England: Game plan for London town

By David Leggat

With the Olympics starting in just over a fortnight, chief sports writer David Leggat picks four of the more distinctive places for visitors to follow the Games action.

Beach volleyball at this year's Olympics is to be staged at Horseguards Parade, backing on to Downing St. Photo / AP
Beach volleyball at this year's Olympics is to be staged at Horseguards Parade, backing on to Downing St. Photo / AP

1. Archery at Lord's

At the Athens Olympics of 2004, archery was staged at the Panathinaiko Stadium, the site of the first Games of the modern era, in 1896. Thousands of years of backsides had been parked on its smooth stone steps. The competition was superbly staged, mixing ancient with modern - as the defeated archers were announced to the crowds, they departed the arena to the booming voice of Ray Charles belting out Hit The Road Jack.

So what will Lord's offer to the archers? The home of cricket, it is that sport's most celebrated piece of turf and also home to the fusty MCC, all gin and tonics, and bacon and egg pies. Tradition is redolent at Lord's. Now it will reverberate not to cries of "no ball", the cheers acclaiming a flowing cover drive or the rattle of stumps, but rather the "plunk" of arrow hitting target. It should be fun and, if the last couple of Games are any guide, will attract an eclectic crowd. All ages thrill to the bow and arrow discipline.

2. Beach volleyball at Horseguards Parade

Picture the scene. Britain's Prime Minister is head down, buried in affairs of state, when his private secretary lowers his head to David Cameron's ear and utters the words: "the Brazilian women are warming up, Sir."

The PM rises and walks across to his window to look down on perhaps the most curious Olympic mix of ancient and modern. For beach volleyball is to be staged at Horseguards Parade, backing on to Downing St. Long-limbed, bronzed Amazonian women will leap, dive and hurl themselves about in a large sandpit under the stern gaze of some of Britain's most famous military figures dotted about the large square. The sport is at the Olympics for just the fifth time. Expect American and Brazilians to be prominent.

3. Triathlon swim in Serpentine

London organising officials have tipped the three-in-one sport to be one of the Games' highlights and it's expected to be among the most scenic of events for television viewers.

Anyone who has walked through Hyde Park, the largest of the royal parks, will be familiar with that expanse of brown water in the middle, the Serpentine. It has been cleaned up and features in the triathlon in which New Zealand, through Andrea Hewitt, rates a real medal chance.

The swimming leg of 1500m takes place in the lake. It will be followed by a 43km bike leg, which will take in Wellington Arch, and Birdcage Walk in front of Buckingham Palace. Whether Her Majesty will be amused and take a look from the balcony has not been revealed. The final leg is a 10km run, comprising four 2.5km laps around the Serpentine. The women's event is on August 4, the men three days later.

4. Sights of the city

Fancy an event during which you'll be pointing at the screen saying "look hon, we've been there, too"? Then it's the marathon for you. The women's race is on August 5, the men on the final day of the Games, August 12. The 42.195km run will be done over four laps, three of 12.8km, the first a shorter 3.5km.

Along the way, runners pass some of London's most famous landmarks. The sights you'll see include Admiralty Arch, Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, Cleopatra's Needle, the Embankment, St Paul's Cathedral, Big Ben, Parliament Square and the Tower of London.

The runs start and finish on the Mall, in sight of Buckingham Palace. This is a break with Olympic tradition, which would have had the runners finish by entering the Olympic Stadium out in Stratford, east London.

The original route has been changed a couple of times once it was deemed that having the runners head down Whitechapel and Mile End Rd, famous from the 1960s heyday of the gangster brothers the Krays, was not "television friendly" en route to the Olympic Stadium.

- NZ Herald

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