Editorial: All bodes well for a great Olympics

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The Olympic stadium in London. Photo / AP
The Olympic stadium in London. Photo / AP

The world has become accustomed to the lead-up to its major sporting extravaganza, the Olympic Games, being a time of fretting and foreboding. Always there seems to be a multitude of worries ranging from stadiums that appear unlikely to be completed on time to athletes' accommodation that shows every sign of being substandard. Athens, in 2004, set the tone and Beijing four years later was little better. Invariably, of course, most of the concerns prove groundless thanks to huge last-minute efforts by the hosts. Notwithstanding this, London deserves congratulations for a build-up that, teething troubles with security and transport aside, bodes well for the success of the Games of the 30th Olympiad.

Rather than the usual last-minute scramble, London has, in many ways, been ready for the event for the best part of a year. A large part of the reason for this is the passion and efficiency of those charged with delivering the Olympic facilities. The initial plan for the event's competition hub - the transformation of an industrial wasteland in the city's East End - was not all that encouraging.

But it has been made to work, partly perhaps because so many people recognised that the Games could transform this historically downtrodden area.

The 80,000-seater Olympic Stadium is ready for competition, as are all other facilities. Weeks ago, the city's police, transport bodies, councils and Games organisers had all submitted reports saying they were fully prepared. As the 10,500 athletes from 205 nations filtered into London, there has been nothing to substantially dispel that optimism.

This impressive degree of preparation also owes much to the enthusiasm of the British people. When they last hosted the Olympics, in 1948, it was a time of post-war austerity. There are some parallels in 2012, with Britain struggling to emerge from a double-dip recession. But that has been set aside. This will not be an Olympics where the occupants of the host city are largely uninterested or bemused bystanders or, indeed, hostile because of the inconveniences introduced by the event.

There could be several reasons for this. At the height of the British Empire, the world's attention was routinely focused on London. Is there a pride and relish rooted in nostalgia that this will again be the case? Or are Britons embracing the Games as a welcome respite in troubled times?

Whatever the reason, there is no doubt about the excitement. A year ago, as many as 250,000 people applied to be among the 70,000 volunteers aiding visitors at competition venues. Ticket applications for most events had taken off. Of course, as is usually the case, some hoteliers assumed this enthusiasm to be worldwide and hiked their prices excessively. Many potential overseas Games attendees were discouraged. The upshot, however, is a swag of very good deals for those deciding late in the piece to be part of the Olympics.

Of course, not everything will be perfect. There is Britain's wretched summer weather for starters. It was not envisaged that gumboots would be mandatory footwear when the Games were set for July 27 to August 12. There are also lingering doubts about possible overcrowding and the ability of London's rail system to cater for visitors wishing to get quickly to venues. London Bridge station is one example of potential over-congestion as equestrian fans returning from Greenwich Park run into city workers heading home in the opposite direction.

But this should not cloud London's achievement. In a harsh economic climate, it has succeeded in preparing for the Games in a manner that puts most of its predecessors to shame. For that reason alone, there is every reason to think these will be among the best Olympics.

- NZ Herald

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