1) Get an overview of what's on when The official schedule is really complicated. There are 650-ish sessions in 40-something sports across two-and-a-bit weeks, which makes it really hard to start planning from scratch. London 2012 have produced a mega-pdf, subdivided into mini-pdfs, for the final detail. The Telegraph have a rather nice interactive schedule. But you need to start at a higher level. Try this very-approximate timeline for size.
Basketball, Boxing, Diving, Football, Gymnastics, Handball, Hockey, Sailing, Volleyball, Water Polo
Synchronised swimming, Triathlon
Marathon, Race walk
Canoe sprint, Taekwondo
Mountain bike, Pentathlon, Closing ceremony
2) Only apply for tickets you know you can afford The application process is a raffle, so you might be tempted to apply for more tickets than you need. But you'll be forced to pay for every ticket you win, so check your potential overdraft before you apply. Payment will be taken somewhere between Tuesday 10 May and Friday 10 June, so we're told. If you're feeling financially screwed at the moment, the BBC website has a helpful table showing where all the £20 tickets are.
3) Get a sense of proportion There are only 6.6 million tickets up for grabs. That might sound like a lot, but it's not even enough for everyone in London to get one each. Some of these Olympic events are going to be ridiculously over-subscribed. Even if you have hundreds of pounds to splash around, you won't be attending every event you want to see. Don't get your hopes up. In particular don't try to plan yourself a perfect weekend of six consecutive medal-winning sessions, because you'll only end up with two days full of holes.
4) Decide whether you want to see a particular event, or any event If your only goal is to say "yes, I went to the Olympics", then avoid the massively over-subscribed sessions. Check out the "ticket limit" column on the schedule. If the limit's 4, you're probably not going to get in. If the limit's 20, it's much more likely you'll be lucky. The event you get to attend may not be thrilling, but at least you'll be able to say "I was there".
5) Play the lucky dip There'll only be a few £20.12 tickets up for grabs for the Opening Ceremony. You barely have any chance at all of getting one. But where's the harm in applying? It won't break the bank, and if you're not successful it won't cost you a thing. Think of it as playing the lottery, with no stake up front. Somebody's got to win, and it could be you. [Session code: ZO001]
6) Know your capacities The one fact Olympic organisers have failed to mention on their ticket schedule is how many tickets they'll be selling at each session. Several will be saved for sponsors and their hangers-on, the so-called Olympic family. But you can get a pretty good idea of how many tickets are available if you know the capacity of each venue. Some of these are a lot smaller than you might expect, and your chances of getting a ticket will be similarly restricted.
White Water Centre (slalom)
Eton Dorney (rowing)
Woolwich Barracks (shooting)
Hadleigh Farm (mountain biking)
Wembley Arena (gymnastics)
Horseguards (beach volleyball)
Water Polo Arena
Earls Court (volleyball)
The Mall (marathon finish)
7) If you want to go as a group, apply as a group One useful rule in the ballot is that you'll win either all or none of your tickets in each session. So if six of you want to go and see the rowing, apply as a group of six. That way you'll get either six tickets or nothing. Whatever you do, don't let Dave and his wife apply for their tickets and Julie apply for hers and you get the rest, otherwise you're almost certain to be split up.
8) You don't have to have a Visa card to buy tickets If you don't have a Visa card, you won't be able to buy tickets online. But you will be able to use the ticket application form in the Official Ticketing Guide instead. This document can be picked up from March 15th onwards in any English branch of Lloyds TSB (or Bank of Scotland in Scotland) (or local library in Northern Ireland). The organisers are happy to take a cheque in an envelope, or even a postal order, to pay for your winning tickets. No plastic monopoly need spoil your enjoyment of the Games.
9) Don't forget there are venues outside London If you don't live in London, do you really want to battle your way into town, pay through the nose for a Travelodge in Aldgate, then queue to squash yourself into a crammed tube train? Your Olympic Ticket includes a free zone 1-9 travelcard, so it's not all bad news. But why not head outside the capital instead? There are 50 football matches to watch, plus the joys of rowing in Windsor, canoeing in Herts, sailing in Weymouth and mountain biking in Essex. I scouted the four major venues outside London last summer, and my reports might help convince you to follow.
10) All competition schedules are subject to change at any time Now there's a disclaimer. You may think you've booked tickets for the cross-country riding on July 30th, but London 2012 reserve the right to shift any event in case of bad weather, terrorist alert or whatever. It might be safest to stay at home and watch the whole thing on TV instead. The entire fortnight's optimised for the small screen anyway, plus you can nip out for a drink whenever you like and not be forcefed a Coca Cola. But hey, even if it's only for a preliminary round in the volleyball, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Worth a dip in the Olympic bran tub, don't you think?
Olympic update 10 more ticketing tips
1) You can only apply online if your Visa card expires in May or later. The Olympic ticketing procedure is so protracted that the Visa card you have now might expire before London 2012 want your money. So they won't let you use it. Visa cards expiring in March 2011 or April 2011 are being refused by the ticketing software. Instead, owners of early-expiring cards need to wait until Visa send a replacement before applying for tickets. Thousands of potential ticket purchasers are likely to give up at the first hurdle.
2) Your money will be taken before you find out which tickets you've got. It's perverse, but it's true. The ticketing process is so cumbersome and long-winded that London 2012 won't email you before attempting to take your money. They need a full month (10 May to 10 June) to sift through all the applications and work out who's got what. They may even take money for different events at different times - it's not been confirmed that your bank account will be raided only once. Only by 24 June, a fortnight later, do they guarantee you'll have received confirmation by email of which events you'll be attending. But watch out earlier for a telltale twelvepence. If (and only if) the amount withdrawn from your account includes pence as well as pounds then congratulations, you've won a cheap seat for the Opening Ceremony.
3) Keep your bank account topped up for a month. I can't emphasise this one enough. At the moment you apply for tickets, London 2012 will warn you of the maximum amount you could end up paying. Keep this amount of money in your Visa-related debit card account at all times between 10 May and 10 June. On some unspecified unannounced day, London 2012 will attempt to take money from your account, and it could be the maximum. If this transaction fails, you'll get nothing. "If payment cannot be taken, LOCOG reserves the right to refuse any Ticket applications or Ticket orders." Even if you're only £1 short, you'll lose every ticket on your shopping list. It'll be like winning the lottery and then realising you forgot to enter. But how many people can genuinely afford to maintain a ticket-sized bufferzone in their bank account for a full month? I guess we'll start finding out in May when the unlucky "winners" start to complain.
4) There's a £6 ticket-handling charge. Come on, this system is run by Ticketmaster, so what did you expect? The £6 is to pay for registered delivery (and to make a tidy profit, I don't doubt). And don't think of having the tickets delivered to work, or to your auntie, or to your nextdoor neighbour, because that's prohibited. "Tickets will be delivered via secure carrier to the billing address of the Purchaser. Tickets will not be delivered to any other address." If you move house any time between now and summer next year, when the tickets start arriving, then you need to let London 2012 know... or miss out.
5) If you end up with tickets you don't want, you can sell them on. But you can only sell them on via London 2012's official resale site. There are no precise details yet, but this website will give ticket holders the opportunity to sell unwanted tickets "at no more than face value". Don't think of flogging the official bits of paper on eBay or anything, because that's banned. Don't raffle them for charity, because that's banned too. And don't sell them in a public place, because that's a criminal offence. The official resale website will be a "secure environment", ensuring that London 2012 still know who the official purchaser is at all times. But it won't be operational until next year, so you'll have to sit tight on that hole in your bank balance for at least six months.
6) Don't try buying tickets as a gift for someone else. According to the terms and conditions, if you're the one that buys the tickets, you have to be one of the people who uses the tickets. "If more than one Ticket is issued to a Purchaser, those Tickets may only be used by the Purchaser and a family member, friend or colleague who is known to the Purchaser personally and who is intended to accompany the Purchaser to a Session." So if you buy two tickets as a gift for Bob and Carol's wedding anniversary, Bob and Carol may be turned away from the venue for not being you. Will officials really be this strict? Best not to risk finding out.
7) Smile, some events are free. Not every event needs a ticket or a sturdy bank balance. The initial rounds of the archery are free. The cycling road races are free (apart from spectating at the finish). The sailing in Weymouth harbour is free (unless you want to sit in what's normally a public park beside a video screen). And then of course there are the two marathons, which you can watch for free from my front doorstep (except, bugger, sigh, grrr).
8) Get a brochure. If you're serious about planning your Olympic experience carefully, don't try to do it all online. Negotiating umpteen pdfs or interactive schedules isn't easy, and makes it incredibly hard to gain an overview of what's available when. Instead pop into your nearest branch of Lloyds TSB and pick up a copy of the official ticketing brochure. It's massive - a full 70 pages on thick glossy paper (but then it was paid for by bankers and they have money to burn). No need to queue or anything, the brochures are lying around ready to take. Then you can scan through the entire schedule at your own pace, ticking off possibles and definites, and optimise your application. Makes a nice souvenir too, if you're that way inclined.
9) Read the Terms and Conditions. Nobody ever reads the terms and conditions. But this time you really should, in case you find yourself agreeing to something you didn't think you were agreeing too. The terms and conditions aren't very easy to find on the website, at least up front, but do hunt them down all the same. Things like "LOCOG cannot guarantee adjacent seats if separate Ticket Application Forms are submitted." And "if a Ticket Holder leaves a Venue for any reason, the same Ticket may not be used to re-enter a Venue." And "upon request, a Ticket Holder must show their Tickets and/or proof of his or her identity with appropriate Photographic Identification." Worth knowing in advance, I think.
10) You can only apply once, so don't rush it. My brother's already submitted his application form online. By lunchtime yesterday he'd requested four tickets for the Opening Ceremony (the cheap £20.12 ones) and nothing else. So that's it. "Once submitted, a Person may not be able to alter, amend, withdraw or cancel an application." Given how horribly oversubscribed those £20.12 tickets are going to be, my brother's not going to be going to the Olympics at all. He can't apply a second time, either online or on paper, because the rules forbid it. "A Person may only submit one (1) Ticket Application Form." So please, don't rush your application. You've got until 23:59 on Tuesday 26th April to apply, so take your time picking and choosing. (Don't worry little bruv, because there is an option to withdraw your application, any time up to 26th April, and tweak it and apply again. But come 27th April your application is set in stone, and there's no going back)
Olympic update Just the ticket?
Planning on buying any tickets for the London 2012 Olympics? You may be in for a shock.
You know that 6.6 million tickets will be available, for a total of 650different sessions. You know the range of prices for each event, which'll start at £20 and peak at £2012. You know there'll be a public ballot for any sessions that are over-subscribed. And you know that everyone will have an equal chance in that ballot, whether they apply on 15 March or 26 April. This you know.
But this (recently added to London 2012's ticketing FAQ) you probably didn't know.
How many tickets am I likely to be allocated depending on how many I apply for? We urge you to consider your budget very carefully when applying for tickets. Once your application is processed you cannot cancel, change or return the tickets you are allocated. When you apply, the maximum amount you could be charged will be made clear to you and you'll need to have sufficient funds available to cover this.
In other words, when you enter the Olympic ticket ballot you're agreeing to pay for every ticket you're offered. Apply for one, get none, and you'll pay nothing. Apply for twenty, get three, and you'll pay for three. But apply for twenty, get twenty, and you'll pay for twenty. This is a ballot with an expensive sting in its tail. If you can't afford to pay for your backup choices, don't risk entering.
When applying for tickets can I rank my preferences? We encourage you to take your time in selecting a range of sports, sessions and price categories to apply for as there won’t be an opportunity to rank your preferences within your choices. Tickets start at £20 across all sports. All price categories will provide a great Games experience.
Suppose you want to see the diving. That'll be popular, so how many sessions should you bid for? Apply for just one and it's quite possible you'll lose out, completely, and never see an Olympic dive in your life. To increase your chances you need to apply for more sessions - maybe a lot more, depending on how oversubscribed you think the diving's going to be. Get the balance right and you could be watching Tom Daley leap. But overdo it and you could find yourself lumbered with several tickets across several days, when you really only wanted one. Expensive mistake.
How can I go about applying for tickets for groups of family and friends? You will be notified if you are unsuccessful in any of the sessions you applied for - you will either receive the allocation you applied for, or you will be unsuccessful and receive none. So if a family of five applies for tickets for a Handball session (providing you're within the ticket limit for that session) and you are allocated tickets to that session you will receive either the total quantity of tickets you requested for that session or none at all.
Suppose you're a family of five who want to see some track cycling at the Velodrome. You don't mind when, because it's the school holidays, but how many sessions do you apply for? You'd like to spread the possibilities over a week, but that's too dangerous. What if you ended up with five tickets for Monday afternoon and five for Monday evening and five for Tuesday afternoon, etc etc, that'd break the bank. It'd be safer to apply for only one session, say Wednesday afternoon... but then you might miss out on the cycling altogether. Best to aim low and go to the preliminary round of the handball instead, I'm sure the kids won't be disappointed.
Suppose you have your heart set on attending the Beach Volleyball final. Tickets are available at £450, £295, £185, £125 and £95, and you can choose just one of these price categories or a wider range. The £95 tickets will obviously be more popular than the £450, so you can maximise your chances by including the higher value tickets in your range. Unfortunately that also maximises your chances of having to pay a lot rather than a little. Offer to pay £450 or £95, and you can bet that £450's the more likely total to be whipped from your bank balance.
Applications for tickets close at a minute to midnight on Tuesday 26th April. At this point you'll have offered some sort of pre-authorisation on your Visa card for every ticket you've applied for - your money's primed to go. It'll take London 2012 and their friends at Ticketmaster some time to allocate who gets what, and then they'll email to tell you precisely how successful you've been. Will you have the event you wanted or not? Will you be signed up for a balanced range of sports at optimal times, or will you be making do with second best spread awkwardly across a fortnight? Most importantly, can your bank balance take an instant hit on some as-yet unspecified date if you end up being more successful than you hoped? Plan carefully, or this might hurt.
How do refunds and resales work if I decide I don’t want my tickets? Customers will have the opportunity to resell their tickets at face value through the official London 2012 resale programme in 2012. This will be the only authorised way to buy tickets from people offering their tickets for resale. Further details will be announced in early 2012.
Just read those last two FAQs again. Your money will be taken in May/June 2011. But if you end up with tickets you don't want, for whatever reason, you won't be able to sell them until some time in 2012. Any unexpected hole in your cashflow will last at least six months, whereas Olympic bosses get all their ticket money more than a year before the first event takes place. Someone's thought about this very deliberately.
When the official publicity kicks off for Olympic ticketing, one message will be very clear. Don't apply for tickets you know you can't afford. Less well-off folk will be penalised, because they can only risk having a few tickets in the great Olympic raffle, and may end up seeing nothing. Meanwhile rich folk can bid for all the best tickets in as many sports as they like, because their finances can take the hit no matter what. Best plump up your cash reserves if you want to see anything decent. This you now know.
Dear Mr and Mrs Smith, Thank you for applying for tickets for London 2012. You applied for
✖ ZO001 Opening Ceremony (27 Jul 19:30-22:30) 2 tickets @£20.12 ✖ AT005 Athletics - 100m final (6 Aug 18:50-21:55) 2 tickets @£50 ✖ DV016 Diving - 10m platform final (11 Aug 20:30-22:10) 2 tickets @£50
You were successful in none of your bids. We have not taken any money from your account. You will not be coming to the Olympics, loser. Perhaps you should have considered the laws of supply and demand a little more carefully before you applied for the three most popular sessions on the list. Love Seb
Dear The McTavish Family, Thank you for applying for tickets for London 2012. You applied for
✖ BD021 Badminton - semi-finals (4 Aug 09:00-12:00) 4 tickets @£30 ✖ GT002 Trampoline - men's final (4 Aug 14:00-16:15) 2 tickets @£20, 1@£13, 1@£8 ✖ HO021 Hockey - preliminaries (4 Aug 19:00-22:45) 4 tickets @£20 ✖ CT005 Cycling - women's sprint (5 Aug 10:00-11:25) 2 tickets @£20, 1@£13, 1@£8 ✖ SY001 Synchronised swimming (5 Aug 15:00-16:40) 2 tickets @£20, 1@£13, 1@£8 ✔ TT025 Table Tennis - women's semi-final (5 Aug 19:00-22:00) 4 tickets @£20
You were successful in one of your bids. We have taken £80 from your account. You thought you were being clever planning a full weekend of events. But all you won in the ballot was an evening of ping pong. Enjoy your long weekend down from Scotland. Hope you find something interesting to do for the rest of it. Love Seb
Dear Sandra and Bob, Thank you for applying for tickets for London 2012. You applied for
You were successful in all eight of your bids. We have taken £1520 from your account. You really wanted to see a swimming final, any swimming final. So you thought you'd better apply for all of them. Unfortunately you forgot to read the smallprint. The smallprint says you're obliged to pay for every ticket you win in the ballot, and you were unexpectedly lucky. So we're screwing you for a grand and a half, and there's nothing you can do to stop us. Good luck selling the unwanted tickets next year. Love Seb
Dear Arthur, Thank you for applying for tickets for London 2012. You applied for
You were successful in none of your bids. We have not taken any money from your account. You only wanted to see one event. You only wanted to be able to say that you were here. Unfortunately tens of thousands of other people also wanted to see the same event, and you were unlucky. I'm sorry that, as a mere pensioner, £16 was all you could risk paying. But remember, you can always apply for Paralympic tickets from September. Or watch it all on TV. Love Seb
Dear Phil, Jenny and family, Thank you for applying for tickets for London 2012. You applied for
✔ ED004 Equestrian - individual dressage (9 Aug 12:30-16:30) 6 tickets @£275 or £175 or £95 or £65
You were successful in one of your bids. We have taken £70 from your account. You chose carefully, and you chose well. You've only got one event but it should be a cracker. You'll remember being part of the Olympics for the rest of your lives. Thanks for giving us your money. Love Seb
Alternative ways to get London 2012 tickets, number 1
Fancy a ticket to the Opening Ceremony? You can guarantee yourself one, come September, if you book an Olympic "short break" with Thomas Cook. For just £6499 per person you can get to see...
...along with three nights at a 5 star West End hotel. Meals are thrown in, as is a coach to whisk you to and from your Olympic event. What with Thomas Cook being official London 2012 sponsors, your coach might even get to whisk along the segregated lanes of the Olympic Route Network (you VIP you). But at a price almost £5000 greater than the total face value of the three tickets, your guaranteed seats come at a huge premium.
...along with one night at a budget Heathrow hotel? There's no coach this time, only a free Travelcard, but boy is that Travelcard going to be necessary. The basketball ends at midnight (in Stratford) and the athletics starts at 10am (in Stratford), so somehow you'll have to exit the arena, catch the specially-extended late-night tube, return to the hotel (20 miles away in Heathrow), get some sleep, have breakfast, check out, ride the tube back to the Olympic Park and get through security, all in ten hours flat. You don't have to wait until September to book this clunker, you can book it now.
Rest assured, most of Thomas Cook's 800 Olympic package holidays aren't quite this eye-wateringly expensive or impractically compact. And they do guarantee official tickets and a hotel room for the night, which may be in short supply in London at Games time. But Thomas Cook do seem to have a lot of tickets for the less desirable preliminary rounds of non-premium sports, so you will be paying well over the odds to see some fairly bog standard events.
If you're not successful in the Olympic ticket ballot, you live outside London and you have money to burn, you might want to bear Thomas Cook's short breaks in mind. But if you're not successful in the Olympic ticket ballot, that could be because thousands of the tickets aren't available to the general public at all, only to corporate packages and official sponsors. Best not complain, because ticket sales are an important part of the funding for the Games, and without big business hospitality we'd be contributing even more of our taxes to the event.
Alternative ways to get London 2012 tickets, number 2
Fancy guaranteed tickets to both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies? They're up for grabs now if you're a major company or large organisation with a bottomless budget. London 2012 (under the mantle of 'Prestige Ticketing') are selling luxury corporate Event Packages with access to VIP seating, hospitality boxes and backstage entertainment. In addition to the two ceremonies, companies also have to sign up for at least four of the premier athletics sessions (the ones at which medals are awarded). A bargain at £4500 per delegate per session, I think you'll agree. Here's what a typical itinerary looks like... (this for the lucky sods invited to schmooze at the Opening Ceremony)
This June, when your own personal ticket application for the Opening Ceremony is refused due to massive public over-subscription, remember it's your own fault for not being important enough. But remember too that the profits from these mammoth corporate packages are helping to subsidise free tickets for London schoolchildren, and indeed the Games themselves.
Olympic update Spectator Policy
Publication of the ticketing terms and conditions gives us the first glimpse into what it'll be like to attend a session at the 2012 Olympics. When you offer to buy a ticket, you also sign up to a Spectator Policy. If the following sounds extreme, that might be because you haven't been to a major stadium event recently and don't know what's the norm. Or it might be because this goes well beyond the norm. You decide.
Be warned. There'll be a security friskdown before every Olympic event, during which your personal belongings will be scrutinised. And all unacceptable items may be removed, permanently, never to be seen again. Let's see what London 2012 will be throwing away.
This doesn't mean no eating or drinking at your seat - there'll be plenty of catering suppliers inside each venue. But it does mean no food or drink will be consumed at the Games apart from that sold by official merchandisers. McDonalds Quarter Pounder and Coke, yes. Packed lunch and carton of Aldi apple juice, definitely not.
I hope Boris sorts out cycle parking outside all London's Olympic venues, because you won't be allowed to take yours in. Don't arrive at the Stadium by Borisbike either. The Cycle Hire zone is being extended east but not quite as far as the Olympic Park, because Barclays aren't official sponsors.
Hang on, have I read that right? Mobile phones may not be taken into a venue?! Mobile phones are a restricted item?! Mobile phones will be confiscated and not returned?! They can't mean that, surely? But that's what it says. Update: They didn't mean that. They've now changed what it says. Phew. But, sheesh.
I can hear the security guard now. "Excuse me Sir, I have reason to believe that your Rolex is a fake, hand it over please." They can't mean all counterfeit products, even that £3 designer jacket you bought from Walthamstow Market, surely? But that's what whoever wrote these terms and conditions has written.
"of any kind..." what sort of ambiguous catch-all phrase is that? I mean, you stop almost anybody in the street and they'll have some kind of promotional material on them - back page of a magazine, IKEA-sponsored Oyster wallet, whatever. I know what London 2012 are trying to stop, and rightly so, but this over-vague phrase appears to give them carte blanche to impound almost any branded object.
Essentially then, when you come to the Olympics LOCOG have the right to remove lots of relatively normal objects from your possession. I can't believe they're going to steal all mobile phones, large handbags and chewing gum, but by signing up you're effectively saying that they can. Whoever compiled this list was either being excessively draconian or wilfully vague. Still, at least they don't appear to want your camera...
This is important. Yes you can take photos or make a video of what you see at an Olympic event. But no you can't sell them to anyone and no you can't give them to the media. And yes you can post pictures on your own website, but no you can't upload any videos to the internet. That's yes to Flickr, Twitpics and photo-blogging, but no to YouTube or Audioboo. I wonder how the Facebook generation are going to react to enforced non-sharing of Olympic videos and audio. More interestingly, I wonder if London 2012 can stop them.
Olympic update 10 travel tips for ticket-buyers
1) Travelling to the Olympics might be a lot easier than you think. If you're not fortunate enough to live nextdoor to the Olympic Park, then the hassle of travelling to the Games might be putting you off buying a ticket. Fret not, because London 2012 really want you to buy a ticket, so they've gone out of their way to provide lots of travel options to get you there. Long distance coaches, park and rides, even pre-bookable train tickets. It's just that you probably haven't realised these options exist yet. Let me advise you.
2) Your Games ticket comes with a free one-day travelcard. And not just any travelcard, but the top-whack zones 1-9 travelcard. That means free travel from Heathrow to Stratford, or Amersham to Woolwich, or Epping to Wimbledon, or whatever. The Games Travelcard even entitles you to free travel on Javelin services between St Pancras and Stratford International, for that special seven-minute cross-town whizz. The only services you won't be able to use are the Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick Expresses. Olympic folk have even gone to the effort of providing a map to show the Games Travelcard zone, 16 months in advance, so you can see for yourself what good value it is.
3) Some Games events outside London also come with a free one-day travelcard. Some events are only just outside London, like the rowing at Eton Dorney, canoeing at the Lee Valley White Water Centre and mountain biking at Hadleigh Farm. Good news. Tickets for these events will include a free London Travelcard and free travel by National Rail out of London to the nearest stations. For events at Eton and Hadleigh, there'll even be shuttle buses laid on to take you the last couple of miles from the station to the venue. Good news, that is, unless you live further out of London (like Reading or Southend), in which case you'll have to pay for all your travel yourself.
4) Rail tickets to the Games can be booked over 12 months in advance. Normally you can't book a long-distance UK rail ticket any more than three months in advance. But some very special arrangements have been made to ensure that rail tickets for Games journeys can be made this summer once ticket allocations are known. If the train you want has non-reservable seats then you don't need to book a specific-timed train, any will do, plus you can travel back up to midday on the following day. If the train you want needs a reservation then you can travel back up to three hours later than the train you booked. Peace of mind, one year early. Unheard of.
5) If you find travel difficult, you can plan an accessible journey to the Games. London already has a step-free travel map, but London 2012 have generated a new one and it goes one step further. Yes, there are blue blobs denoting step-free access from street to platform, but this map also has pink blobs. These denote step-free access from street to train, and are only to be found at a few stations like Stratford or Green Park which have been constructed or revamped recently. The pink blobs are terribly distracting, so I hope they're not the future for London's day-to-day tube map, but if you're in a wheelchair they're also terribly useful. There's also an accessible map for rail travel outside London showing stations in southeast England with "step-free station from entrance to platform, and between platforms, staff assistance available." Not seen that before.
6) There'll also be special coach services from far outside London to the Games. It's not all about trains. For those on a budget, arriving by coach may be ideal. 2012 Games coach services will run to East London from an impressive variety of places - as far afield as Norwich, Leeds, Shrewsbury and Swansea. There'll be special coaches to the sailing in Weymouth too, from towns and cities nearby. Here's a map showing all the many departure points. You'll be able to book seats starting this summer, once ticket allocations are known. But be aware that coaches will be scheduled to arrive at the venue for the start of sessions, so this might mean getting up ridiculously early in the morning.
7) Arriving by bike will be encouraged. All London 2012 venues will have free, secure, managed cycle parking. That's an admirable commitment, and to be applauded. But there'll be nowhere to dock Borisbikes, so you'll have to leave your hired Barclaycycle elsewhere and walk the last bit.
8) For motorists, park-and-ride services will be available. And there was everyone thinking that 2012 would be a public-transport-only Games. Not so. Park and ride facilities for motorists will be available for several venues, often nearby, but in some cases outside the M25 with coach transfer. You'll have to book a car parking space in advance, once you know you've got tickets, but we're promised that these will be "reasonably priced". And this is for one day only, there'll be no long-term overnight parking permitted.
9) Before you book tickets in two places on the same day, check how long it'll take to travel from one to the other. It's no good planning to see gymnastics at Wembley in the morning and shooting at Woolwich in the early afternoon because you'll never get across London in time. For non-residents, a very simple map is available so you can get a sense of what's close and what's not. But for a better guide, the London 2012 website has an interactive "Journey Time Finder" which advises on estimated journey times between the recommended stations at each venue. Wembley to Woolwich might take 1-2 hours, it advises, whereas Coventry to Weymouth is more like 3-4. But in some cases the timings are highly pessimistic, or indicative of major congestion (Stratford to North Greenwich 1-2 hours, seriously? ouch!)
10) Travelling to the Olympics might be a lot harder than you think. Depsite all of the arrangements above, it's highly likely that travelling around London will be hellish during Games fortnight. Trains will be packed, stations will have long queues, roads will be segregated, and it won't take much for the entire city to grind to a halt. This isn't hype, it's all laid out in documentation for London businesses who need to plan ahead to ensure continuity and resilience. The Jubilee and Central lines could have "significant additional delays of over an hour in accessing train services". Hotspots like Westminster Bridge "will be subject to significant additional delays, leading to traffic build-up". For several bus routes, "delays could be experienced as a result of higher traffic levels". Check out the full 22-part details on the Olympic website, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, and prepare for the worst.
Olympic update To say "I was there"
I was asked, earlier in the week, for an Olympic ticket recommendation.
"If I wanted to see SOMETHING, didn't really mind what it was, as long as I could say 'I was there' for the Olympics, what's your hunch on what might be the best thing to bid for?"
Which I thought was a good question. The ticket ballot system makes it really difficult to guarantee a seat, especially for the more popular sports. If you only apply for a handful of events, there's a real risk that they'll all be over-subscribed and you'll walk away with nothing. But you don't want to apply for too many sessions in case you're accidentally over-successful and end up forking out a fortune. So what's the ideal 'dead cert' event?
Some Olympic events are free. Who cares whether you get a ticket or not, you can go along and watch anyway. The marathon, of course, and the race walk. The cycling road race, which heads all the way out to Surrey, and the biking bit of the triathlon. The sailing off Weymouth, so long as you find yourself a non-ticketed bit of foreshore. Or, my top tip, the ranking rounds of the archery, which are two unticketed sessions on the morning and afternoon before the Opening Ceremony. But none of these free events really fit what my questioner required. To truly 'be there', it's going to cost.
The Olympic Ticket guide helpfully highlights all the sessions that organisers think they're going to have trouble selling tickets for. These are the sessions where the "Ticket limit" is 20, not 4 or 6. They're usually sessions where special prices for children and senior citizens are available, and are all for the preliminary rounds of something, never a final, For the best chance of actually winning an Olympic ticket in the 2012 lottery, apply for one these. But be warned. Some £20 sessions have been subsidised to appear generous, when in fact they would have sold out at a much higher price. Don't think you'll get into the athletics for £20, for example, because everyone else will have had the same idea.
Football's probably a very good bet. There are more than a million tickets to Olympic football matches up for grabs, all over the country, where you can go and watch two as yet unnamed countries kicking a ball around for 90 minutes. A Great Britain team is scheduled to take part next year, although few Britons give a damn about Olympic football because we haven't officially entered a team since 1960. And football's so common, so everyday, so ordinary, isn't it? So somehow this doesn't feel like properly 'being there' either.
What you're looking for are the sports that nobody really cares about. That's where the sure-fire ticket opportunities are. Badminton, fencing, handball, judo, table tennis, taekwondo, volleyball, and wrestling - these surely won't be over-subscribed. Or aim for sports with large arenas to fill and plenty of preliminary rounds, sports such as basketball, boxing, canoeing, hockey, rowing and weightlifting.
But some of these won't have a true Olympic feel, because of where they're taking place. Badminton has lots of tickets, but at Wembley Arena, which isn't special. Boxing, fencing, judo, table tennis, taekwondo, weightlifting and wrestling are all being held at ExCel, a cavernous venue with all the charm of a supermarket warehouse. And the volleyball will be hosted at Earl's Court, so that's doubly boring. To be able to say "I was there", you don't want to have gone here.
So here are my top 3 "I was there" choices.
Bronze: Rowing (Eton Dorney, capacity 30000) It's not in Stratford, it's near Windsor, but there's something very Olympic about the rowing. Eton Dorney will host £20 sessions on each of the last four days of July, the first of which (on Saturday 28th) lasts for nearly five hours. Rowing will be a popular ticket choice, but the lake is so huge that there'll be plenty of standing room to cram in lots of spectators, and the view should still be good.
Silver: Handball (Handball Arena, capacity 7000) Nobody gives a damn about handball. I mean, you never see it on the TV. It's nothing but water polo without the water, and where's the fun in that? But London's built a dedicated Handball Arena in the Olympic Park, and its seven thousand seats need filling on the cheap every morning for ten days. Hundreds have gone to Thomas Cook, that's how desperate organisers are to shift these tickets. But there should still be plenty for you.
Gold: Hockey (Hockey Centre, capacity 16000) The hockey's taking place on 14 consecutive days, and all the morning sessions are £20 specials. You'll need to turn up by 8:30am, which is damned early, but all the sessions run past noon, so you're getting a lot of spectating for your money. Best of all, the Hockey Centre is inside the boundaries of the Olympic Park, so you'll be able to spend the rest of the day there soaking in the atmosphere. Bargain. And a dead cert?
Don't blame me if you don't get in, but hopefully these three will boost your chances.