In at the deep end

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IF anyone had reason for a quiet glow of satisfaction and pride as the spectacular Olympic Aquatic Centre was unveiled in London this week it was John Nicholson, project manager for the ambitious scheme and well known at Fylde Rugby Club as a popular and wholehearted back row forward.

He has seen the plans for the centre in Stratford, east London, proceed from an unpromising start to an ultra-impressive finish – the £250m state-of-the-art building has earned wows of appreciation for its scale and quality.

Nicholson, who made the last of his 128 appearances for Fylde in the 1995-96 season, said: “We started in 2003 with a feasibility study, and when I looked at the site then I had to ask myself, ‘Will this ever happen?

“Eight years on from the original artists’ impressions, we have reached the stage where, in the words of International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, we have a building that takes the breath away.

“We couldn’t have picked a more contaminated site in the whole country, and there was so much rubbish dumped there that it was the used fridge capital of Europe.”

There were even traces of arsenic found on the site, as well as four skeletons!

As a precaution the soil had to be washed and cleaned, but in the space of a few years the centre has gradually taken shape and is already being hailed as the jewel of the Games.

It will host swimming, diving, synchronised swimming and water polo.

It features two 50-metre pools and a 25-metre diving pool, with permanent seating for 2,500 spectators and temporary stands for an additional 15,000, meaning an overall capacity similar to that of Bloomfield Road.

Nicholson said: “Just imagine having as many people in the arena as can watch Blackpool, and then imagine the kind of atmosphere and noise so many can generate.

“After the Games, the centre will be used by top swimmers and as a facility for members of the public – that will be the biggest legacy.”

Nicholson, whose mother and sister still live in the South Shore area, has had a hectic schedule, regularly commuting from his home in Southport to the capital.

He added: “It is something you have to be involved in 24/7.”

And although the Aquatic Centre has been built on time, Nicholson’s work to make the Olympic dream a reality is far from over and he has more than enough essential work to occupy him.

Employed by the Olympic Delivery Authority, he is now overseeing work on the completion of the huge media centre, which will house 20,000 journalists and broadcasters from all over the world.

He also has overall responsibility for ensuring that the athletes’ village is complete.

It will accommodate 17,000 competitors and officials and is effectively the biggest housing project in Europe.

He said: “That means there are a lot of plates to spin at the same time, and it is my job to make sure that they don’t come crashing down!”