As a friend of mine back in the midwest might say, “It ain’t all cake and cookies” at the 2012 London Olympics. As with any event of this tremendous size and complexity, these Games have their share of problems.
Of course, the end results of all Olympics are judged against the tragedies of Munich and Atlanta where separate terrorist attacks horribly marred the festivities. Security during these Olympics has been absolutely tight, unforgiving and (as a result) thoroughly successful so far.
But, one of the first major international concerns coming out of London was the security procedures put in place before they even began. Reports throughout the London press kept tabs on Scotland Yard, MI5 and other UK authorities as they rounded up suspected security threats.
On July 5, London police arrested six terror suspects around the city. Five of those men are now facing terrorism charges, allegedly for planning to blow up a bus.
The subtle message sent around to would-be troublemakers was, “C’mon in. We’ll look after you here for a few weeks. Maybe when the Olympics are over, we’ll send you home. Maybe we won’t. Depends on what you had in mind. No worries.” Expect this to remain a story after these Summer Games and the subsequent Paralympics are over.
Then there are those mascots – Wenlock and Mandeville. They got their names from the town of Much Wenlock – site of what many consider to be the first Olympic Games since the Greeks played around with the idea – and Stoke Mandeville Hospital, a care center that first organized an ancestor of the modern Paralympic Games.
Those names are great. Good on ya. But what the hell are the one-eyed clods supposed to be? They look like the love children of an albino Gumby and a cyclops. No one knows what they are. No one likes them – not even kids. No one knows which is which. Toys staring out from the shelves are going nowhere. And, just to make this mistake permanent, every burgh of London has its own statue of these idiots to proudly display long after the Games clear off.
Away from the Games themselves, the realities of hosting the Olympics are hitting the city hard. For months prior to London 2012, the local and nationwide powers that be warned the Brits about the stress they would put on the city. Traffic would be crippled. The Tube Stations, stores, restaurants and theaters would be choked with sports fans flooding into London for a holiday.
In short, the word for Londoners was to get out of Dodge or stay in during the Olympiad. As a result, London feels dead in a lot of spots. Normally buzzing venues like Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Covent Garden seem persistently quiet.
For the duration of the Olympiad, I’ve been riding a 2012 Harley-Davidson Fat Bob back in forth from my hotel to the London Media Centre. I expected to be dead by now due to insane Olympian traffic. I’m not. In fact, I feel pretty good.
Yes, there are people here. There are always people here. But, all the gloom and doom predicted was evidently a load of bollocks. Those folks who ventured into the city for the athletics are sticking to the Olympic venues and not spreading the money around the rest of London. As a result, not only are restauranteurs, shop owners and theater ticket vendors not getting the business boost they were promised when it was announced London won the Olympics over Paris, but it’s becoming one of the slower London tourism seasons in a while.
Business seems to be picking up today (Friday) as this weekend promises to pack in the biggest crowds of the games. In fact, access to the Olympic Park surrounding neighborhood and Westfield Mall in Stratford, London is limited this weekend to just those with event tickets and media passes.
With the increase in traffic came the first deadly mishap of London 2012. An Olympics media shuttle bus driver in his mid-60s hit and killed a cyclist early Thursday morning was bailed by police on Thursday following a fatal collision with a cyclist just outside London's Olympic Park. The driver, in his mid-60s, was arrested on "suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving. He's since free on bail awaiting a hearing.
Meanwhile, the Olympic venues are providing their own headaches. It’s been a long-held assumption that all of the events at each of the venues have been sold out, belly to backside, for months. In fact, some reports had them loaded and locked within minutes of tickets going on sale.
Now fans are asking how it’s possible to see large blocks of empty seats at many of the events. If no one can buy tickets anymore to watch these Games what’s the story with the abandoned stalls? That’s become a big story here as officials say it’s a case of comp’d tickets not being used.
Freebies went out to corporate reps and their families, international visitors and other bigwigs and their various kin. They evidently never got the memo or had better things to do as London Olympic officials are now recruiting members of the UK military to fill those seats while they work on ways to open up some of them to the paying public.