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Excitement in the air

London ready to let Games begin

By Shira Springer
Globe Staff / July 26, 2012
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LONDON — Big Ben and bobbies made popular photo ops Wednesday in Parliament Square, as Olympic tourists roamed the capital and looked forward to the Opening Ceremonies. Crowds of foreigners also walked along the Mall, taking pictures of Buckingham Palace at one end and the finish area for the marathons and road cycling races at the other end. Meanwhile, brilliant sunshine produced the hottest day of the year in London and drove many locals outside for lunch in St. James’s Park, where they sat bemused at the Olympic buildup.

And amid all the buzz and bemusement, athletes made their way around the city, too. Walking past Westminister Abbey and camera-toting tourists, US women’s volleyball players April Ross and Jen Kessy went to their venue at Horse Guards Parade. In Team USA gear, they elicited curious looks.

With fewer than 48 hours until the London Games officially begin, the host city is embracing the Olympic experience. It is also bracing for what will be a logistically trying 17 days between expected transport problems, rainy weather, and tight security. Welcoming the sports world to a metropolis of nearly 8 million people is no easy feat. And no amount of planning, street signage, and advisories completely prepare an Olympic host for what will happen once fans flock to venues.

Still, with Olympic and Union Jack flags flying above metal crowd-control barriers on the Mall, London is decked out for the Games and ready to go. Excitement is building, albeit tempered by the practical concerns of some Londoners.

“I have a lot of friends and clients involved,” said Duncan Ogilvie, a strength and conditioning coach based in London. “So, I’m excited to see them perform and do well. Walking around, everyone is pretty much here for the Olympics and excited about it.”

And curious about how the whole event will come together. Soldiers stationed along the Mall became impromptu tour guides Wednesday, armed with maps and tidbits of information about venues. They explained the layout of the race finish area on the Mall and pointed the direction toward nearby Horse Guards Parade, where beach volleyball will take place, and gave directions to the nearest underground subway stop.

Eating lunch a short walk from Horse Guards Parade, Virginia Tuckey of London said she looked forward to attending beach volleyball Saturday night. Tuckey knew how lucky she was to score tickets to one of the most popular events at the London Games.

“I think it’s the hot event that people really want to go to,” said Tuckey. “And I don’t think it’s for the sport. The Olympics have been a long time coming, so it’s exciting that it’s finally here.”

London was awarded the 2012 Summer Games in July 2005, narrowly defeating favorite Paris. Since then, East London has been transformed by Olympic Park construction, leading architects have designed new modern venues, and organizers have turned historic landmarks into world-class competition sites. And there have been problems with ticketing, cost overruns, and complaints about transport plans.

The latest transportation-related issue surfaced Wednesday when the special Games Lanes went into effect and long commutes followed. The special lanes are reserved for athletes, dignitaries, and media buses, much to the frustration of motorists. Because of the Games Lanes, many commuters have decided to ride the underground subway known as the Tube, taxing an already stressed system. Londoners worry transportation problems will worsen once the Games begin, tempering excitement among locals.

When asked if she was looking forward to the Opening Ceremonies, Christie Gaskell said, “To be honest, I’m dreading it because I’m already struggling to get on the Tube. That’s my main concern, that I’ll not be able to fit on the Tube in the morning. I’m going to sound like a killjoy, but I’m quite indifferent to the Games. As long as it doesn’t interfere with work, I’ll be fine.”

Her sentiments were echoed by several colleagues as she picnicked in St. James’s Park.

Whether enthusiastic about the Olympics or not, Londoners worried about the weather, with rain predicted for five of the next 10 days.

Still, while Londoners with workday and weather concerns may dread the arrival of the Games, visitors from near and far were happy to take in both historic and Olympic sites.

“I’m not a huge fan of cities, but London has been a real gem,” said Pam Nelson of Redwood, N.Y., as she passed by Big Ben. “I sense a great anticipation for a world event. I’m thrilled to be here. This is a chance of a lifetime.”

Nelson, a former high school and junior college volleyball coach, has tickets to the women’s indoor volleyball competition.

On a family day trip to London, 11-year-old Aiden Berrecloth of Leighton Buzzard, England, voiced great enthusiasm not only for the Games, but also British athletes.

“I wanted to see what London was doing and I really liked the Olympic rings on Tower Bridge,” said Berrecloth.

When asked what he was most excited to see during the Games, he said it would be British athletes “winning the most medals.” Although that likely won’t happen, London is looking for one big win with a successful, well-run Olympics.

Shira Springer can be reached at springer@globe.com.

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