It took several years to transform London into an Olympic city. This meant building the Olympic Park and other new venues, but also included the installation of visible signs across the city that the Games were getting closer. The first set of giant Olympic rings was unveiled at St Pancras station in March 2011. This was followed shortly after by the arrival of a large countdown clock on Trafalgar Square to mark 500 days to go to the London 2012 Olympic Games. However, the countdown really struck me in July 2011, when the Games were suddenly less than a year away.
In the months leading up to the Games, the number of building sites and road restrictions seemed to be even higher than normal, although this was partly due to Crossrail works which will be going on across London for several years. As transport was one of the major issues for these Olympics, all building works and general road maintenance had to be suspended during the Games to reduce road closures to a minimum. By the beginning of July most building sites disappeared and for the first time in years there were no weekend closures on the tube for upgrade and maintenance work. Instead the city gradually turned pink.
First there were small road signs to alert drivers to the Olympic dates with a link to the Get ahead of the Games website. Then maps and signs on the Underground were enhanced with small pink stickers indicating the closest stations to each Olympic venue.
Over one weekend in early July the Olympic rings were painted on roads across the city to indicate Games Lanes, which would be reserved to Olympic traffic during the Games. At the same time, large pink signs appeared all over the tube network and suddenly all lines seemed to lead to the Olympic Park. We saw this first at Baker Street station, a major station for visitors on the way to Wembley and Lord’s Cricket Ground.
A week later I got off at Hyde Park Corner for my last Games Maker training session. During the Games Hyde Park was home to a large public viewing area sponsored by BT with thousands of visitors every day. The area was also affected by a number of road events such as road cycling, triathlon and the long distance walking. This signage was obviously meant to put the confused tourist at ease.
I must admit that I am not a driver and therefore didn’t feel too badly affected by the Olympic Route Network. The area around the Olympic Family hotels on Park Lane went into ‘lock down’ about ten days before the opening ceremony. Members of the International Olympic Committee arrived in London earlier than many athletes and officials to attend their annual meeting, the IOC Session, over three days before the start of the Games. The area was very busy with Olympic vehicles and parking in this part of Mayfair was suspended or heavily restricted for security and logistical reasons.
At my first visit to the Olympic Park it became obvious that the pink theme continued inside the Olympic venues. At each entrance visitors were greeted with large pink signs and the colour scheme was used for all signage in the park.
I am not a big fan of pink and when the first signs appeared I was puzzled by the choice of colour and the boldness of the signs. However, in hindsight it was another very clever move from the London 2012 organisers to create a visual brand for all signage and provide a consistent message to visitors across the city. Now that the Olympics have finished, I keep expecting the signs to disappear even quicker than they arrived. But they will actually stay with us until the end of the Paralympics.