“The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
Sunday afternoon in the Olympic Velodrome, Lord Coe makes a short speech in which he praises the glamorous new wooden ‘O’ and recalls how seven years ago, on the same spot, he was ‘struggling with rotting fridges’. When politicians – who all champion grassroots sport – talk about the Olympic Park in the Lower Lea Valley, it’s customary to infer – even to state explicitly – that it was built on waste land.
When you lost skin racing dirt-bikes over the scrub hills of Eastway grazes took time to heal because the land was composed of rubbish. Where tyres eroded the earth, fragments of brick and glass emerged. Despite this cruelty the environs of the cycle racing circuit, the adjacent nature reserve and allotments were a green haven.
The cycle racing at Eastway covered all disciplines – except track racing – at all standards. The Tuesday time-trials would regularly feature riders capable of covering the undulating, one mile circuit, ten times in 23 minutes, while other competitors took a quarter hour longer. All were welcome and all valued.
Post-games plans for the Olympic lands include a velo-park around the new indoor track, which stands where the Eastway home straight once ran. During the tortuous and bitter negotiations over this legacy those who now control the land have often overlooked the fact that this new facility will not be a gift. The velo-park is repayment for what was lost in 2006 when the old circuit – on land dedicated for the quiet enjoyment of the people of East London forever – went under the bulldozers.
One analysis of the Olympic bid is as a massive land-grab. Once this Summer’s party is over it will be time to deliver all the promises made in the frantic run-up, time to take down the temporary buildings and tear up the temporary coach-parks. We can look forward optimistically to the Eastway diaspora’s glorious home-coming, to racing on land from which all toxic waste has been diligently removed. The new park is due to open in 2013, but the useful outdoor cycle-sport elements won’t be reinstated or sustained because that’s what the land-grabbers want. They prefer the wasteland myth. Vigilance is necessary.