live blog: olympic glory, 1896

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england on the up

This is the summer Great Britain stakes its place on top of the world. Buoyed by the 2012 Olympic Games, homegrown architects and designers – already recognized for thinking big – have taken the sky as their limit with vertigo-inducing  success. In celebration of all things great and not-so-small, here’s a look at a handful of the country’s newest gold medal views.

Emirates Air Line, London (164+ feet tall), Opened June 28. London Mayor Boris Johnson fulfilled his pledge to build the UK’s first urban cable car with the opening of Emirates Air Line – get it?. The three-quarter mile long river crossing, stretches between Greenwich and the Royal Docks in East London and has the capacity to carry up to 2,500 people per hour in each direction – the equivalent of almost 30 buses. For a “360 degree tour,” there’s an option to make it a non-stop journey.

The Shard, London, (1,016 feet tall), Opening February 2013. The View from the Shard is already one of the capital’s most sought after visitor attractions – and it doesn’t even open until next year! Expect high-speed lifts to transport the public to a dizzying viewing platform, where views promise to extend for an amazing 40 miles across the city. At 1,016 feet high, it’s not only one of the most ambitious architectural endeavors in the UK, but also the tallest building in Europe. Luxury hotel group Shangri-La will launch a new hotel inside The Shard, also in 2013. Personally, I can’t wait to hear about the spa.

ArcelorMittal Orbit, Olympic Park, London (377 feet tall), Opened July 28. The ArcelorMittal Orbit rises over the Olympic park giving a funky new perspective to London from its freshly redeveloped home in the East End. The UK’s tallest sculpture to date, the swirling structure took 18 months to construct and required 1837 feet of tubular red steel to form the lattice superstructure. The result is a bold statement of public art that is both permanent and sustainable. Designed by Turner Prize-winning artist Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond and sitting between the Stadium and the Aquatics Centre, the ArcelorMittal Orbit has become quite literally a beacon of the Olympic Park during the Games, with 250 coloured spot lights individually controlled to produce a digital combination of static and animated effects – including a 15-minute moving light show each evening after the Games.

Up at the O2, London (174 feet tall), Opened June 21. This summer, Londoners are being given the opportunity to climb an icon with this ambitious new attraction combining an exhilarating active outdoor challenge with a completely different perspective on the capital. The 90-minute experience takes visitors on an uplifting guided expedition across the roof of The O2 via a tensile fabric walkway suspended 174 feet above ground level. An observation platform at the summit will enable climbers to take in outstanding 360 degree views of the city and its many landmarks, including the Olympic Park, Thames Barrier, The Shard, Historic Royal Greenwich and Canary Wharf, before descending back to base.

Weymouth SEA LIFE Tower, Dorset (174 feet tall), Opened June 22. Situated along one of England’s most scenic stretches of coastland, Weymouth Bay is also home to some of the country’s best sailing waters and will host the Olympic and Paralympic sailing competitions this summer. Soaring high above England’s first natural World Heritage Site the Weymouth SEA LIFE Tower rotates a full 360 degrees for spectacular view of the Jurassic coastline, Chesil Beach and the island of Portland.

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triumph of the will

Known as The Lady on the Lagan, the sculpture on Belfast’s arterial waterway was officially christened The Ring of Thanksgiving by Scottish artist Andy Scott. As boring as that sounds there is a logic to the overly earnest title: the 50-foot symbol is the anchor of Thanksgiving Square – the brainchild of Belfast woman Myrtle Smyth, who was inspired following a visit to the non-denominational Thanks-Giving Square in Dallas, Texas – a project with the express aim of creating a public space for the local community to come together and give thanks no matter their religion, color, or faith. For a city rent by years of civil strife this was no idle wish when the square was inaugurated in 2005. A static piece of steel, the artwork nevertheless radiates a powerful energy and sense of urgency; thrusting upwards, as if striving for something larger than itself. Coincidentally The Ring is a visual reminder of how the Olympics take flight tonight in London; moreover, the Games’ motto could just as easily be a watch cry for Belfast these days: Faster, Higher, Stronger.

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video: cool runnings

Head due East out of Mobay and after a while you find yourself in Ocho Rios - Jamaica’s adventure capital. There’s no shortage of tours and attractions catering to the massive cruise ships that dock off the coast but Mystic Mountain is the only place where you can make like you’re a part of Jamaica’s most famous team of Olympic hopefuls. On the Rainforest Bobsled ride, custom-designed individual sleds coast along stainless steel rails in a 3,000 foot gravity-driven whoosh through the forest. It’s sort of like a roller coaster – except for the scary fact that you’re on a sled hurtling between trees and limestone cliffs. You can control the speed with a handy hand break, however; or let go, if you dare, and allow the full force of gravity to propel you downhill. Fast or slow, you’re in for a thrill – with a soft landing at the bottom and a scenic ride back to the top.

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london bridge is counting down

With just two years to go until the 2012 Olympic Games, London already has her game face on.  And while last Tuesday may have marked the official start of the countdown clock, many of the locations and facilities for the Games are already in place. Why not check them out now? Not only will you be able to boast that you’ve been-there and done-that when the time comes, but you’ll skip the crowds and the price gouging.

Here’s my top ten spots to visit right now – before The Big Smoke gets all smoked out.

UPDATE: A guided walking tour of the Olympic sites is now available via the Visit Britain website.  Check it out HERE.

1.  Olympic Park – View Tube

Watch the Olympic Park rise from the ground in front of your eyes. The View Tube is a community venue located on The Greenway, right next to the Olympic Park.  It includes a café, education, arts and information spaces with a panoramic view over the Olympic Park and Stratford City.

2.  Horse Guards Parade

Located directly across from Buckingham Palace is the Horse Guards Parade, a parade ground that is used daily as the starting point for the famous Changing of the Guard. In 2012, this historic area will be transformed into London’s own beach, as the site of the Beach Volleyball events.

3.  Dorney Lake

Dorney Lake, located just 30 minutes by train from London, is a world-class rowing and canoeing center that will host the Rowing, Flatwater Canoe/Kayak, and Paralympic Rowing events in the 2012 games. Dorney Lake is owned by world-famous Eton College – where Princes William and Harry both studied. Windsor Castle, an official residence of Her Majesty The Queen, is also nearby.

4.  Hyde Park

Hyde Park, one of London’s Royal Parks, will host the Triathlon in 2012.  This 350-acre park is one of the most well known parks in London, and is home to the horrible Diana Fountain Memorial, a dubious tribute to the late Princess of Wales, as well as Kensington Palace and the Orangery.  It’s also a wonderful spot for a picnic on a sunny afternoon.

5.  North Greenwich Arena

The North Greenwich Arena is a major music and entertainment venue and will host the ever popular, Basketball and Gymnastics events.  Also known as The O2, in recent years, it has hosted some of the biggest concerts in Europe. In fact, Michael Jackson was slated to play his final ‘This is it’ concert series here, before his untimely death last year. Before the Games kick off, you won’t want to miss the British Music Experience – the UK’s most amazing interactive museum of popular music.

6.  Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour (England’s South Coast)

Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour will be the venues for the Olympic and Paralympic Sailing competitions and offer some of the best natural sailing waters in Britain. Situated within England’s Jurassic Coast – a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site and the only one on the UK mainland – the unrivaled coastal views are inspiring.

7.  Greenwich Park

At the east of London is Greenwich Park, which will host the Equestrian, Modern Pentathlon and Paralympic Equestrian events.  This park is the oldest Royal Park in London, and has close historical ties to the monarchy of King Henry VIII.  The park is situated on a hill and offers spectacular views of the River Thames and the entire Olympic Park.

8. Trafalgar Square

In the centre of London is Trafalgar Square – one of the most famous squares in the the world. During the Games, this historic gathering spot will be home to one of the cities ‘live sites’ –an outdoor venue where fans without tickets can watch Olympic events on huge screens and share in the excitement. See it in its original state first and then watch it be transformed in 2012.

9.  Wimbledon

The home of the All England Lawn Tennis Club and the setting for the Wimbledon Championships since 1877, this venue will host the Tennis in 2012.  Located in southwest London, visitors to Wimbledon can enjoy a guided tour of the historic grounds and even have a chance of seeing John McEnroe’s ghost in The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum’s interactive exhibition.

10.  Regent’s Park

Visitors to London can take a stroll or bike through Regent’s Park, which will host the Road Cycling events in 2012.  Another Royal Park, it is also home to the London Zoo – the world’s oldest.

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a pictogram is worth a thousand words

It’s only now that the Vancouver Olympics have ended that I happened to notice this interesting bit of video from the NY Times:  designer Steven Heller looks at how the pictograms used to identify individual sports have changed over the years.

(And since I haven’t even bothered to mention any of the drama coming down from Canada over the past two weeks, I guess this will also have to suffice as my version of an Olympics post-mortem, too: Meh. It seemed a little too white-bread for my tastes. A little too placid. Bring on Sochi 2014, where I bet that even the very air will taste of constant controversy.)

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