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Athletes take pole position

Cover Story - 'Designed by athletes for athletes', London's Olympic venues should enable them to achieve peak performance.

Who can forget the debacle of Atlanta, where a grid-locked transport system left hundreds of athletes stranded and late for the biggest moments of their lives?

Not those behind London's bid for the 2012 Olympics, where a unique Athletes Advisory Group, led by Sir Steve Redgrave, has been set up to ensure that the athletes' interests are first and foremost in the minds of those planning and designing the 200ha Olympic Park.

'London's bid has been designed by athletes for athletes, ' London Bid Committee chairman Sebastian Coe boasted to the world's media in London last week.

'Our Athletes Advisory Group has been involved at every stage of our plans. Every venue has been signed off by them, ' he said.

'The Olympic Games changed my life. I want to help do that for every competitor who joins us in London in 2012. I want to create the best conditions for those competitors so that they can bring out the best in themselves, ' he said. 'And that can only be done by the thought, detail and competitor's perspective that goes into building our facilities.'

But what does that mean exactly? Will the likes of Matthew Pinsett and Kelly Holmes be knuckling down over a drawing board? Just how much involvement will the athletes have?

From a structural engineering point of view, not a lot, admits Jonathan Edwards, world record holding triple jumper, Olympic Gold medallist and advisory group member. 'What they do know is what the athletes' needs are.

'In my career I've competed in 43 games. I've walked through the airport lobbies, faced the challenge of getting to the venues, and know what the rooms can be like. I know how these things can rankle and have questioned why the last people thought about seem to be the athletes.

'The Olympic Committee owes it to the athletes to put them at the heart of the Games. These people have trained for four years for what could be the most important moment of their lives. And things like not being able to get a decent night's sleep or being cramped up in the back of a bus on the way to the venue can make all the difference, ' says Edwards. 'It's not rocket science, but what experience of competing in Games brings.

'In Atlanta we were bussed from the warm-up areas to the stadium. That was not good and was the result of trying to make do with something that was not designed for the task. Here, we are designing from scratch and the warm-up areas are always adjacent to the venue, ' he says.

In fact the key selling point of the London bid is that it would be a 'compact' Games.

In Athens, 10,500 competitors from 201 countries contested 903 gold, silver and bronze medals across 28 sports held in 38 venues. Some 16,000 athletes and team officials were accommodated in the Olympic village.

London's 2012 village in the flagship Olympic Park would house more than 17,000 competitors and officials within walking distance of the main venues, training tracks and warm-up areas. In all 80% of the competitors would be within 20 minutes of their venues and 97% within 30 minutes. No other bid on the table can match this, insists Edwards. More than half would be living and competing entirely within Olympic Park.

The focal point of the park is the Olympic Stadium. This will house 80,000 fans and its unique roof is designed to encourage record breaking by eliminating gusts of wind.

'In Sydney the main stadium was like a wind tunnel. Why wasn't it designed for athletes?' asks Edwards. 'Here it is exactly that.'

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