Kate Dennison on countback, after finishing with a best height of 4.35m. Both said the track was fast, and both interestingly, complained about the strong wind swirling around the stadium. “Unfortunately there is quite a strong crosswind, and the wind gauge isn’t picking it up,” Aikines-Aryeetey said.

“There was a bit of a headwind and it was quite swirly,” Bleasdale said. “It was good to come and experience that ahead of the Games because I can be confident coming into it.”

Aikines-Aryeetey agreed with Sophie Papps, who won the women’s 100m in a personal best of 11.61sec, that the track was “very, very fast in comparison to most Mondo surfaces. Someone like Bolt will run fast on it.”

Bleasdale said: “The track feels really quick. My legs felt awful but the track is really hard which makes it quick. I definitely think I can do a big PB on here.” She had hardly prepared for the competition at all, she said, and was suffering with lactic acid buildup in her legs. Though she was too polite to say it, that may have had something to do with the fact that she had spent six-and-a-half hours in a car driving down to London and then another 20 minutes lugging her poles through Westfield shopping centre and into the Olympic Park on foot.

As Aikines-Aryeetey said, taking part here was really just about “being out there and taking it in”. Both Bleasdale and Aikines-Aryeetey reckoned the fact that they had familiarised themselves with the stadium would stand them in good stead come the summer.

One athlete who cannot afford to look that far forward is Kelly Sotherton, who has been competing in a heptathlon in Desenzano, Italy. The 35-year-old bronze medallist from the 2004 Athens Olympics had been trying to achieve the ‘A’ qualifying standard for the Games. She was on course after three events, but pulled up injured in the 200m. She now has precious little time to qualify.

By Andy Bull

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Athletes Test New Track

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