The ExCeL Centre has become one of my homes here at the London Olympics in the first week as I cover the judo and boxing. Also the venue for fencing, weightlifting, table tennis, and taekwondo, I have just scraped this surface of this place, but it has some really unique aspects.
First, it has incredible international flare. The intimacy of these venues creates a great vibe as so many nations with passions for these combat sports gather under one roof. The athlete seating areas are really jumping, much more so than I have noticed at other venues so far. Athletes sit there cheering their teammates in all languages, jumping, screaming, and chanting. The four venue halls seat between 6,000 and 10,000 fans, and because spectators are so close to the competitors, they know their voices can be heard down on the mats or in the ring. And they take advantage of it in a big way. And I don’t see many empty seats in this venue.
Refreshing to an observer from North American, it’s not the typical canteen food on the concourses of this venue. It’s an international smorgasbord of options. You have loads of choices like traditional cornish pasties, Asian noodles, or curry and rice.
I chatted today with Regina mayor Pat Fiacco, who is running the show behind the scenes at the boxing venue. The native of Regina, Sask., is supervising all of the technical operations of the Olympic tournament, including the judges, weigh-ins and logistics for the athletes. The protocols are so strict, he said he had to take an exam first.
The critics will sound off on women’s boxing, as they do with all new sports when they debut at an Olympics. Take women’s Olympic ice hockey, which still has detractors ripping it for the lack of balanced competition. That won’t be an issue, says Fiacco. He anticipates a very high level of boxing with lots of parity across the board.
“People will say why wasn’t women’s boxing in the Olympic Games before, mark my words,” said Fiacco. “Their question will be ‘why are there only three women’s weight classes being contested?’ ”
I asked him if 12 athletes is enough per class in the women’s competition – does that make it difficult enough a road for these women to win an Olympic gold medal?
“It’s the first time we’re doing this,” said Fiacco. “So do we want 12 very competitive athletes, or do we want 20 athletes of which 12 are competitive?”