In October the ExCeL Centre, a million-square-foot convention hall in East London's Docklands, will host Destination Star Trek London, a Trekkie congress that promises to bring together all five of the TV series' captains on one stage for the first time. It has the makings of a madhouse, but ExCeL should be able to handle the historic convergence, given what it's been pulling off during the Olympics: hosting all of the combat sports (boxing, fencing, judo, taekwondo and wrestling), table tennis and weightlifting under the same roof. To catch everything, you'd need to be equipped with warp drive.
Ping-Pong Diplomacy is nonexistent at ExCeL—the Chinese are set for a ruthless sweep of the golds—but the combat diplomacy that has been conducted within the center's walls is making global headlines. Last Thursday, British prime minister David Cameron arrived with Russian president (and noted judo enthusiast) Vladimir Putin, who made a show of bear-hugging countryman Tagir Khaibulaev after the judoka won gold in the men's 100-kg event. Afterward Putin made his first public remarks on the trial of Russian punk band Pussy Riot, whose members are facing seven years in jail for performing a profane anti-Putin song in a Moscow cathedral last February. "I don't think they should be judged too harshly," Putin said, but it was unclear if he meant full clemency or just less time in prison. In that day's Times of London, Pete Townshend and other British musicians published a plea to Putin on behalf of the band that included the line, "Dissent is a right in any democracy."
The ExCeL scene has been more about rights than about rights and lefts. The following morning 16-year-old judoka Wojdan Shaherkani (above, in white), wearing a tightly fitted black cap over her hair, became the first Saudi Arabian woman to compete in an Olympics—a monumental breakthrough despite her elimination in 82 seconds by Melissa Mojica of Puerto Rico in the opening round of the women's 78-kg division. "Hopefully," Shaherkani said, "this is the beginning of a new era." At the boxing venue another new era began on Sunday when Russian flyweight Elena Savelyeva won the first women's bout in Olympic history.
Fencing also had its moment on the geopolitical stage. On Aug. 1 a phone call from Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela, interrupted the press conference of fencer Rubén Limardo, who had just ended his country's 44-year gold medal drought with a victory in the men's individual épée finals. Limardo did not let the moment go to his head: He left ExCeL on public transit while wearing his gold—and led light-rail riders in Venezuelan chants and let them pose for pictures with the medal.
Putin, punk rockers, a Saudi trailblazer, female boxers and a people's fencer: With reality like that at ExCeL, who needs science fiction?