The London Olympics is not just about Usain Bolt. Inside Croydon offers a guide to seeing some of the very best in international sport, from Jessica Ennis to the US basketball Dream Team, and what you can see for free
It’s beginning to feel all the more real with each passing day. Today marks 500 days to go until the opening of the 2012 London Olympics, with the ticketing system now open.
And while there’s no Olympic events planned for Croydon (and our wonderful council has done stuff-all to ensure our borough plays an active part in the Games), local residents can ensure they are part of the Greatest Show on Earth.
Take our word for it: this is not something you want to miss out on. Being in and around the Olympics will send a spark of excitement down the spine of even the most hardened cynic.
Here’s some tips and advice on where to book tickets or even see the Games for free.
The Games are on your doorstep: the Olympic Park in Stratford may be “north of the river”, but like many Olympic venues, it is now in easy reach from Croydon.
Stratford is just an hour by train from East Croydon and the Jubilee line. The Dome at North Greenwich and the ExCel Centre – venues for a variety of sports, including basketball, boxing, judo, table tennis and gymnastics – can be reached in just 45 minutes’ travelling time, via London Bridge by train, then Tube and (in the case of ExCel) Docklands Light Railway to Custom House.
The beach volleyball is to be staged at Houseguards – just a train ride to Charing Cross and a short stroll; Lord’s, for archery (not, perhaps, the greatest of spectator sports), is also reachable in an hour via trian and Tube to St John’s Wood.
The other major easy-reach venue is Wembley, for several matches in the men’s and women’s Olympic football – again: East Croydon, London Bridge and then Jubilee Line in barely an hour. The Olympic football tournament should not be under-estimated: Argentina’s under-23s, the winners of the gold medal in 2004 and 2008, included Lionel Messi in Beijing.
Will Wales allow Gareth Bale to line up along with Wayne Rooney in Great Britain’s first Olympic football team since 1972?
And not to be forgotten, Andy Murray will be playing in the Olympic tennis just a Tram ride away at Wimbledon.
Free events: There’s also a range of free events all being staged within easy reach of Croydon. The cycling road races (men and women) have a tough circuit of Box Hill, near Dorking, to deal with. There’s mixed view as to whether this will favour Britain’s cycle superstars Mark Cavendish (pictured right) and Nicole Cooke, the 2008 Olympic gold medallist.
Local cyclists are already planning to camp out overnight by the course next July to guarantee the best vantage point. The cycling time trials likewise use road courses around Hampton Court.
Triathlon – a splash and dash with a bike ride in between – is free in and around Hyde Park (Aug 4 for women; Aug 7 for the men’s race, where Alistair Brownlee will be a hot home favourite), which is also where the open water swimming is also being staged in the Serpentine (Aug 9 and Aug 10) – there are tickets on sale for the grandstand arena, but you can take your chances in the park’s open area).
The Marathons (on Aug 5 and Aug 11) could have 2 million spectators on the streets around the loop course centred on the start and finish at The Mall if the annual London Marathon is anything to go by.
The sailing off the coast at Weymouth may be a bit out of range, but the equestrian three-day event cross-country phase will be open to the public in Greenwich Park.
Don’t panic, the system’s open for six weeks: The London organisers have played this one cleverly. Tickets are not first-come first-served, but you register your selections any time over the next six weeks. Only if the event or session is over-subscribed will the organisers then stage a random ballot to allocate the tickets.
There are 6 million tickets available, ranging from £20 to £2,012, so there should be something to suit most of us.
Beware: you will be expected to pay for all the tickets you book successfully.
It’s not just about Usain Bolt: The hot tickets are reckoned to be the opening and closing ceremonies (yawn! How many flag ceremonies and fireworks do you need to see?) and for the men’s 100 metres final.
But the Olympic Stadium can only hold 80,000. So if you don’t have a spare £700 yet want to be able to see some top-class athletics or swimming, local stars or British gold medal hopes, what sessions should you look out for?
Use your imagination: Booking tickets for the preliminary rounds in sports such as basketball could see you at a game played by the US “Dream Team”, or the top European sides. The draw for the competition is a long way off yet – so if you plump for one session, you don’t know who you might get to see.
And a gold medal in sports less well known in Britain – handball? taekwondo? – count for just the same on the eventual medals table. By booking for a sport that is unlikely to be in high demand, you may improve your chances of being part of the Olympic experience. Beware – some sports in smaller venues are expected to sell-out quickly, even drowning to music (synchronised swimming) and water polo.
The key to booking tickets, then, is to be imaginative and to play canny. For instance…
The heptathlon’s a four-session event, not a sprint: Jessica Ennis is the “golden girl” of British athletics, twice the Sportswoman of the Year after winning world and European heptathlon titles.
The seven-discipline heptathlon stretches out over two days at the Games. That’s four sessions, two mornings and two evenings, and Ennis will want support as much for her morning events as much as in the final session, when she runs the 800 metres.
So, the first morning’s session of athletics, on Aug 3, when Ennis will be performing in her two best disciplines, the sprint hurdles and high jump (which alone could last for two hours) is a great opportunity, when you’ll also get to see preliminary rounds in other events, possibly including defending Olympic champion Christine Ohuruogu in the 400 metres.
The morning session on Aug 4 also includes the men’s 100m “classification round”; beware – it’s a bit of a swizz, because Bolt and the top-seeded sprinters have been given a free pass in to the quarter-finals. But if you opt for tickets there, you’ll see Martyn Rooney‘s opening 400m heat (and his girfriend Kate Dennison‘s pole vault qualifying, alongside Yelena Isinbayeva); plus Ennis in the long jump and the crucial javelin, the heptathlon’s penultimate event.
If you opt to try to get evening session tickets that day, you’ll get to see the men’s 10,000m (Mo Farah won’t win, unless three Ethiopians and three Kenyans all fall over), the women’s 100m semi and final; and Ennis’s two laps of honour in the 800m.
Last lap? The final athletics session is always sure to tug on the heart strings, but is also sure to be one of the most in-demand tickets. Even the cheap seats for this one start at £50.
With the men’s 5,000m final, women’s 800m, men’s javelin and women’s high jump among the events to be determined, watch out also for some relay mayhem, with Croydon Harrier Rooney (pictured above) having his best chance of a medal in the 4x400m.
Pooling your options: Britain’s swimmers will be looking for plenty of success. But the Aquatics Centre is not the biggest arena for spectators. So tickets for this are at a premium, with even morning heats sessions’ cheapest seats costing 40 quid.
Rebecca Adlington will begin her defence of the 400m freestyle title in the morning session on Jul 29.
Be flexible: Since Olga Korbut in 1972, gymnastics has always been one of the Games highlights. Running from Jul 28 to Aug 7, tickets for the artistic gymnastics – the “proper” gymnastics, involving Beth Tweddle and Louis Smith, not the prancing around with balls and ribbons, which will take place at Wembley – are not cheap though, final sessions starting at £50.
Box clever: Watch out for Beddington teenager Charlie Edwards (pictured left) in the light-flyweight division. Already England’s No1 in the division, his Olympic tournament should start on Jul 31, when tickets for an evening session that starts at 8.30pm – allowing you to have been out and about at other sports during the day – cost from £20.
Pay your age: Look out for special family ticket packages, with discounts for senior citizens and where kids aged 16 and under can “pay their age” for preliminary sessions – a 12-year-old, for instance, can get a ticket for £12.
Have you got your Visa? If you’re booking online, you will need to have a Visa credit or debit card. They pay millions to the Lords of the Olympic rings in Lausanne, and so operate a monopoly on all Olympic payment points.
Where’s the best online tools? The Daily Torygraph has an excellent online feature for you to plan your own Olympic Games, fully searchable by sport and event, with links to the ticket booking process. Pity they don’t know how to spell bantamweight…
For local-orientated news, also check out BBC London’s online Olympic page here.
Still wondering whether you want to book? Check out the video here (and who can spot the Croydon resident competing in an Olympic final shown on here?).
Book your tickets: Click here. But take your time and plan your events.