London 2012 Olympic Stadium opened by nine-year-old Hackney girl
Saturday, 05 May 2012
May 5 - A nine-year-old girl who can see the Olympic Stadium from her bedroom window was tonight given the unique opportunity to officially declare the centrepiece of the Games open, along with Sebastian Coe, the chairman of London 2012.
Niamh Clarke-Willis, who lives in Hackney, pressed a giant blue button that sent balloons soaring into the air as Coe promised that the Stadium was ready to welcome the world in 83 days.
The lucky youngster was chosen to do the honours at a special test event celebrating 2,012 hours to go until the Games begin with a multi-million pound Opening Ceremony on July 27, for which she also received two free tickets.
Paralympic and Commonwealth Games gold medal-winning archer Danielle Brown had earlier shot arrows at two spinning targets to select a name from 100 pre-selected eight to 14-year-old girls and boys.
A crowd restricted to 40,000 were there to witness it, tickets having been sold out within 20 minutes of them being made available.
Coe echoed the feelings of many in the crowd when he admitted it felt "barely believable" to be opening the Stadium, which will hold 80,000 during the Olympics and Paralympics.
"I'm just so grateful to everybody who's come here tonight to help us celebrate this moment in history," he said.
"The seven years have just flown by.
"Tonight is only the start of the story.
"We want thousands of young people to be inspired to take up sport.
"We hope that for a few of them it will be the start of their journey."
Coe allowed himself a moment of self-congratulation - and no-one could blame him for that.
"If I think back eight years, I'm standing at the top of a tower block looking at the site with the IOC's (International Olympic Committee) evaluation teams, feeling a bit like a Costa Brava timeshare salesman, saying 'You see that rotting pile of fridges, that's where the Stadium is going, and that's where the Velodrome is going," he said.
"And I'm hearing the words coming out and they are looking at me like 'Yeah?'
"We've come a long way really.
"I walked around [the Stadium] anonymously last night and I was just listening to the excitement of the people who were walking in, it was a bit like watching my kids on the first day they woke up to find snow in the back garden."
The special ceremony followed the second day of the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) Championships, which is serving as the test event for the Games, and which was watched by Lamine Diack, the President of the International Association of Athletics Federations, a man who surely never believed he would be standing in a new purpose-built London athletics stadium following a string of previous broken promises from British Governments.
There were also a series of special events, including the 100 metres won by James Ellington (pictured), a 27-year-old who appropriately represents Newham & Essex Beagles, the local club.
His time of 10.30sec now stands as the Stadium record, although Usain Bolt will be hoping to go more than half-a-second quicker at the Games in August.
"This crowd will not only be starting their Olympic journey just weeks ahead of the Games, they will also play a vital role in helping us test the venue and earn our licence to operate the Stadium," said Coe.
After the end of the athletics, which included a number of invitation events featuring several of Britain's London 2012 hopefuls, and before the official opening of the Stadium the crowd watched as five-time Olympic rowing champion Sir Steve Redgrave and Downton Abbey and Twenty Twelve actor Hugh Bonneville joined other celebrities and sport stars in a series of fun contests to test out the running track.
Former Spice Girl Melanie C and comedian Jack Whitehall performed, while the Military Wives, a group of British soldiers' wives whose charity single topped the charts last Christmas, led a rendition of the national anthem.
May 2012: Irish hurdler cements place in London 2012 history as Olympic Stadium opens
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May 2012: Final London 2012 test events get underway at Olympic Park
March 2012: London 2012 Olympic Stadium to be opened by member of public
February 2012: Olympic Stadium to be opened with British University Championships