New London Olympic landmark gains final ring

LONDON (AP) — It rises 35 stories high, is made of ruby red steel and vaguely resembles a squashed roller coaster.

Standing next to the main stadium for the 2012 Olympics, it bears the formal name of the “ArcelorMittal Orbit” — although everybody will probably call it the London Olympic Tower or somesuch.

Meant to be a tourist landmark like Big Ben or the London Eye wheel, the abstract work of art is already getting some odd reactions. London’s vigorous press has already coined a few nicknames: the Eyeful Tower, the shisha pipe, Hubble Bubble. Tourists gazing at it for the first time Friday as the final link moved into place added a few descriptions of their own.

“It’s a combination between a helter skelter and a helix,” said Hugh Shelmerdine, 60, a credit manager at a leasing company who likes it. “It adds a bit of a difference to the Olympic Park. Without it everything is a little bit too controlled.”

The 1,650 U.S. ton top ring of the showcase sculpture of the London Olympics was lifted by three cranes and slid into place Friday. The project had been repeatedly delayed to adjust to weather conditions; little or no wind was necessary to keep the movement of the steel to a minimum and also so the four-man team could hear one another from above.

The tower is designed by London-based artist Anish Kapoor, a previous winner of the prestigious Turner Prize, and his design partner Cecil Balmond. Their design, dominated by a looping lattice of tubular steel, won a competition to be designated the art project of the games.

One of Britain’s foremost artists, Kapoor is known for large-scale installations like “Marsyas” — a giant blood-red PVC membrane displayed at London’s Tate Modern in 2002 — and “The Bean,” a 110-ton stainless steel sculpture in Chicago’s Millennium Park. But the Orbit is a departure from previous work, based on taking a point in space that is “orbited” by a dancing line of steel.

For his part, Kapoor said in a statement he hopes the structure will engage the viewer “through form, color and reflectivity.”

But much is left to interpretation — and that was precisely the point, said project architect Kathryn Findlay. She doesn’t mind that some people see DNA helixes, or roller coasters or Lego or a series of knots — what matters is they look at the piece and get involved with it.

“I think it is a positive thing that no one sees it the same way,” she said.

London Mayor Boris Johnson could barely contain himself with joy.

“It would have boggled the minds of the Romans. It would have dwarfed the aspirations of Gustave Eiffel, and it will certainly be worthy of the best show on earth, in the greatest city on earth,” Johnson said in a statement. “And as the final giant steel loop is swung into place, lifting the ArcelorMittal Orbit to its full height, we are truly witnessing the most significant iconic addition to London’s skyline for decades.”

Soaring above the stadium and the swimming pool, the tower will give visitors vistas across the city from two viewing platforms.

When finished, the 375-foot tower will be 72 feet higher than the Statue of Liberty and twice the height of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square.

The project got its start in a coat check room at the World Economic Forum in Davos two years ago. London Mayor Boris Johnson bumped into steel mogul Lakshmi Mittal — rated the wealthiest man in Britain by the Sunday Times Rich List with an estimated wealth of $28.1 billion — and gave him a 45-second pitch.

Johnson remembered that Mittal immediately said, “‘I’ll give you the steel.’”

But Mittal said he had a slightly different recollection of the meeting, saying the chatty mayor spoke for a full 45 seconds.

“I didn’t have a chance to say yes or no,” he joked last year.

ArcelorMittal, a steel and mining company, will fund up to $30 million of the $35 million project. The London Development Agency will provide the remaining $5 million.

The agency hopes to recoup its contribution by renting the restaurant and viewing platform to corporate sponsors who want to take in the 20 mile-view. International Olympic Committee rules will restrict its use during the games.

Those waiting to watch the last link drop on Friday tried to imagine the possibilities as they waited for workers to finish. Jim Nagel, 67, from Somerset, thought it would be ideal to actually make it an amusement park ride — and sounded almost like a kid as he imagined zooming around the edges.

“It should have a capsule,” he said. “I want a capsule to ride around the red tubes.”

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