Mon, September 23, 2013

Anxiety reigns in London on eve of Games

By THANE BURNETT, QMI Agency


The Tower Bridge displays the Olympic rings ahead of the 2012 Summer Games in London on July 24, 2012. (Dave Abel/QMI Agency)


All right, lads.

Here they come again.

Steady now. Don't show fear.

This one's for God and country.

Remember, we made it through the campaigns of 1908 and '48. Keep calm and Olympic on!

When the 2012 Games arrive July 27 at London's $804.9-million showpiece stadium, a record already will have been broken. For the first time, a city will have been host of the premier summer sporting and cultural event in three different years.

So, you would think there'd be a certain calm before the storm -- a relaxed revelry toward a spectacle the British are historically and perhaps genetically bred for.

Thanks to stunning TV backdrops, an engaging population and tried and tested mettle-under-fire emergency responses that withstood Nazi air bombings, London is arguably more qualified to hold the Olympics than any other place on earth.

And if you told the British on a Monday they had to hold an Olympics on Tuesday, there likely would be less public nail-biting as there has been during the seven years leading up to these Games.

While there's anxiety before every Olympics -- "Are We Prepared?" is a headline that has been repeated in about a dozen languages over the years -- London's media and pundits have raised the bar in second-guessing their own.

Although it also may mask a public mood that still hasn't caught the spark from the Olympic torch.

British odds-makers have taken bets on whether that flame will even arrive on time (odds of 66 to 1, at last check). And chances an athlete misses an event because of a transportation snafu is about two to one.

The press worries about the transit system, riots and terrorists in the sky.

Recently, cyber-security expert Peter Sommer of the London School of Economics theorized computer systems may be at risk of a "blended attack" on both physical and online targets.

So, more time has been spent debating computer safeguards and the "ring of steel" -- anti-aircraft defences set up around London -- than anticipating a party to come.

Assistant commissioner Chris Allison -- who was on hand to study security during the Vancouver Winter Olympics -- is placing as many as 9,000 officers on London streets, as well as another 6,500 special officers as extra backup.

Olympic ticket scams, hooligans, protesting extremists, cost overruns, threats of blood shortages, cellphone blackouts, disease and union threats are all thrown into a big basket of "what ifs?"

As one Fleet St. headline recently spelled out: "London 2012: Guess who'll be loser at these Olympics? Us!"

And remember, this is their celebration.

Ellis Cashmore, a professor of Culture, Media and Sport at Staffordshire University's School of Health, in Staffordshire, England likens it to a party where the unsure host keeps grilling guests: "Are you enjoying yourselves?"

"Everyone is too polite to answer honestly, so they contrive a false smile and nod affirmatively," Cashmore said.

The teeth-gnashing has been relentless in the British press which -- while suffering through an inquiry into media phone hacking and influence-peddling -- seems to be taking frustrations out on Olympic minders.

"But on the streets, there is no Olympic vibe," Cashmore said.

"No one is talking about it at my gym, or in the supermarket or at work.

"I wouldn't say the mood is gloomy -- indifference is a more accurate representation."

Although Cashmore understands some less-than-celebratory public chatter as the Games draw near.

Mindful of past fiscal boondoggles such as Wembley Stadium and the Millennium Dome, the professor said: "Most Brits, I suspect, think this is another disaster-in-waiting.

"And, as usual, they expect to get stuck with the bill."

But forgotten in the iffy mood of London is that these Olympics could and should be absolutely brilliant.

All the ingredients are there. Including the chance Britain may surpass itself.

Canadian-born economist and social scientist Daniel Johnson, who now works at Colorado College, has developed a remarkable formula that has predicted Olympic medals with 93% accuracy over the past six Games.

Using 60 years of historical non-athletic data -- including per-capita income, population and the home-turf advantage -- Johnson calculates the Brits will come in fourth in the overall medal count. But they could suddenly eclipse the 45 medals, including 20 gold, he forecasts.

"Being the host country is the single most important variable -- so they might just outperform," said Johnson, who figures Canada will win four gold and a total of 17 medals to put us in 16th place.

As a fan, he says he sets aside his ledgers and data sheets -- which are rarely wrong -- and waits for remarkable outcomes.

That's the great thing about the Games, the researcher believes.

There's always a chance of greatness that defies what most people had expected.

The Olympics are still defined by what just took place in that split-second rather than what could happen tomorrow.

Whenever they come out of the London fog, the British might want to factor that in.