LONDON – When Allyson Felix returned to London this past weekend to compete in the city where she earned her Olympic glory, she might think she came to the wrong address.
Almost exactly a year ago, Felix was competing in the Olympic Stadium for the London 2012 Olympic Games, where the East End of the city was plastered with posters and Underground train lines were jammed packed with fans. In front of about 80,000 fans in that stadium, Felix raced to the gold medal in the 200 meters, as well as the 4x100- and 4x400-meter relays.
On Saturday — the year anniversary of the Opening Ceremony for the 2012 Games — Felix competed in the Olympic Stadium again. And once again, Felix won.
“I love London,” Felix told The Telegraph, a U.K. newspaper. “This feels like a second home with so many special memories here."
But this time, Felix, and many other USA Track & Field competitors from last summer, saw a different landscape. The Olympic Stadium is still there, but it is surrounded by a slew of construction cranes and piles and piles of dirt. The warm-up areas for the track athletes are gone. Instead, there are humungous holes in the ground with more dirt.
Construction crews wasted little time getting started, getting cranes going last September, days after the Closing Ceremony for the Paralympic Games.
For fans who have wanted to get close to the venue since the Olympic and Paralympic Games left town, they have been out of luck. The venue is surrounded by high-level security and wire fencing. Until the track stars returned to town, pretty much no one from the public could get into the stadium.
One place to get somewhat close to where the action was is in a funky, neon-greenish, yellow colored building called The View Tube, located near the Pudding Mill Lane Underground station. There, everyday folks can stop by for a quick bite in the café which overlooks the Olympic Stadium. There is also a small exhibition area, which recently featured photos of masters-level athletes. Just outside is a bike path. Instead of Olympians riding to medals, on a recent visit there last month, there were schoolchildren taking a biking field trip.
As much as Londoners embraced the Games and Olympic heroes — especially track stars Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis-Hill and cyclist Chris Hoy — they have found that life could go on once the Olympic flame had been extinguished. The city rallied behind 2012 Olympic tennis champion Andy Murray as he raced this summer to the Wimbledon title (becoming the first British man to win the Wimbledon crown since 1936) and these days, the city has been completely sidetracked by the recent birth of Kate Middleton’s royal baby, Prince George.
As is typical with Olympic venues following the Games, there is a transition period for how the facilities will be used in the future. London, which still is in the beginnings of this process, is transforming the area around the main Olympic venues into Queen Elizabeth Park. The area is projected to include new schools, homes, shops and biking paths. According to the London Legacy Development Corporation, the Queen Elizabeth Park will be “fully open” by the spring of 2014. The organization is projecting that 9.3 million visitors will come to the park by 2030.
One place where the public will get good views of the new Olympic Park will be at the ArcelorMittal Orbit, a 114.5 meter sculpture and observation tower — it stands 22 meters taller than the Statue of Liberty — that is set to open in 2014. The twisty, red piece of artwork, made of recycled scrap metal, features two glass-enclosed platforms.
The Olympic Stadium is among the lasting venues, as it will become the home to the West Ham Football Club beginning in 2016, and is also set to play host to the 2015 Rugby World Cup and the 2017 IAAF World Championships.
But many of the venues which were used last summer, such as the venue used for basketball and handball (and also wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby), have been dismantled. The Water Polo Arena is also expected to be taken down, and according to the London Legacy Development Corporation, elements of that venue will be reused elsewhere in the park.
Meanwhile, the nearby Aquatics Centre, where Michael Phelps just a summer ago became the most decorated Olympian with 22 career medals in the Games, is expected to reopen in the spring of 2014 for the future Phelpses of the world. Swimmers, ranging from novices to future Olympians, will be able to use the facility. The London Legacy Development Corporation boasts that “the cost of swimming in one of the Olympic pools will be the same as the price of a swim in a local leisure center, making it affordable for people living close to the park."
The Aquatics Centre also has a new look. Gone are the iconic wings (each of which weighed 172 tons); they were removed this past spring. So if London wins the bid for the 2016 European Swimming Championships, competitors will see a revamped venue.
A sign that the Olympic Movement remains bright in this city is this: According to The Guardian, a London newspaper, the 120,000 tickets for the first two days of the Anniversary Games sold out in 75 minutes, and within 24 hours, tickets for the third day, featuring Paralympic action, were sold out as well.
The Olympic Games might have ended in London last summer, but apparently, the appetite for them here remains.
Amy Rosewater is a freelance writer and editor for TeamUSA.org. A former sports reporter for the (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, she has covered two Olympic Games and two Winter Games. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today.