Anniversary Games: Celebrating Athletics and Transformation in London
On 22-23rd July 2016, the Anniversary Games once again took place at the former Olympic and Paralympic Stadium in London, as they have every year following the London 2012 Games four years ago. This year the event, just a few weeks before the Rio 2016 Games, attracted some of the biggest names in athletics to compete. With a group from Populous attending on the first night of the Anniversary Games, here are our notes on a great evening of international athletics.
You approach the Stadium from Stratford Station, through the new shopping mall teeming with people going for dinner or post-work drinks. Because of its relatively low height within its context, it remains hidden behind other buildings until you are almost on top of it. The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is thriving now, and families were playing as we approached the stadium on Friday night. But the approach itself is different to how it was four years ago. The ticket barriers have moved from the edge of the park where they were in 2012, to a new ‘halo’ that surrounds and secures the stadium; as a result, the podium now swarms with people, both those heading for the event, and those enjoying the Park and its facilities on a balmy London summer evening.
A transformation story… from London 2012 to legacy
The 2012 Games were always about legacy for London and the UK, so it was great to see young athletes from the capital and further afield competing on Friday, prior to the start of the games themselves. It was a great reminder of the promise and potential of the next generation, with some phenomenal times and amazing camaraderie.
The stadium, now fully transformed from its Olympic and Paralympic beginnings, began to fill up from 5pm, with families and athletics fans eagerly queueing to catch all the action, as well as glimpsing their heroes on the track. Inside, the stadium is full of reminders of London 2012 – from the lighting architecture and its familiar triangular formations now hanging under the extended roof, to the internal design of spaces that echo past achievements and celebrate the future of this unique venue.
In the centre of the bowl, the fans couldn’t have wished for more. Throughout the Anniversary Games on Friday night, there were multiple moments of excitement and high drama. There were goose bumps when the British Women won the 4 x 100m Relay, and an unbelievable roar when Jessica Ennis-Hill was announced for the 100m Hurdles. But it was the sports inside the track, those that take hours and not just a little over 12 seconds to run, that proved to be amongst the most dramatic. The men’s pole vault continued, mostly quietly and behinds the scenes in a small area of the arena; only to take off when one competitor or other, including the reigning Olympic Champion and World Record Holder Renaud Lavillenie, managed to conquer yet another, seemingly almost impossible height. For two hours the tension grew, the whole stadium intermittently refocusing their attention on the drama unfolding beneath them. Even with the cross bar falling at the end of the competition, there was appreciation of incredible effort and achievement.
Of course, World Records are the thing to see. The American Kendra Wilkinson took the win in the 100m Hurdles, breaking a world record that had stood for over 28 years. Overcome on the track, it was clear to see why her emotions might be mixed. The greatest ever competitor in her field will not be in Rio this summer, having finished 6th in the American trials earlier this year. The tribulations of sport are part and parcel of this spectacle, no matter how painful they might appear to the spectator on the side-lines. However, the crowd in London recognised what they’d just witnessed, and for a moment it didn’t seem to matter that this wasn’t the Olympic Games. We had seen greatness, and it was being applauded.
From all around the bowl, the plaudits rained down for Wilkinson. The scale and scope of the transformation, designing a stadium where every seat is covered for multiple sports and events, became apparent in this moment. Whereas chants swirl around a stadium for football, cheers burst out of the crowd for athletics, one section of which might be watching a completely different sport to another; always active, always multiple. The noise reverberates from the roof, bouncing around and alerting another section of crowd that something potentially magnificent is about to happen.
Sometimes magnificent performances come as a surprise. For those who don’t follow athletics closely, the British Record set by Laura Muir, leading from the front and dominating the race, could be classed as such. Eclipsing the time of the great Kelly Holmes, Laura will be representing GB in her first Olympic Games in just a few weeks’ time. Not a bad way to finish preparations.
The time was fast approaching 9.52pm. The Men’s 200m. From the moment he toured the stadium on the back of a pickup truck at 7pm, to the bang of the gun at the start of the race (at the third attempt!), Usain Bolt was everywhere; from the advertising hoardings to the feeling of excitement that was circling the stadium. And while the margins of victory are smaller, you can’t deny that Usain Bolt is still something different, an athlete who transcends sport and what it means to be the best at what you do. Four years ago, he won three Olympic gold medals in this stadium, one of hundreds if not thousands of incredible performances that defined those Games. Four years on, and for those in attendance, Bolt capped a fantastic evening celebrating Track and Field Athletics at its very best.