For Christmas (2013, I should note), I bought my Dad a track cycling experience at London’s velodrome. Yes, that velodrome, the one where Team GB’s cycling contingent ensured that the cycling team as a whole would have come tenth in the Games medal table by themselves if they were competing as a country (bumping Australia down to eleventh). As part of London 2012’s legacy programme (which we all know I love), the velodrome was built as a permanent facility, and slated to re-open in Spring 2014 as part of the Olympic Park’s redevelopment. The velodrome and aquatics centre did indeed open on time, and as well as playing host to the regular training of elite athletes such as Tom Daley, members of the public can book sessions for their own moment of glory.
Predictably, velodrome sessions are very popular – many clubs book sessions and attend as groups – so Dad struggled (also because he can be indecisive) to get his day booked. After prodding him into it on a few occasions, he finally managed to find time in his hectic schedule, and off he went to live out his Chris Hoy fantasies.
As just a little more background, I bought this gift as cycling is one of Dad’s favourite Olympic sports: he, like many other Brits in recent years, has become fascinated with both track and road cycling, and enjoys watching the annual events which take place between Games. In terms of his own level of activity, Dad’s in his 50s and, during the summer months, plays tennis at least once (if not twice) per week, cycling to and from the courts in our village as his warm up. He’s never cycled indoors on a track before, so the whole experience was completely new. As I sadly wasn’t available to tag along and watch on the day, I posed him a few questions regarding his session…
What were your expectations of the day?
My expectations were to have a bit of a trundle around the very boards and circuit that were graced by all of the Olympians in 2012. There are not very many venues where this can be done! I was reminded of a friend who, many years ago, was trying to persuade me about the virtues of golf by telling me it is one of the few sports were you can literally follow in the footsteps of the top players. I will never play football at Old Trafford or tennis at Wimbledon but I have cycled on the same track as the heroes and heroines of London 2012
What was the coaching like as a participant? Did the coaches help you to get what you wanted out of the experience?
The coaching and direction was very clear and straightforward. It was kept to simple basics (which was good for a novice like me but I don’t know how it was for more experienced riders). It was indoor track cycling 101 which I thought was effective and the right level to pitch it. I got the impression that after watching us for a couple of laps the coach figured out the level of my ability (and, presumably everybody else’s) and tailored his instructions accordingly as I went past him
What was the highlight?
The highlight was achieving the little personal goal that I set for myself of doing a lap on the blue line and then managing to keep going until the end of the session! It was also great to be in the centre of the velodrome and to experience it from that perspective as well as just being able to cycle on the track
How was the atmosphere of the venue?
It was fairly low-key and came across as a regular working day at the velodrome for the employees. In that sense, it was all quite functional [note from Becky: I suspect this will be pretty different when the World Championships are held next year!]
As a British taxpayer, do you think that this venue adds value to our country’s experience of hosting an Olympic Games?
Yes I do. It is the legacy in action and, when I was there, the velodrome was publicising what is available to cyclists indoors and outdoors [as well as track cycling experiences, the facility offers visitors sessions on the outdoor mountain biking track] as well as forthcoming events such as the World Indoors Track Championships next year. This is only happening because London hosted the Games. The cycling facilities are available to everyone who can pedal a bike so I think it is a great asset
Thinking back to Berlin… do you think people will be following in your tyre tracks 75 years from now?
This is a very good question. I find it hard to imagine unless there is a commitment to investment and up-keep over the next 75 years because improvements in technology and materials will inevitably happen which means that a sporting venue cannot stand still. As we saw in Berlin, the running track is not the same as the one that Jesse Owens ran on in 1936 and I am sure that the other facilities have been improved over the years (with the exception of the outdoor swimming pools!)
So there you have it: legacy in action for the everyperson. Almost three years post-Games and venues are open, busy, providing people with gainful employment. Visitors can enjoy being part of something they helped to fund, we haven’t been left with enormous facilities that there’s no use for. LOCOG’s aim for London 2012 was to, “Inspire a generation”. If this doesn’t meet and possibly even go one better than that, I don’t know what would.