Basketball event first test for 2012 Olympic park

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LONDON, August 17 – London’s Olympic Park is undergoing its first real sporting test, hosting its debut tournament as six international sides give the new Basketball Arena a run out ahead of the 2012 Games.

London is staging a series of test events this summer to give their venues a practice go and allow organisers to iron out any problems before the Games begin next July.

The Basketball Arena is the fourth-largest venue on the park in Stratford, east London, measuring 35 metres (115 feet) high and 115 metres long.

With 12,000 seats, the white-clad structure is one of the largest ever temporary venues built for any Games. Even the doors are extra-high to accommodate the players.

However, only 3,000 seats are available per session for the warm-up basketball tournament, which runs until Sunday.

Organisers are testing out not only the arena, including the experience for players, spectators and media, but also transport to the site, ticketing, first aid facilities, the staffing — and the toilets.

Australia won the first round robin match, beating China 71-43. Croatia then defeated neighbours Serbia 83-21 before France beat Great Britain 82-60 on Tuesday.

Players and coaches were pleased with their surroundings.

“It’s a beautiful place, a first class facility,” said China coach Robert Donewald. “We’re really happy to be here.”

Australia player David Barlow was also impressed.

“It’s very important to try it out. It’s just like having a home venue, where you need to get familiar with it,” he said.

“It was good to see the English people come out to enjoy the basketball.

“It’s a great venue. There’s a lot of people here, I can’t wait to see it all at the Olympics.”

Team-mate Dan Kickert added: “It’s important not just for the team, but for everyone involved, including the organisers, to see how everything works.

“It’s a good court and atmosphere. It wasn’t full but the atmosphere was loud.”

Spectators faced a 10-minute hike from Stratford station to the site entrance, before going through airport-style security and taking a shuttle bus through the Olympic Park, still a maze of barricades and concrete blocks.

Inside, the seats are in the black and orange colours of a basketball, with a steep slope on the upper tier.

Jeff Harkman, 71, and his wife Heather, from Guildford, southwest of London, found the public address system fuzzy.

“I m a bit old but it is difficult to understand what they’re saying,” he told AFP.

“The seats were easy to get to and there’s loads of space, it’s very comfortable.

“I can’t say we’re basketball fans but we’re very supportive of the Olympics. We’re enthusiastic about the whole thing and want to see the site.”

Bob Cook, 62, a retired engineer from Farnborough in southern England, said the atmosphere inside was vibrant.

“It’s very loud and lively, you can imagine it will be buzzing here next year.

“It’s amazing how much is still going on outside but it’s all taking shape,” he added.

Construction work on the arena was completed in June within the £43 million ($70 million, 50 million euro) budget.

The outer frame of 20 steel arches has been wrapped in white fabric to form the canvas for a lighting display. Some commentators say it resembles icing on a cake.

After the Olympics, parts of it are expected to be reused or relocated elsewhere in Britain, though it could yet reappear at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

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