A Freeloader’s Guide to The Olympics

There has been so much hype and negative publicity surrounding the allocation and pricing of tickets for events at the forthcoming London Olympics, that it may have gone almost unnoticed that there will be plenty of opportunity for fans on a restricted budget to witness sporting action firsthand, without having to pay for tickets at all.

Some of the events take place on such a grand scale that only the most prime viewing locations can be cordoned off for ticket holders, providing ample opportunity for the rest of us to benefit from a free show.

The most obvious of these events are the two Marathons, with the women’s taking place on Sunday August 5 at 11.00 , and the men’s taking place on Sunday August 12, also at 11.00. Both of these races will start on The Mall in central London, an area that will be zoned as all-ticket, but they will then follow a route that provides miles of free vantage points and pass by some of the capital’s most famous landmarks. These include Trafalgar Square, the Victoria Embankment, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Bank of England, the Tower of London, and Westminster Bridge, with the finish line back on The Mall. Parts of the route will be the same as the annual London Marathon; only on this occasion there is less likelihood of spotting a contestant in a dinosaur suit.

Less obvious, but also providing plenty of opportunities for free access, are the three Race Walks, the men’s and women’s 20km Race Walks, which take place on Saturday August 4 at 17.00, and Saturday August 11 at 17.00, respectively, and the men’s 50km Race Walk, scheduled for 09.00 on Saturday August 11. Again, the start and finish line for these events is on The Mall, and The Mall will again be reserved for ticket holders, but the 2km course also involves a lengthy stretch of Constitution Hill that does not require a ticket. On these occasions spectators will be able to see the athletes lap the course 10 times for the 20km races, and 25 times for the 50km race.

Meanwhile, Hyde Park is the venue for both the men’s and women’s Triathlons, with the women’s event scheduled for 9.00 on Saturday August 4, and the men’s event on Tuesday August 7 at 11.30. There should be plenty of non-ticket vantage points around the southern half of the park’s Serpentine lake, where the event’s swimming leg will take place, although the northern side is all ticket. When the athletes take to their bikes for the second leg, there will be outside vantage points on South Carriage Drive and constitution hill, which they will lap seven times. Finally, the running leg involves four laps of the Serpentine’s southern segment.

The cycling will provide free vantage points away from London city centre, because although the road races will again be starting on The Mall, with the men’s event at 10.00am on Saturday July 28, and the women’s at 12 noon on Sunday July 29, they will then head out of London to the county roads of Surrey. Besides The Mall, the only other ticketed area is at Box Hill in Surrey, where the men will do 9 laps of a side course, and the women will do 2, before heading back to the finishing line in London.

Two other accessible cycling events are the men’s and women’s Individual Time Trials, for which the start and finish venue is Hampton Court Palace in Surrey. Again, after leaving the ticketed areas near the start and finish line, the course heads out into the Surrey countryside, passing near Esher, Cobham and Thames Ditton. Both events are on Wednesday August 1, with the women’s event beginning at 12.30 and the men’s event, with its longer course taking a detour through East Molesey, starting at 14.15.

Finally, the venues for the sailing events are Weymouth and Portland in Dorset, with heats taking place almost constantly between Sunday July 29 and Saturday August 11. Nothe Fort, which is on a peninsular, is the ticketed venue. However, the local coastline should provide many other spectator opportunities for what should prove to be a spectacular display of sail and seamanship.

Of course, the biggest downside of seeking out the best free vantage points at these events is that thousands of others will be hoping to do exactly the same. So success will be down to arriving at the venue early, having checked the weather forecast first to ensure suitable attire. The organisers are recommending that spectators walk or cycle to the venues wherever possible, in order to ease both traffic congestion and the pressure on public transport.

So be prepared, plan your strategy in advance, then settle back and watch the greatest FREE show on Earth.