LONDON (Reuters) - London 2012 officials are delighted with progress on building the Olympic Stadium, but the big question surrounding the centerpiece remains how quickly and how much of it they will tear down once the Games are over.
The velodrome’s sweeping roof is on, the diving pool in the aquatics center is finished and full of water while the athletes’ village looks like a small town of high-rise blocks.
The east-London venue is still a vast building site with more than 10,000 workers and hundreds of construction vehicles scuttling this way and that. It will, however, look very different when two million wetland plants, currently under incubation in the Norfolk countryside, are introduced to the landscaping and when the thousands of young trees are bedded in.
Rising at its heart though, the 80,000-capacity Olympic Stadium is already the dominant feature.
The 14 huge floodlight towers are now in place and work will start on the installation of the roof next month. The structure is due for completion by the end of the year with only the running track and grass infield to be laid in 2011.
Standing in the middle it already feels more compact than many running-track venues and figures released by the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC) state that fans in some stands would be nearer to the center circle than at Wembley Stadium.
For all the excitement about what will happen during July-August 2012 when the eyes of the world will be on the 400 meters of athletics track, the question on everyone’s lips is “then what?”
It is hardly a new line of enquiry as the stadium’s legacy has been under discussion since even before London was awarded the Games five years ago but West Ham United’s recent announcement that they would be interested in moving in post-Games has returned it to the fore.
The presence of the running track — absolutely sacrosanct to the organizing committee (LOCOG) and the International Olympic Committee — has been something of a deterrent to a soccer club moving their home to Stratford.
West Ham had previously ruled it out but new owners David Sullivan and David Gold this week announced a potential joint-bid with the local Newham Council in which they could move the three miles from Upton Park.
The construction of the stadium is such that it can remain as an 80,000-seater, which is the least-likely option. It could be reduced to 55,000 — the optimum choice for a soccer club — or be trimmed to 25,000 which will be the most viable for athletics and occasional concerts.
Perhaps numbed by going through the options a hundred times, Paul Deighton, LOCOG’S chief executive officer, did not have the appearance of a man stressed to make a decision when he surveyed his muddy domain on Friday.
“There is no pressure, the mixed-use option remains attractive but it’s not essential,” he told Reuters. “The compact nature of the stadium certainly lends itself to use by a football club, much more so than in some of the large European stadiums with running tracks, but we are not necessarily chasing that option and all options remain under discussion.”
Deighton’s organization are charged with leaving the legacy of a world class stadium and are less concerned about what happens with it afterwards, especially in the short term.
He said that the steel structure was essentially a “Meccano set” that could be reduced to a 25,000-seater after the Games and even years later easily built back up to a higher capacity.
With the country’s current top athletics venue, Crystal Palace, filling its maximum capacity of around 20,000 only once or twice a year at best, the idea of having another enormous athletics stadium sitting unused for the majority of the year does not sit well with many observers.
Editing by Pritha Sarkar