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olympic notebook

Security blanket not so comforting

By John Powers
Globe Staff / July 17, 2012
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Though the failure of the hired private-security firm to provide enough Olympic venue guards was both unsettling and embarrassing to the London organizers and the British government the outcome probably will be more desirable since the military will provide 3,500 extra personnel to augment its original 7,500.

Still, what’s disturbing is that officials who understandably have been obsessed with security for seven years didn’t know until the eve of the Games that G4S couldn’t deliver as promised.

“How on earth could the minister responsible for delivering Olympic security be the only person who didn’t know?” Labour shadow secretary Yvette Cooper asked of Conservative home secretary Theresa May.

Security represents an estimated $850 million chunk of the Olympic budget and London will have everything from surface-to-air missiles, RAF fighter jets, and an aircraft carrier moored in the Thames.

Yet the biggest concern may be homegrown terrorists. When more than 50 people were killed in a suicide bombing of the city’s transportation system the day after London was awarded the Games in 2005, the four Islamist terrorists responsible were all natives.

A wild ride

Several busloads of athletes and officials were treated to an unwelcome Magical Mystery Tour of London Monday as the 45-minute trip from Heathrow Airport to the Olympic Village took four hours thanks to driver confusion. “They saw more of our fantastic city than they would otherwise have done,” quipped mayor Boris Johnson. “And that’s no bad thing.” . . . Anyone planning on being in London for the five-ringed tea party had better bring a brolly. Forecasters say that the wet weather that has turned the capital sodden will continue when the Games begin next week. That’s no surprise to anyone who has been there and it’s not that different from the conditions when the city last played host in 1948, when there was measurable rain on 10 days after a sunny start . . . The 530-member US Olympic team — 269 women, 261 men — is nothing if not experienced. Seven of the 228 veterans, who number 124 medalists and 76 champions, will be competing in their fifth Games, 21 in their fourth, and 57 in their third. The Magnificent 7 are high jumper Amy Acuff, archer Khatuna Lorig, shooters Kim Rhode and Emil Milev, equestrian riders Karen O’Connor and Phillip Dutton, and volleyball player Danielle Scott-Arruda. Twenty-five athletes come from New England, 13 of them from Massachusetts. While it’s significant that on the 40th anniversary of Title IX there are more females than males on the US team for the first time, what’s more noteworthy is that they’ll likely win more medals. A rough projection, based on the results of world championships over the past year, has the women collecting 49 to the men’s 44. The male-female numbers are a result of addition by subtraction. When the IOC dropped softball and baseball from the program after 2008, that meant 15 fewer women but 24 fewer men.

Clothed in mysteryWhat’s puzzling about the Congressionally-stoked uproar about American athletes wearing Chinese-made parade uniforms is that the USOC didn’t make domestic production a condition of Ralph Lauren getting the contract, which took effect in 2008 and runs through the 2020 Games. If the company will make the 2014 winter apparel here, as it has promised to do, there’s no reason why it couldn’t have been done this time. Not that homemade duds are a US Olympic tradition. Roots, a Canadian firm, was the outfitter for 2002, when the Games were held in Salt Lake . . . China, which figures to top the overall table in London, returns 29 of its 51 gold medalists from 2008. While officials don’t expect to match that number this time they’re still counting on winning somewhere between 35 and 40 and finishing among the top three nations overall, which is a decidedly conservative reckoning. “We must overestimate the difficulties, the challenges, and our competitors, be thoroughly prepared, and do everything we can think of to provide more assurance for our final victory,” observed sports minister Liu Peng . . . USA Basketball only had to cut two of the original members of the 20-man finalist pool that it named in January. Only Rudy Gay and Eric Gordon were trimmed. The rest — LaMarcus Aldridge, Chauncey Billups, Chris Bosh, Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, Lamar Odom, Derrick Rose, and Dwyane Wade — either were injured or withdrew. Five of the 12 players named are 2008 gold medalists (Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Deron Williams) and five more (Tyson Chandler, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook) played for the 2010 world champions. James Harden and Anthony Davis are the only global rookies. The Yanks will face France, Tunisia, Nigeria, Lithuania, and Beijing bronze medalist Argentina in the prelims with the top four advancing to the quarterfinals. Australia, Brazil, China, Great Britain, Russia, and Spain form the other group.

Back in good gracesBack in the IOC’s good graces just in time for the show is Kuwait, whose Olympic committee was suspended two years ago because of government interference. That means that the country’s 11 athletes will be able to march behind their own flag instead of the IOC’s five-ringed version . . . The record 26 doping positives from Athens may well exceed 30 if a few suspicious results from the retested samples are confirmed. If so, the athletes involved will have their medals stripped and their results invalidated eight years after the fact and will face minimum two-year bans . . . David Beckham was left off Great Britain’s men’s soccer team but look for him to have a visible role in the opening ceremonies. While Becks says that the honor of lighting the stadium cauldron should be given to “an Olympian that has done incredible things for our country and has won gold medals,” he’ll possibly be one of the final torchbearers. That would be a fitting reward for Beckham, who went to Singapore as one of London’s cadre of star lobbyists before the IOC vote. Captaining the British side will be Ryan Giggs, the 38-year-old Welshman and Beckham’s former Manchester United teammate, who’ll be making his global debut five years after retiring from international play . . . Zara Phillips, who’ll compete for the British eventing team at the Games, which will be formally opened by her grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, will be following a royal family tradition. Her father, Mark, won a team gold medal in 1972 and silver in 1988 while her mother, Princess Anne, rode in 1976 in Montreal, where she was the only female athlete not subjected to gender testing. Phillips, who’s a former world champion, will be making her Olympic debut. Though she qualified in both 2004 and 2008, she had to withdraw after her horse, Toytown, was injured. This time she has a new mount, suitably named High Kingdom.

Looking goodIf recent success at the venue counts for anything, the US tennis team should be golden at the Games since Serena Williams won the Wimbledon women’s singles title, she and sister Venus claimed the doubles, and Mike Bryan and Lisa Raymond took the mixed. The Williams sisters will be going for their third doubles gold and Venus, who won in Sydney, her second singles . . . Though they won’t make their return to the Games until 2016 (after a 92-year hiatus), US rugby team members already are reaping the benefits of the sport being back on the Olympic program. Fifteen men and eight women will have access to the USOC’s training center in Chula Vista, Calif., will be able to live nearby, will receive stipends, and will be able to compete in more international tournaments . . . Making a record 10th trip to Olympus at 65 will be Canadian equestrian rider Ian Millar, who won his first medal (a team jumping silver) in Beijing. “Captain Canada,” who made his debut in 1972 and will surpass Austrian sailor Hubert Raudaschl for most appearances, already would have the record had Canada not joined the US-led boycott in 1980. Millar’s quadrennial optimism is unsurpassed. “We always think we’re going to win and we’re really surprised when we don’t,” he says. “I think every athlete feels that way. If you don’t think you’re going to win, you shouldn’t go.”

John Powers can be reached at jpowers@globe.com; material from Olympic committees, sports federations, personal interviews, and wire services was used in this report.

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