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August 08 2012

Olympics in art: Jackie Kay writes her own armchair triathlon

Scottish poet Jackie Kay draws inspiration from Team GB's highs and lows in the triathlon, javelin and cycling to create three short poems that capture the spirit of the Games

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Jackie Kay writes:

I was inspired by the triathlon today and the Brownlee brothers to try and write a triathlon myself. So I've written three short poems on three different sporting events today: the javelin, the triathlon itself and two events in the velodrome. I was struck by the idea that sharing somebody's disappointment is as intense and intimate as sharing their success. I used to be a long-distance runner, a Scottish school girl champion, until I broke my leg and didn't walk properly for a year and a half. So I was thinking about that too when I wrote the poem. How quickly we move into our unfit futures!

Point of View

i Goldie and the Three No Throws

I remember the fancy footwork of the discus or javelin,
That feeling as a spear left your body, as if it'd come from within
To be thrown into the future: the armchair of a middle-aged woman, watching the Olympics, twenty-four seven, shouting instructions!
(The only thing worse than an armchair politician is an armchair athlete, who no longer gets athlete's feet; or has to nurse her Achilles heel.)
Now, the woman from the Czech Republic, takes the chalk circle
An ancient Amazonian, her spear spikes the flaky air.
Then, out comes Goldie and the great bear of the crowd's roar.
But Goldie loses the qualification and her despair
Is as ancient as it is modern: hindsight is a golden thing
Goldie Sayers' words are wise – and the crowd adores.
Belief puts itself on the line; hope is not far behind.
My tears for her bravery, the biggest surprise.

ii The Brownlee Brothers

When the race begins, the swimmers together
Seem shaped like a great bird in the river,
The green-capped feathers all of a quiver.
The big bird cracks open; and from the bird's-eye view
Single swimmers emerge, brothers first – phew!
Alistair and Jonny Brownlee – sibling stars,
Shedding their wet suits first (the fourth element
Some say, of this transition) and mount the bikes fast.
The road to ambition is a road to perdition.
All transitions come with great risks.
The river, red tarmac and the Serpentine Road
Where one brother will get crowned with a gold
And the other brother a bronze, but hey
It is not the swimming, cycling, running
That is the biggest feat; it's the 15-second penalty
Possibility of defeat – that's the real deal.
Sport's biggest test is a character test
And sport reveals true pluck and nature
As the bird in the river unfurled the swimmers.

iii Farewell Victoria Pendleton

It was a day of drama in the Velodrome
As you watched agog, OMG,
As Trott took the Omnium
Against the odds of a collapsed lung
Coming home, coming home.
Not one but two golds to her name.
You saw the photo of not so long ago
With young Laura and her Bradley hero.

Not long later, you watched Victoria
Who rode as close to her rival
As a synchronised swimmer
And all the drama was in the lane error
Where the line was crossed in the Velodrome
As close as step to pets; palindromes,
The Mearest of lines, the closing line.

So, farewell Victoria dearest, you say.
You salute her. She runs her last lap, and bows.
The last time I'm going to go through that, she says.
And even her brave coach is in bits.
We knew it would end in tears, the TV says.
And they roll down your cheeks too – you armchair, you.
The greatest ever theatre – sport's soap opera.
Victoria. Oh Victoria. Collect your silver!
Your ordeal is over: take your seat on throne. © 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

Jackie Kay creates her own armchair triathlon – video

Scottish poet Jackie Kay reads out three short poems she wrote after being inspired by Team GB's recent performances in the javelin, triathlon and cycling. She follows the highs and lows of Goldie Sayers, the Brownlee brothers and Victoria Pendleton

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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

Bradley Wiggins on his Olympic throne – a reminder of Britain's true history | Jonathan Jones

This picture hints at something that was missing from Danny Boyle's Olympic opening ceremony: empire

The 2012 Olympics began with a vision of British history. Danny Boyle's romantic panorama started in a pastoral land of shepherds, then showed it torn apart by the rising chimney stacks of the industrial revolution. But out of this pandemonium rose the suffragettes, marching for the vote, and the wonder that is the National Health Service.

Five days into the Games, and Bradley Wiggins was pictured here on a golden throne in front of Hampton Court Palace. Wiggins sprawls on his throne for photographers after winning his gold medal in the cycling time trial. He paid this royal palace the ultimate insult of apparently not knowing where he actually was – "wherever we are", he told interviewers. This picture might be seen as a sequel to Boyle's imaginary revolution. The people have occupied the palaces! Comrade Wiggins sits on the tsar's throne!

And yet, the red bricks of the mighty building behind King Bradley tell another story. As Olympic events take place at evocative locations across southern England, there is some consolation for Tory critics who suspected Boyle's extravaganza might – just might – be a little leftwing in its none-too-hidden messages. While Boyle celebrated a people's history of Britain, Olympic locations like Hampton Court, not to mention the Eton rowing lake, offer a toffs' history after all. As Wiggins celebrates his medal in this picture, the warm ochre facade of Henry VIII's palace bears quietly formidable witness to who really built Britain.

Boyle's vision of Albion imagined a Britain where folk shared the common land before the rise of those "dark Satanic mills". But Hampton Court is a monument to the powerful state built by the Tudors centuries before the first factories appeared. This grand house, originally built for Cardinal Wolsey, became one of a constellation of royal palaces along the Thames. Here Henry received his advisers. Here, according to folklore, walk the ghosts of his executed wives.

Hampton Court is as much a wonder as Wiggins is – and it tells a story of Britain just as spectacular as the one Danny Boyle crafted. The ancient wall behind the triumphant cyclist has terracotta portraits of the caesars embedded into it. Within the palace itself are Mantegna's paintings of power and glory, The Triumphs of Caesar. Why all the caesars? In Mantegna's paintings – bought for Britain by Charles I – defeated prisoners are brought to Rome as slaves while their goods are booty. It is an image of imperial triumph. And here's the real absence in Boyle's vision of Britain: we had the biggest empire in world history.

Britain's wealth did not start with the steam engine. It started with empire. The British empire was imagined in Tudor times, as Hampton Court's caesars show. When Henry VIII was desperate to divorce his wife and the Pope said no, Henry's scholars "proved" Britain had always been an empire since ancient times. A dangerous idea was born. By the end of the Tudor age tentative colonists were braving the wilds of north America. Plantations in Virginia prospered in the 1600s on the back of slavery. Britain's slave empire was driven by an appetite for sugar not only among the rich but among the innocent ordinary white people so celebrated by Boyle, too.

The strong, centralised monarchical government so long established in Britain enabled it to rule a global empire without any pressure on its internal social fabric. Essentially, the British are not Boyle's nation of protest but a docile people who celebrated their royals while the French and later Russians were executing theirs, and who enjoyed the wealth of empire with few questions or scruples.

Maybe this picture holds within it not a Tory so much as a pessimist's history of Britain. Are we really a nation of rebels and visionaries? Or are we lost in Hampton Court's Maze, our present and future bamboozled by a royal and imperial heritage? © 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

July 30 2012

Richard Long's cycling art shows British landscape at its best

The UK artist's 'river' of paint along the road-cycling track in Surrey pays tribute to the beauty of the Olympics' British setting

If you enjoyed the Olympic cycling road races at the weekend and cheered Britain's first silver medal for Lizzie Armitstead, you may have noticed a curious graffiti painted on one stretch of the road. It is, in fact, a permanent work of art that will serve as a landscape legacy of one the first sports in this year's Olympics. It is called Box Hill Road River and was created by the British artist Richard Long.

In the middle of the night, Long poured paint in a continual squiggly line for 100 metres along the road. You can see him doing it here. Usually, Long paints with mud, but here he has used road paint, making a continuous, rolling, flowing gesture – a "river" of paint, as the title calls it.

Long's art is all about landscape, the human body and movement, so cycling is a natural sport for him to ornament. The epic journey of the road-race cyclists out of London and around Box Hill is similar to Long's walking artworks. Since the 1960s, he has embarked on walks through landscapes, from forbidding mountains to English valleys, making non-obstrusive artworks (such as arrangements of sticks) along the way, and documenting each walk in photographs and texts. Painting with mostly natural materials is another side of his reflection on the human place in the landscape. His Olympic road painting in Surrey is a primeval marking, akin to the chalk figures carved on British hillsides in its quiet mystery.

Box Hill is itself a marker of landscape, a land-mark. In the 18th century, when people were just starting to see Britain as "picturesque", it was thought to be quite a mountain. One of the earliest British landscape paintings is called A View of Box Hill, Surrey. It was painted by George Lambert in 1733 and is in the Tate collection. In this picture, Box Hill is a mighty mass rising above a golden countryside against a luminous sky. The most famous portrayal of this landmark is, however, literary – a disastrous day out on Box Hill in Jane Austen's 1815 novel Emma.

All very British, and the cycle races this weekend served, like Long's art, to make us see the landscape. It looked great, didn't it? In the summer rain, Surrey was deep green. As Olympic events take place against British landmarks, we are getting a great view of our land. © 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

July 26 2012

Take a virtual tour of the Olympic Park

Fly through the Olympic Park and explore the main venues using our immersive photographic tour. Discover hidden photographs, galleries and videos by clicking on the venues within the aerial panorama

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