FLASH HARRY, our tame wideboy in the double-breasted suit with a ticket for every event, paid through the nose to catch a glimpse of the world’s greatest sprinter last weekend. He was not impressed.
Usain Bolt runs his last ever race tomorrow.
Tens of thousands of Londoners have paid hundreds of pounds each for tickets to the athletics world championships being staged at the Olympic Stadium in Newham for the past seven days.
I was there last Saturday, when the man acclaimed as the greatest athlete of all time raced in the 100 metres final. And lost.
Bolt wasn’t the only one to lose out that night, though. A pair of tickets had cost me a cool £240, and the expense did not stop there.
Once we arrived at Stratford, the security and checking of bags outside the stadium was inadequate, undermanned and ineffective. In contrast, the catering outlets inside the stadium were highly organised, bristling with staff and selling small packs of crisps for £2 each. Running a major event attended by tens of thousands of people is clearly all about getting your priorities right.
My vantage point to see Bolt’s race was around 200 metres from the start and around 100 metres from the finish point. If the organisers could have hired out high-power binoculars (the type favoured by U Boat commanders), they could have made another killing.
If the reason that the spectators are kept so far away from the athletes is to prevent them infecting them with norovirus, that clearly did not work.
To work the crowd into a frenzy, we were introduced to Hero the Hedgehog, the championships’ “mascot”.
These things appear to be all part and parcel of the marketing bullshit at major events these days. Remember those nightmare figures which some trendy designer-type, probably based in a studio in Shoreditch, came up with for the Olympics in 2012?
Day-glo colours, cartoon figures, and little or no connection to the city or the event: Hero certainly fitted the bill in that regard. Anyone ever seen an athletic hedgehog? If, as a species, they were a little bit quicker, there would probably be fewer of them flattened on our roads.
So in the quiet moments between events – of which there were several during the three-hour session – here was some poor sap dressed up in a foam outfit running around inanely. Who could it be? Someone pointed out that no one had seen Hero the Hedgehog in the same room as Seb Coe, who is now the lord of world athletics. So it might have been him, doing something to try to improve his sport’s image. He only fell flat on his face twice, as far as I could see.
Unlike the paying public, Hero was allowed to get very close to athletes, so he must have been screened by Public Health England.
The pumping music throughout the evening made conversation difficult, even with the person sitting in the next seat.
Noise levels were raised when Justin Gatlin was introduced ahead of the 100 metres final, the booing reminding me of being at a pantomime. Nevertheless, it did the trick for Gatlin whose adrenalin glands must have gone into overdrive.
Now I know that there were some cheaper tickets available, and less-expensive packages on offer for other sessions (like those morning events, when there’s no finals to see). But I was hardly sitting in the Royal Box with a perfect view of the home straight, and yet the ticket price for this experience was an eyewatering £120 each. That is just £30 short of the maximum weekly state pension. It worked out at around £40 an hour.
And Bolt wasn’t even running for 10 seconds.
After the shock result of the 100 metres final (I found out about it by looking at the giant socreboard; I couldn’t see much from where I was sitting), the crowd left quickly.
My car was parked was on top of the Westfield Shopping Centre, after driving up the ramp and paying £9.50. Will Westfield be charging £10 for five hours’ parking when they open up their 3,000-space car park in central Croydon? That’s be a nice bit of business for them.
In all, for my two tickets and a couple of packets of crisps, a programme and a couple of drinks (you’re not allowed to take your own refreshments inside the stadium), I was left with little change from £300. Or 30 quid per second of Bolt’s run.
It’s the Bolt show again tomorrow, as the global sporting superstar is due to turn out in the 4×100 metres relay – the final just before 10pm is supposed to be his last race ever.
My advice would be if you have £300 to spend on a night out, don’t go to Stratford, especially when West Ham are back playing football there. For £40, I could have bought a ticket at the Royal Opera House to see the Marinsky Ballet perform Swan Lake.
There, you get athletes, superb music, divine dancing, and you can actually see what’s going on.
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