Olympics: Hosts finally enjoying themselves so let the Games continue

By Dylan Cleaver, David Leggat

Nathan Cohen (left) and Joseph Sullivan's gold was the lift the New Zealand squad needed.Picture / Mark Mitchell
Nathan Cohen (left) and Joseph Sullivan's gold was the lift the New Zealand squad needed.Picture / Mark Mitchell

The halfway point has arrived, so how are the Games shaping up, both in and outside the venues?

Broadly speaking they're travelling pretty well. There have been problems but you'll get those, in some form, at any major event where you bring together a range of cultures with disparate expectations.

Now that Britain's medal chase is well under way, the festival atmosphere should continue well into the second week.

New Zealand team

It has been a first week that hasn't quite reached the heights one would hope. The rowers have largely held up their end of the bargain, but we knew they would. What they've lacked, until Joseph Sullivan and Nathan Cohen's gold, was a signature performance to kick-start their Olympics.

Mark Todd made a nice story, winning a fifth medal in his seventh Olympics, but Andrew Nicholson would feel the team should have won silver and he bronze in the individual, had there not been a delay in the dressage just before he was due to parade.

Linda Villumsen could not have gone much closer than she did to medalling in the time trial, but a miss is as good as a mile on the medal table. BikeNZ are now under pressure to hit their target of four medals.

Aside from Lauren Boyle, the swimmers have been a disaster.

Trying to project a medal count is fraught, but the NZOC and Sport NZ are probably still confident they will get the 10 medals needed for the Games not to be considered a failure.

New Zealand are not the only team undergoing a bit of anxiety. It took the hosts to the fifth day to win gold - though they're flying now - and Australia have had a miserable time of it in the pool, one of their traditional strengths.

China's emergence as a sporting superpower has been confirmed, with some lingering suspicion that they might know something the rest of the world doesn't. They look set to scrap with the US for top dog.

Transport

A cyclist was killed when he was struck by an Olympic bus. But that tragedy should not disguise that the transport system seems largely to be running satisfactorily.

The high-speed javelin train from St Pancras railway station to the entrance to the Olympic Park in Stratford, the main method of ferrying crowds to the Games, takes six minutes and can't be faulted.

The Underground and overland trains, the odd hold-up aside, are also good value.

One bus, taking media from a transport hub at Russell Square out to the rowing venue at Eton Dorney, a trip which usually takes around an hour, took two-and-a-half hours this week.

The driver, from Yorkshire, hadn't driven in London before signing on.

Hosts

The English are thoroughly enjoying their Games.

They're a cheerful lot when on home soil and they love a good queue - unless they're one of the thousands with noses out of joint over a hopeless ticketing system which has left large chunks of empty seating. Put that down to sponsors and foreign sporting dignitaries - euphemistically referred to as members of the Olympic "family" - failing to use them.

For that, the International Olympic Committee and organisers Locog should give themselves an upper cut or 10. It's an embarrassment.

Locog have tried to fix the problem, and about 9000 reclaimed tickets have been resold in the last few days. Around 1600 tickets for the athletics programme are due to go on sale in the next couple of days.

The Games have swamped England's national newspapers to the point where you need to pack a cut lunch and thermos before setting off to find news on Syria.

They're loving their heroes to bits. The crowds for the likes of gold medal-winning time trial cyclist Bradley Wiggins, and the rowers are terrific.

As for their media, there is a sameness to much of the coverage, which is understandable to a point.

However, the BBC's work has lacked any effort to be objective. Commentators shouting "go girls/Zara/Mary/Bradley/Mark/Chris" punctuate their calls. Hard, objective analysis? Forget it.

The hand-wringing angst over when Team GB, as the home team are crassly known, would win their first gold medal is behind them. TG for that.

Venues

Locog has done a wonderful job of incorporating some of its landmarks into the programme, such as the final turn on the road race occurring at Buckingham Palace and the time trial ending on the driveway of Hampton Court Palace.

Greenwich Park for the equine events is a grand site.

But the temporary structures erected at those venues have failed to cope with the numbers. The quality of the food has varied substantially but the patience shown at the outlets has been impressive.

This is very much the build-it-up and tear-it-down Games. Olympic Park looks like a building site for the precise reason that it is - nobody has done better out of these Games than scaffolders - but at least they will not be left with white elephants.

It's quite strange wandering around the vast Olympic Park: there are places where it looks like they've done a really nice job and others where they haven't tried very hard at all. The key thing to remember is this area used to be grim, with a large part of it quite literally a dumping ground for used fridges.

The basketball arena is underwhelming and the velodrome functional, while the aquatics centre is poorly designed for viewing and downright ugly from the outside.

There's certainly nothing in London to match the Bird's Nest and Water Cube at Beijing, but Lord Coe is counting on these Games being remembered for what went on inside the venues, not the venues themselves.

Weather

The three days leading up to the Olympics provided Londoners with their first hint of summer.

However, some scruffy weather moved in just in time for the opening ceremony and it hasn't really moved on. As Lord Coe would testify, you can plan for every eventuality, apart from the weather.

- NZ Herald

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