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August 02 2012

Day one in the Olympic velodrome: a symphony of noise, colour and speed

World records fall but a disqualification mars Team GB's day as £93m super-fast cycling stadium opens for business

The saddle-shaped Olympic velodrome simmered into life just after 4pm on Thursday.

Polite applause echoed around the wood-clad oval when the first Olympic record fell to the Netherlands women's sprint pair.

But the real baptism for the venue, designed with the help of Sir Chris Hoy – who won his fifth gold medal – came shortly after.

A tinnitus-inducing clamour greeted the arrival of the jet black bikes of the Team GB riders Victoria Pendleton and Jessica Varnish.

Just 32.526 seconds later and the high pitched screams turned into a throaty roar as Varnish dipped for the line, punched the air and a partisan crowd in the 6,000-capacity stadium saluted a new world record.

The £93m velodrome was in business, and as if to remove any doubt that all the world's best riders would be happy here and Team GB would not enjoy much home advantage, China's pair smashed the world record again just a minute later.

Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge were among the fans who took their seats in the clammy 28C heat which is kept constant to achieve top speeds.

The aim of track designer Ron Webb to build the fastest track in the world was being achieved. And by the time the men's team took to the track it was starting to feel like a potential British stronghold.

The announcer did not hesitate to play The Boys are Back in Town as soon as Hoy, Philip Hindes and Jason Kenny beat Germany in their team sprint heat.

Later, as the Team GB pursuit team hurtled around the 250m oval to a thumping heartbeat soundtrack at an average speed of 62kmh (38mph), the cheer followed them like an audible Mexican wave until they broke the world record and the place erupted.

The noise produced was only eclipsed when Hoy led the GB sprint team home in the last race of the day to snatch gold from the French and smash a world record of their own.

The venue has a friendly sociable air, with hundreds of fans milling about on the mezzanine alongside the riders' families – chatting and drinking beer while the tyres hum on the steeply banked track below.

Before each race a montage of British celebrities appeared on the big screens hushing the crowd, ending with Dame Helen Mirren saying: "Button it."

In architectural terms, the velodrome has already been acclaimed by many as the design highlight of the Olympic Park, winning awards and plaudits for its simplicity and elegance.

"We worked very hard to make this building as elegant and efficient as a bicycle," said its architect Michael Taylor.

On Thursday, the cycling fans who were lucky to get seats in one of the Olympic Park's smallest venues gave it their seal of approval.

"It is one of the best velodromes in the world," said Michael Pagels, a 53-year old from near Munich who was supporting the German team. "The atmosphere is wonderful because the British fans are very knowledgeable about cycling."

With the athletes, technicians and coaches visible to the crowd at all times on the in-track labyrinth of warmup areas, spectators were able to keep tabs on Team GB riders' every move and could watch Dave Brailsford, the shrewd team chief, fulminating at the decision to disqualify Pendleton and Varnish.

"Up there the noise was really loud," said David Henderson, 30, a researcher from London who was attending his first Olympic event.

"When they were discussing the disqualification we saw the coach walk across head in hands, throwing a water bottle around. It was good to see for us." © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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