Duncan Mackay
David Owen small(10)Yesterday was all about the new Velodrome, but last week I attended a briefing that, in my view, encapsulated the bonkers side of the Olympics.

The occasion was billed as a chance to hear about the London 2012 venues team's work in preparing and staging the Games.

And as we gazed down on the O2 arena from twenty-odd floors up in a Canary Wharf high-rise, a series of talented and clearly dedicated individuals explained just how their expertise was contributing to the successful completion of the mind-bogglingly complex London Olympic jigsaw.

It was a fascinating insight into elements of event preparation that usually stay behind-the-scenes.

And, speaking as someone who finds organising breakfast an uphill battle, it was deeply impressive stuff.

What struck me as the bonkers bit were some of the things they were being asked to do.

At its genesis, white-water racing must have been a blissfully natural pursuit.

A river. A few like-minded men/women. A boat. And away you go.

Of course, in the world of elite 21st century sport, things are rather different.

The white water needs to be in the right place.

It needs to conform to various technical specifications, or so I assume.

And you need to be able to accommodate thousands of spectators while capturing live TV images for broadcast around the world.

As a result you get venues such as the Lee Valley White Water Centre, an arena that looks like a marvel of engineering, but which requires - according to Steve Cardwell of the Atkins engineering and design consultancy - approximately 40 kilometres of cabling and 15 cubic metres a second of water pumped through the course.

Cardwell likened this to 60 bath-fulls every second of the event.


That sounds like a lot of water and a lot of energy.

And even if the Lee Valley Centre can look forward to a profitable and secure after-life catering for the demands of ordinary Londoners, the Olympic timetable is such as to make it likely that one of these facilities will be built somewhere in the world every four years.

If you don't accept that that constitutes a questionable use of human ingenuity and the earth's scarce resources, what about this?

As Cardwell also explained, the designated site for the London 2012 equestrian arena in Greenwich Park has a four metre drop from one end to the other.

Yet the arena must be flat.

As a result, organisers were faced with the problem of a tapering wedge of space that would be created between the surface of the arena and the surface of the park.

Simply filling the hole with earth was (rightly) deemed an undesirable option.

So Cardwell explained how a sort of scaffolding system, more normally used for car- parks, was deployed and tested, initially on a half-sized arena built on a farm somewhere in Berkshire.

Horses, it seems, are quite susceptible to vibrations and they had to make sure the surface of the arena wouldn't vibrate too much.

As a result of such ingenuity and hard work, anyone who wishes in future to build an equestrian arena on a piece of sloping land on a sensitive site should presumably have a solution at their finger-tips.

But wouldn't it have been oh so much easier to stage the London 2012 event on one of our ready-made, 100 percent flat, equestrian arenas?

They're not exactly scarce: the UK is a horsey country.

Of course, as a bit of an Olympic anorak, I think I understand the other factors - the Movement's desire for a "compact" Games; Greenwich's history and uniquely telegenic appearance - that may have deterred them from choosing a different site.

But I wonder if the proverbial - and increasingly hard-pressed - man on the Clapham omnibus would be so understanding.

Don't get me wrong: I believe the Olympic Games to be a special institution; I think the world is better off with them than without them.

I am even quite moved that specialists of the calibre of Steve Cardwell and his colleagues are prepared to devote so much energy and brainpower to solving conundrums like the one thrown up by Greenwich.

But, really, there are times when the Movement must test the patience of even its biggest fans.

When you are forced to shake your head and conclude that some of the things it decides to do are a little, well, bonkers.

David Owen worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2010 World Cup. Owen's Twitter feed can be accessed at www.twitter.com/dodo938