An airplane taking off produces an ear-splitting 140 decibels of noise. So do the cheers in the Olympic velodrome. I know because I was there when the crowd cheered the Victoria Pendleton’s golden performance in the keirin the other day. The roar was thrilling, to the point of pain. If it had endured another minute, I am sure we’d all have gone deaf.
Olympic officials confirmed that the noise levels in the velodrome went close to the 140-decibel level, making it the loudest Olympic venue, which shouldn’t be surprising. The velodrome is small – it seats only 6000 – and is enclosed. The ceiling is low. And the crowds, which included Paul McCartney on Saturday night, are screamers.
The Dangerous Decibels Project, an American public health campaign whose goal is to reduce hearing loss induced by excessive noise, says 140 decibels is about equal to the fireworks and or the sound of a gunshot at close range. It is louder than jackhammer.
The velodrome doesn’t own the high-decibel market at the Olympics. Events at the beach volleyball arena in central London and the main Olympic arena are hitting 105 to 110 decibels when athletes perform spectacularly well, as Jess Ennis did Sunday, when she won the heptathlon. One reporter described it as "tsunami of noise," that builds in waves, making it impossible to speak to the person smack next to you.
Decibels are the units that measure the power of noise and work on a logarithmic scale. That means an increase of 10 decibels in power is equivalent to increasing its power by a factor of ten. In other words, even a small numeric rise in the decibel level translates into significantly more noise.
A few of us suffering from hearing loss note that the crowds are not the only source of noise at the Olympics. Many of the Olympic venues are designed to feel like cross between a rock concert and a dance hall. The music can be pounding and relentless. Some 2500 songs were recorded for the various sports, each available at the touch of a button for the commentators. Layer on the booming commentators’ voices and you have a noise-fest of, well, Olympic proportions.
At an Olympic press conference on Sunday, Paul Deighton, CEO of the London 2012 organizing committee, said "There are some people who would prefer silence and complete focus on athletes."
In response, the music is being "toned down" a bit at some events, he said.
But most fans, especially the British ones, seem to love the noise. Been to a English soccer match lately?