People are pouring into the city. There is no doubt about it. It takes something special to noticeably swell the ranks of one of the greatest cities in the world and that something is the Olympic games.
Citius, Altus, Fortus. By its very nature the Olympic games lends itself to hyperbole but it is no exaggeration to say that London has been transformed. In the long term, this means the extraordinary change to the state of a giant site in Stratford, East London. A beautiful new velodrome exists where there was once a 50ft pile of fridges. A powerful illustration of the transformative effect Europe’s biggest construction project has had on this area, leaving hugely impressive facilities designed with a very deliberate emphasis on their value once the Olympic circus rolls out of town.
Right now London is in the grip of stage fright. The extraordinary heat of the moment – in both senses – caused the tracks to buckle on the main route to Olympic park a few days ago. Performers missed the dress rehearsal for the opening ceremony. London it seems, has got the jitters. But we are wrong to think this is anything new. Strikes, antipathy and general discomfort grip every city before the games descends. I am told that this has been the case for cities in the past such as Los Angeles, Sydney, Athens and Beijing. There are no exceptions. The world is on the front door step with 1.6 billion people expected to watch the opening ceremony and nerves are understandable. However, Heathrow’s busiest day has passed without incident, due in large part to the extra staff drafted in to cover the strike threatened by border control. The army has stepped in with a reassuring sure-footedness to fill the void left by the failure of security contractors. With the unstoppable momentum of the Olympic machine finally arriving, Londoners are, reluctantly at first, being swept along.
London is ready. The city has been gleaming. Radiant in this long overdue summer sunshine and the streets are throbbing with games participants, both officials and athletes. It has been a great joy to see the levelling impact this vast influx of extraordinary individuals has had. Where London, and Londoners, can sometimes seem consumed by a sense of their own importance, the presence of so many great athletes and competitors from all over the world seems to have reigned in the shoving and swaggering, at least for now. Meanwhile the IOC itself exists behind an impenetrable wall of security at the Hilton on Hyde Park Corner. They are, however, a stones throw from the Playboy Club and a giant casino – make of that what you will.
The coverage on television, radio and in newspapers has emphasised the scale of Olympic Park. The vastness of this extraordinary sporting facility. But, quite frankly, what do you expect? Thirty-two world championships happening simultaneously in a single city. If the Olympics were conceived today they would be considered an impossibility. That is what makes it such a unique celebration, an unparalleled festival of pure human achievement. A marathon of competition where every athlete competes, with half an eye at least, on a glimmer, however faint, of gold. The stage is set for this incredible event. Let the games begin.