London’s open, welcoming Olympic Park filling with visitors

London's massive Olympic Park
ANTHONY CHARLTON PHOTO
Three days into the Beijing Games, sponsors were frustrated by how few people were in the Olympic Park. The place was so large and vacant at times, one executive said, you could land an airplane in it. And it meant the showcases that sponsors built were not drawing the foot traffic they expected. Beijing organizers responded by opening up the highly secure park to more people.

In London, four years later, that won’t be an issue.

The Olympic Park had an estimated 150,000 visitors on Saturday, according to International Olympic Committee executives, and the place was full each of the following days.

“The buzz was unbelievable,” said Timo Lumme, IOC director of TV and marketing services. “We always expected a party atmosphere, and we think that will be even stronger the second week with traffic.”

Sponsors have been pleased with the size of crowds in the early days of competition.

“There’s no shortage of people on the park,” said John Lewicki, McDonald’s head of global alliances. “It is crowded and people are excited.”

Dave Mingey, CEO of the marketing agency GlideSlope and a former executive with 2008 Olympic sponsor Johnson & Johnson, added, “It’s quite different than what we experienced in Beijing. The foot traffic was nonexistent [in Beijing]. What’s also different is there’s a tangible energy on the park. It’s not to say there aren’t issues, like volunteers getting people where they need to be, but those are minor and will quickly sort themselves out.”

At lunchtime on Monday, it took less than five minutes to get through security at the primary entrance to the Olympic Park. Huge crowds made their way across a wide walkway beside the aquatics center toward the Olympic Stadium.

People were upbeat and pleased by the atmosphere in the park. A lot said they enjoyed the occasionally funny and generally upbeat directions of volunteers seated in tennis umpire seats, guiding traffic.

“The woman in the chair was saying, ‘Good morning. Have fun,’” said Marloes Vokuilen, who is attending the Olympics from Amsterdam, where she coordinates the fan club for the soccer team Ajax. “Yesterday morning everyone was happy. It’s been great.”

On a cool but sunny day, people filled up dozens of picnic tables in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium and ate from nearby concession stands selling deli sandwiches, jacket potatoes, fish and chips, and chicken tikka masala.

The nearby ArcelorMittal Orbit had sold out of all 4,000 tickets it was selling at 15 pounds for a trip to the top of the twisting, red steel structure. BP had a line of more than 50 people waiting at a large silver box it built with a concave mirror that allows spectators to get a photo with the Olympic Stadium but no people behind them.

Panasonic had hundreds of people lined up to see its 3-D TV showcase, and a crowd of 50 people formed a semi-circle around a Coca-Cola dance troupe. There were also people laying in the grass on a hill watching equestrian on a giant screen provided by British Airways.

Many spectators had already seen the one event they had tickets for that day, but they planned to spend the rest of the day in the park.

“We just want to be part of it,” said Vicki Barrett of New Molden, who had seen handball that morning but was going to spend the rest of the day in the park with family and friends. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the Olympics.”

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