Journalism portfolio of Alistair Welch

Category: Sports writing

On the slide

Riding the ArcelorMittal Orbit Slide for ND123

It seemed somehow fitting that on the day of the EU referendum I was preparing to propel myself into the dark unknown. At the top of the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the Anish Kapoor sculpture of winding red metal that dominates the space between the Aquatics Centre and what is now West Ham United’s home ground on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, I was ready to ‘Ride the Slide’ – a souped-up helter-skelter designed by Belgian artist Carsten Holler that over the course of 178m and 12 twists plummets you the 76m from the viewing gallery back to terra firma.

AW slide.JPG

Nattily accessorised in a scrum cap and elbow protectors I pushed off with some trepidation. I’m not afraid to admit that taken aback by the speed and tight turns of the ride I screamed like a giddy teenager for the 40 seconds or so it took me to descend and emerge into the daylight. What I anticipated might be a gentle cruise to the bottom turned out to be a thrilling ride that certainly got the heart racing.

The slide is the world’s longest and tallest tunnel slide and riders can expect to experience speeds of up to 15mph during their descent – although I can attest that it certainly feels significantly faster within the confines of the 800mm diameter tube.

The Slide CGI.jpg

Carsten Holler designed the slide at the invitation of the Orbit’s original architect Anish Kapoor, who was eager that his distinctive work of public art should be augmented by an experiential element. Holler is no stranger to such rides having conceived the giant slides that occupied the installation space in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall during 2006. His vision for the Orbit slide includes a particularly fiendish tight corkscrew section dubbed the ‘bettfeder’ after the German word for ‘bedspring’.

Construction was led by Buckingham Group Constructing using specialist abseilers provided by CAN Structures, with structural engineering work provided by BuroHappold. The Slide has been manufactured by world-renowned slide manufacturer Wiegand and British firm Interkey, who are based in Corby. Steel has been contributed by ArcelorMittal, whose original donation made possible the realisation of structure for the 2012 London Olympic Games. Polycarbonate sections of the tube allow riders to see out of the slide for certain sections of the ride, providing that is they are brave enough to keep their eyes open the whole way down.

The Slide at the ArcelorMittal Orbit.jpg

“Since 1999, I have built a number of slides, both free-standing and attached to buildings, but never onto another artwork as in this case,” explains the slide’s designer Holler.“Now that the two artworks will be intertwined with each other, I see it as one of these double situations that I am so interested in. I like it when a sense of unity is reached in two separate entities, and you can find this thought to repeatedly occur in my work.”

“I am delighted that my work, the ArcelorMittal Orbit at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is the site for a collaboration with Carsten Höller. I believe it will result in the making of a new work which will bring two works of art together in an ambitious way,” adds Kapoor.

Unlike the result of the EU referendum I can guarantee that this particular venture into the uncertain will put a smile on your face. And there’s no need to be too frightened, although the ride is speedy the plunge is nowhere near as steep as the dive the pound took on Brexit day.


Beyond 2012

Editor’s blog post


It was a privilege last week to attend ‘Beyond 2012’ the Design Council’s celebration of the multitude of design stories that contributed to the magnificent success of the London Olympic Games.

On a beautiful evening in Hackney at a venue overlooking the Olympic (now the Queen Elizabeth) Park, it was wonderful to reacquaint myself with the Stadium, the Aquatics Centre, and the Velodrome – sites of so much tension, drama and jubilation twelve months ago.

I’d written extensively in the last year about some of the major design stories related to the games. The logo, BarberOsgerby’s torch, Heatherwick’s cauldron and Locog’s ticketing system all engaged both the design community and the general public. Indeed, one of the most interesting aspects of the Games from the perspective of a design journalist was the way in which a sporting event brought design (in all its forms) into the realm of public debate.

Nevertheless, Beyond 2012 was a fascinating opportunity to learn about some of the design narratives behind the Games which had not previously entered the public domain. I must admit it was quite an emotional experience to contemplate the extraordinarily level of effort and ingenuity that had ensured the London Olympics were such an amazing experience and the extent to which that memorable summer made the words of cynics and sceptics appear ridiculous.

Beyond 2012 was not only an exercise in looking backwards. As pleasant as bathing in the golden glow of London 2012 nostalgia is, the challenge now is to ensure that the much-cited ‘Legacy’ of the Games is delivered.

One key element of said legacy is the future of the Olympic Park. Speaking at the event, Kathryn Firth, chief of design at the London Legacy Development Corporation, explained the task was to “turn this park into a piece of city.” With the site having recently welcomed Bruce Spingsteen and Mumford and Sons its transition from Olympic hub to part of London’s long-term social, cultural, and commercial fabric has begun.

Royal Mail Stamps - Olympics III - Gymnastics

The Design Council is curating an online resource to assemble design stories related to the London 2012 Games. The Design Council welcomes new submissions from design teams who worked on the games to share their experiences.

Old Warwickians vs Denstone Wanderers (Cricketer Trophy Final)

(N.b. I stopped taking photos halfway through our innings as I noticed there was a correlation between my snapping and our losing wickets; apologies if there are no photos of you, but you should probably be grateful!)

The scene at Charterhouse

A battling 47 from Tom Williams and three wickets from seamer Dan Wood helped Old Warwickians claim the Cricketer Trophy with victory over Denstone Wanderers in the picturesque surroundings of Charterhouse School.

Openers Crockert and Cumberland stride out

In a topsy-turvy game, in which both top orders struggled on an ostensibly flat surface, momentum shifted frequently between the two sides. However, the OWs were able to hold their nerve and win by 28 runs, dismissing Denstone for 176 in the 48th over.

Tony lets one go

With skipper Gareth Roots having won the toss and elected to bat on a gleaming pitch, it was a surprise to the OWs when early wickets tumbled and the score in the 13th over stood at 38 for 5.

Cumberland defends

Crockert, Cumberland and Roots all fell to an impressive opening spell from Denstone’s Burnett; the captain somewhat unlucky to be bowled playing-on off his gloves. When Dan Wood and Ben Howard swiftly followed to the pavilion the OW’s innings was in disarray and even reaching 100 looked an uphill task.

Howard about to edge behind

However, Williams and Byrd stopped the rot and following the arrival of the change bowlers began to build a significant partnership. When Byrd was out for 39, an innings that included a crunching six over midwicket, 82 runs had been added for the 6th wicket and although Williams fell soon after, smashing one of the Denstone’s captain’s loopy spinners to cover, the OWs were back in the game.

Williams drives as the OWs accelerate

The lower-middle order continued to flourish with an important contribution from Andy Harris (19) and an impressive 33 not out from Mark Banham. Chris Kroeger hit the last ball of the innings for six down the ground allowing the OWs to move past 200, finishing the 50 over innings on 204 for 9 – a score that had, frankly, seemed unlikely after an hour’s play.

Byrd on his way to 39

In a mirror image of the OW’s innings, Denstone’s top order also struggled as the chasing team stumbled to 29 for 5. There were three wickets for Andy Harris and two for Dan Wood in their sharp opening spells.

However, just like the OWs, Denstone were able to consolidate and then begin to mount a challenge to the target. With the required run-rate never rising much above a run a ball, wickets were the key and as the Denstone seven and eight began to build a partnership nerves began to jangle.

A chance was dropped behind the stumps and with 10 overs remaining and 60 runs required Denstone looked the marginal favourites. However, Harris held a good catch in the outfield to dismiss Burnett (28) and when McAloon (a strong innings of 55) was bowled by a superb delivery from Wood that nipped back off a length to clip the bails, the OWs breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Wood disappointed with the bat but redeemed himself with the ball

Byrd finished the job trapping the Denstone number ten leg-before to complete a 28 run victory for the Old Warwickians and claim some well-deserved silverware in the process.

Full scorecard courtesy of Richard Grover