Let the Games begin -- without the gripes

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 26, 2012 - 11:57 AM

Brits and London visitors are embracing the Olympics, despite "whinging" of cynics.

Tourists and Londoners alike flocked to the city’s Tower Bridge for a photo op with the famous icon, adorned with the Olympic rings for the 2012 Games. The Opening Ceremony will be held Friday.

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

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LONDON - Boris Johnson had heard enough. Late last week, the gregarious London mayor suggested that citizens swear off the persistent grousing -- "whinging" in the British vernacular -- regarding any and all things Olympic.

Wednesday's news conference with officials from the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games showcased a few of the topics that have provoked widespread consternation and fuss. There was confusion about the Olympic-only traffic lanes that opened Wednesday morning, and nagging fears of gridlock. Delays had beset some lines on the London Underground. More troops had been deployed to provide security, after a private contractor failed to train enough workers. The Public and Commercial Services union had threatened a strike at Heathrow Airport.

The mostly British media also asked about the smog that had developed, reports that the swimming pool was too hot and a rumor that a "moth plague" was about to overtake the city. Though whin- ging (pronounced whin-jing) is often described as a national sport in Britain, Johnson delivered a message to the complainers in the Sun newspaper. "Put a sock in it, fast," he wrote. "We've got an advanced case of Olympo-funk. ... Let's get behind our team and the Games."

It appeared Wednesday that his message was resonating. At the new Westfield Stratford City mall and during the rush hour at bustling St. Pancras rail station, a random survey of Brits revealed nary a whinge. Some speculated that the splendid weather had lifted the gloom; others thought the beginning of competition, with women's soccer games in Cardiff, Glasgow and Coventry, had excited people who had grown weary of the long buildup.

Several said that despite the media's focus on the problems of these Olympics, the nearly 13 million people who have come out to see the Olympic torch relay -- and thousands who descended upon Olympic Stadium for Wednesday's final dress rehearsal for the Opening Ceremony on Friday -- prove that Britons are getting behind the Games.

"Of course you have the cynics," said Gaynor Nash, who traveled 101 miles from Leicester to attend the rehearsal. "Those people would probably be cynical about the Second Coming. I think that's down to a bare minimum now. Just look at all the people here to see the ceremony rehearsal. People are very, very excited."

Olympic organizers got a double dose of good news Wednesday. London enjoyed one of its hottest days this year (84 degrees), and the Heathrow strike was averted.

An additional 1,200 troops were dispatched this week to provide security in the wake of the fiasco created by private contractor G4S, which did not deliver the number of security personnel it promised. Troops wearing fatigues were staffing all media security checkpoints, while police in the St. Pancras station openly carried some very large firearms. LOCOG officials denied reports they had asked troops to wear track suits rather than fatigues to make them look less conspicuous.

At the Stratford City mall -- the UK's largest, built next to the Olympic Park -- shoppers stood at the top of the entry stairway to catch a glimpse of the athletes village. Though it is heavily fortified with razor wire, concrete barricades and security cameras, the village emitted a party vibe even from a distance. Music blared from the high-rise apartment buildings decorated with the flags of the resident athletes' countries, a perfect photo op for the mall-crawlers.

Fencer Susie Scanlan of St. Paul caught a glimpse of British tennis player Andy Murray in the village, always a hot spot for noncelebrity athletes to mingle with the famous. "The whole thing is mind-blowing," said wrestler Chas Betts of St. Michael. "There are so many awesome athletes walking around. The energy around the village is great. You can just feel how happy everybody is to be there."

There still were controversies Wednesday as Londoners adjusted to restrictions and congestion. Many people are upset about what they view as heavy-handed protection of the Olympic brand and the interests of its sponsors. Thursday is expected to be the busiest day at Heathrow, and both the Tube and the streets have yet to see their heaviest traffic.

But plenty of people have chosen to cut the whinging and embrace the role of Olympic host. For them, not even the threat of a moth plague could spoil that.

"We're a small country," said Tracy Croft, who traveled with Nash to attend the Opening Ceremony rehearsal. "This is something that is drawing people together across the UK. Of course it's exciting."

  • LONDON OLYMPICS

    Opening Ceremony:

    6:30 p.m. Friday • TV: Ch. 11

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