News Column

Vibrant London Set to Stage Cheerful and Authentic Olympics

July 26, 2012

John Bagratuni, dpa

Britain is ready to embrace the Olympics as a strong home team including Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins aims to share the headlines with global superstars Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps.

Wiggins' historic victory on Sunday raised the excitement as the Olympics come to London a third time, following 1908 and 1948, with even the queen and Prime Minister David Cameron congratulating him.

"It will put the country in the right mood. It's going to be an incredible festival of sport we're going to see," Cameron said.

Queen Elizabeth II formerly opens the Games on Friday night as seven years of preparation come to an end and 16 days of sports competition will draw billions of people to their TV sets to watch 10,500 sporting heroes from 204 countries compete for 302 gold medals.

Chief organizer Sebastian Coe, a two-times 1,500m gold medallist, spoke of "an extraordinary journey these seven years" since the choice of London in 2005.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said huge and enthusiastic crowds will provide the great atmosphere they have already showed during the Olympic torch relay.

"This is a country that loves sport," the IOC president told dpa earlier in the month.

"I always said this is the country that invented modern sport in the second half of 19th century. This is also the country that put sport into the school curriculum and use sport as a tool of education. They were the first to do that."

A new Olympic Park in Stratford is the heart of the Games but iconic venues such as Wimbledon (tennis), Wembley (football) and Lords (archery) are also part of the show.

Britain has spent an overall 9.3 billion pounds (14.4 billion dollars) on the Games despite a difficult economic climate, with security taking up a huge chunk of money in a city where suicide bombers killed more than 50 people the day after the IOC gave the nod to London in July 2005.

A last-minute glitch when a security company failed to provide the promised number of personnel has been handled by the government, which will provide additional troops to safeguard the Games.

London's old transportation system is facing its biggest test to move millions of visitors around town on top of the regular users of the tube, trains and buses.

The Games will start of with a bang on Saturday, with Briton Mark Cavendish a top favourite in the cycling road race, which will also feature Wiggins, and Phelps going head to head with countryman Ryan Lochte over 400 metres in the pool.

Lochte has emerged as a major challenger within the US team for Phelps, who won an unprecedented eight gold medals 2008 in Beijing for a total 14 golds. The two will also meet in the 200m medley.

The Jamaican Bolt redefined the men's sprint with gold medal runs in world record times in the 100 metres, 200m and 4x100m at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Bolt has further improved the records since then but also has a formidable rival in countryman Yohan Blake, who beat him twice at the Olympic trials, and won the 100m world title last year when Bolt famously false-started.

"This will be the moment, and this will be the year, when I set myself apart from other athletes in the world ... A lot of legends, a lot of people, have come before me, but this is my time," Bolt said in the final countdown, unfazed by a recent hamstring problem.

Athletics and swimming will take centre stage as usual at the Games but tennis stars Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray will get lots of attention along with the US basketball dream team, footballers Ryan Giggs and Neymar, the cyclists and other top athletes.

But there are also athletes such as stateless South Sudan refugee Guor Marial who will run the marathon under the Olympic flag. Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Qatar are sending women to the Olympics for the first time as the IOC reaches a milestone of gender equality for all participating nations.

War-torn Afghanistan is also sending woman sprinter Tahmina Kohistani, who may not advance beyond the heats but said that "I am here to open a new way for the women of Afghanistan."

The US is tipped to top the medal table again after a close race with then hosts China in Beijing 2008. The US had more medals (110-100) while China led the golds 51-36.

Team UK will be a major factor as well after millions of pounds (dollars) have been invested in high-performance sport, with the new venues providing a legacy which is to last in the country.

"I can tell you that they have never been better prepared than this team," British Olympic supremo Colin Moynihan said on Thursday.

More than 6,000 doping tests are to ensure fair competition on the playing fields and act as a deterrent for potential cheaters. As in the past, all samples will be kept for eight years for possible retesting. Ten track and field athletes were this week named as having failed tests and will miss the Games.

The London Games are also the first true internet Olympics, with effectively all major TV networks streaming all sports live via their websites or apps, the IOC having the strong presence in all aspects of social media from Facebook to Youtube.

Athletes are also encouraged to share their experience via social networks - as long as they don't misbehave like triple jumper Voula Papachristou, who was kicked out the Greek team for a racist remark on Twitter.

Source: Copyright 2012 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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