Richard Moore reflects on a stunning first day of athletics at the Olympic Stadium
By Richard Moore. Last Updated: 04/08/12 8:09am
Olympic Stadium: Full for opening day
The sun was shining, the stadium was full, and the athletics was underway.
All were reasons for -- and to -- cheer. And cheer they did, especially when, early on Friday morning, Jessica Ennis got her heptathlon campaign off to a start that was as close to perfect as anybody could dare to imagine.
I was walking over the bridge towards the stadium as Ennis blazed to a victory and a personal best in the 100 metres hurdles, over the requisite number of barriers this time, but the sound that emanated from this low-slung bowl of an arena, and reverberated around the Olympic Park, was remarkable.
It was as though, inside the edifice, was not a running track but a deep hole, with the sound originating in its depths and echoing up through its walls before emerging at the rim of the arena as a deep, throaty roar. Or it was as though a very large, very expensive speaker, with excellent bass, had been placed on its side, the volume turned to 10.
There has been much talk about the Olympic Stadium, not much of it positive. But not really negative, either. Indifference seems a common response, and the only reason for it being talked about at all is because it is hosting the Games.
Architects have discussed its merits and most have turned up their noses. 'Football people' have discussed its suitability as a post-Games arena for football. Few seem to have commented on whether it might be any good as an athletics arena.
OK, so it's not the Bird's Nest. It doesn't take your breath away. It doesn't dominate. It is almost delicate looking with its origami-style facade. And there are no doors; you just stroll in its general direction and then, almost without realising, you find yourself inside.
And yet, paradoxical as it might seem, wherever you are in Olympic Park, the stadium is an imposing structure, in an understated kind of way. It is not flashy or bling, but it is elegant, stylish and quietly effective. It is, in fact, the Jessica Ennis of athletics stadia.
Ennis had an up-and-down first day, and the crowd was up or down accordingly. Most importantly, however, they were there. Veterans of Olympics past could not recall a full stadium for the opening morning session of the athletics programme, but here, from before 10am, there was not a spare seat to be had. There can't be that many volunteers, so they must have been paying fans.
When it comes to the Olympics the athletics is special, of course. For some the Olympics is athletics. The most anticipated event of these games, as in so many previous ones, is Sunday evening's men's 100 metres final, and the expected showdown between Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake, but Friday whetted the appetite.
Apart from Ennis, there were other great British hopes, including Christine Ohuruogu and Yamile Aldama, and Dai Greene and Jack Green, all of whom progressed in -- respectively -- the 400m, triple jump and 400m hurdles. "She's from this borough," said the stadium announcer as Ohuruogu streaked to victory, and the noise went up a couple of decibels.
Then there was a brief lull as Ohuruogu's comfortable win was absorbed, which was rapidly followed by a ripple of applause as another figure was spotted still on the track, in head scarf and tights, staggering towards the finish.
It was Zamzam Mohamed Farah, the Somalian flag-bearer at the Opening Ceremony. The ripple of applause turned into cheers of encouragement, and eventually she finished, a full 30 seconds after Ohuruogu in 1.20.48.
There was much to admire about Zamzam, but also Javier Culson, the Puerto Rican world number one in the 400m hurdles. In his heat, while others were straining behind him, he jogged languidly down the finishing straight, looking to his left, then looking to his right, as he eased towards the line.
There were two medals decided (but not awarded: the ceremonies are on Saturday evening) on the opening day, with the men's shot put and the session-closing women's 10,000m. But the real crescendo was expected in the penultimate race, the fourth and final event of day one in the pentathlon: the 200m.
After that promising start, Ennis had slipped to second after the high jump -- solid -- and the shot put -- slightly disappointing -- but expectations were high for the 200m, especially after her British record in the morning.
I had completed my own sprint to be in the stadium for this, having come from an exhilirating session in the velodrome. It was an interesting contrast, the compact cauldron of the velodrome and the enormity of the stadium, yet the atmosphere was similar.
As Ennis was introduced there was the low hum of anticipation, and then, as though they were in a silent film, the race got underway on the opposite side of the track. And only then, thanks to the sound delay, did the crack of the starter's pistol reach us, as well as the wave of crowd noise, which became almost deafening as Ennis sprinted to second in her heat but another personal best and an overnight lead in the competition.
The reception for Ennis was to be expected. What was surprising was that most stayed for the last event of the night, the women's 10,000m, and, amid the irritating blasts of music that became an unwelcome feature as the evening wore on, cheered the dominant Ethiopians and Kenyans to the rafters, the sound carrying across a still busy Olympic Park.
As first days go, this was a triumph. When it comes to the finals, the atmosphere will be electrifying.