Mon, September 23, 2013

All eyes set to focus on London

By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency


A tourist snaps pictures in front of the Tower Bridge ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games on July 22, 2012 in London, England. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images/AFP)

LONDON, ENGLAND - Remarkable what a day of sunshine can do after four weeks of soggy gloom that made the prospect of playing host to the 2012 Olympic Games damp at best.

As the opening ceremony nears and the city begins to buzz around the already crowded streets, moaning about the impending traffic woes and security concerns was replaced by talk of the weather Sunday as Londoners flocked outdoors to the parks and pub patios in search of a long overdue sunburn.

In a sporting context, the glory of Bradley Higgins becoming the first Briton to win the Tour de France helped raise the national pride following a failed Euro 2012 effort in soccer, Andy Murray's close-but-no-cigar showing at Wimbledon and a lack of Union Jack to celebrate at the British Open in Lytham St. Annes.

And if the public needed a little rallying cry to kick off the opening week of the Games, the venerable Sunday Times supplied it with a screaming headline spread over two broadsheet pages:"Stand by, world, London is going to outdo Beijing."

Ultimately, Games officials and British politicians are banking on London Pride being more than the name of the popular ale that has long been served in these parts as the city -- and country -- gets ready to embrace the Olympics. That they will take place in one of the more congested and complicated cities ever to host them only adds to the challenge ahead.

"I believe we'll be better than the Beijing Games," British cultural secretary James Hunt told the Times. "They did a brilliant job, but it was a Games that was playing to China's strengths and about China's role in the modern world.

"We have something different to say. London is one of the great global cities. I believe it's the greatest city on the planet. And this is our chance to showcase that to the whole world."

Depends on who is scoring, of course, and ultimately whether the concerns that hound every Olympics before they begin prove to be unobtrusive and benign or threaten to ruin the mood.

Similar worries in Beijing four years ago were quickly and efficiently put to rest by a government that wasn't going to allow anything to disrupt the propaganda show that those Games in many ways were. Four years prior, Athens put on a memorable Olympics, at least in part due to the fact that thousands of Greeks were so worried about the threats of traffic mayhem that they bolted the city en masse.

London is historically one of the world's most difficlut cities to move around in, a blight that will be even more pronounced now that Olympic lanes on the city's roadways are in effect, guaranteeing massive traffic snarls and frustration. As well, city officials plan to limit the amount of vehicles into the city, which will even further tax the city's efficient but crowded train and tube network.

Esthetically, London is ready to look good on television with no shortage of the "beauty shots" that make producers drool. In a city thick with iconic vistas, both historic and otherwise, we'll see plenty.

The torch relay hit new heights Sunday morning when it made a round on the iconic London Eye in the hands of 17-year-old Amelia Hempleman-Adams. The famed Tower Bridge is adorned with Olympic rings and the newly renamed Elizabeth Tower, which houses Big Ben, is lit up nightly in Olympic colours.

Barring catastrophe, like any Olympics, success will be best judged by what happens on the fields of play. Wiggins' win Sunday on the streets of Paris certainly will help pump up the partisanship just days before the opening ceremony.

Pressure will shift to Team GB and the goal to exceed the haul of 19 gold medals it collected in China. In one bookmaker's shop here Sunday, projections were for the Brits to collect 25-plus of the shiniest prize, a figure that might be on the optimistic side given the pressure that goes with it.

The home team is only one of the measuring sticks, of course. As always, the host city, with its grand ambitions, faces the biggest test of all.

"This is a very important event for London, Great Britain and sport," IOC president Jacques Rogge told reporters when he arrived this weekend. "For some it will be a difficulty, but I believe the nation loves and wants the Games. We will try and keep the problems to as low a level as possible.

"The place of the Games (in history) will only be decided at the end. I believe and hope they will be good. Going to London is going to the country that invented modern sport in the second half of the 19th century It is a country that loves sport and that will come out."

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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