With just eleven days to go before the Olympics explode into action, it suddenly all feels real. The keenest athletes have already arrived and started tweeting in earnest; an American commented on their coach driver getting lost for four hours on the way to the Olympic Park (who is presumably getting paid by the hour) and another quipped that he had arrived at the Winter Games. Heathrow is rolling up its sleeves ready for action, Sebastian Coe is finally experiencing a nervous breakdown (sponsored by official London 2012 partners Bupa Healthcare) and the working population of central London is looking forward to two weeks of ‘working’ from home.
At present the British public seems to be divided into two camps: those excited about hosting the biggest global event in existence and the international carnival atmosphere this evokes, and those who think the Olympics are an extortionate monstrosity grinding the capital to a halt (or cab drivers, as they’re otherwise known). Admittedly there exist logistical problems, but I find it very difficult to imagine any event of such magnitude involving no glitches whatsoever. Hosting the Olympics in the middle of a double dip recession was never going to catch the inhabitants in the best of moods, but overall it’s my feeling that those in the former camp outnumber those in the latter; the Games are definitely taking place here, very soon, and no amount of calling in to radio shows to complain will cause the organisers to call the whole thing off. If only complaining was an Olympic sport… (I am now falling into that very British trap of complaining about people complaining. It’s fine though, I’m just being ironic).
Prospective Olympians are reaching the final stages of their preparation in the hope of peaking at just the right time. In the case of cycling this has involved the 21 day tour de France, which despite its name is not a sight-seeing holiday. Completing such an arduous event just prior to the Games seems equivalent to the Australian sailing team crossing the oceans to Weymouth to get a feel for the boat. In athletics we saw some of Britain’s main contenders in action at Crystal Palace in the final Grand Prix event before the Games. Britain’s only reigning athletics Olympic gold medal winner Christine Ohuruogu (400m), as well as Goldie Sayers (Javelin), Mo Farah (5,000m) and Perri Shakes-Dreyton (400m hurdles) all secured wins while Dai Greene was edged out by rival Javier Culson in the 400m hurdles. The maverick GB Athletics head coach Charles van Commenee, known as ‘the Volcano’ for his vicious outbursts, has set a target of eight medals and one gold in athletics for London 2012. This would double the accomplishment at Beijing, but most athletics writers I’ve come across seem to think it’s achievable, which is very exciting.
Here are a few things to look forward to in the Games:
The opening ceremony: the world is watching- everyone look busy: Livestock? Check. 27-tonne bell? Check. Danny Boyle has been tasked with directing the £40 million project viewed by over a billion worldwide. The show will display uniquely British scenes, including a full-scale reconstruction of Glastonbury Tor, huge maypoles, artificial clouds releasing British weather and a troupe of NHS nurses displaying their vocation of overwork and underpay by overdancing for no pay whatsoever. Although it is yet to be confirmed, there is talk of the Queen being raised on a platform from below the ground fully adorned with crown and robe, playing a screeching rendition of the national anthem on a guitar made of pure gold. Either way, it’s going to be epic!
Adam Gemili in the 100 metres: The 18 year old who until last year was pursuing a career as a professional footballer has blown the field away since turning to sprinting, winning the Junior World championships in 10.04 seconds. It’s unlikely he’ll make it to the final but it will be exciting to watch the fearless youngster take on the world’s best. Gemili’s coach, Wayne Burnett, said ‘he will be pulling at the coat-tails of the likes of Bolt soon enough’. Burnett may need to change his tactics due to his fundamental misunderstanding of athlete’s attire and the rules preventing manhandling, but Gemili’s rise to prominence seems inevitable and the London Olympics will provide him with valuable experience.
Perri Shakes-Dreyton, the local lass: Smashing her personal best by 0.4 seconds to win the 400m hurdles last week, she certainly appears to be hitting top form at the right time. She lives within viewing distance of the stadium (poor girl!) so if she succeeds in winning a medal she could well be one of the British stories of the Olympics; an example of East London athletic talent to give the notion of Olympic legacy legitimate meaning.
Usain Bolt vs Yohan Blake: Jamaican sprinting; it must be something in the water. Actually, has anyone tested the water for banned substances? They certainly do seem to be ‘running’ away with elite sprinting at the moment. Bolt was jogging his way to world records in Beijing and looked an absolute ‘shoe-in’ to take both 100m and 200m golds this year, but the up-and-coming Blake managed the seemingly impossible and beat Bolt in both events in the Jamaican trials two months ago. We shall have to see whether Bolt has taken these unprecedented defeats in his ‘stride’. Who will ‘come out of the blocks’ fastest in London? (Hang on, that’s not even a pun, it’s just a literal description…).
Michael Phelps: is it a man or is it a fish? No, it’s definitely a man: Winning eight in Beijing four years ago and six in Athens in 2004, Phelps holds more Olympic gold medals than anyone in history. Not bad, not bad at all. But, like the ominously emerging shark fin from Jaws, a rival has been steadily creeping up on him. Ryan Lochte, a fellow American, outperformed Phelps at last year’s World Championships, winning five titles to Phelps’ four. The pair will show down in the 200m freestyle and medley in London. Something tells me it’s going to get very splashy indeed.
Great Britain Football Team (England plus Giggs): Remember during the nineties and early noughties when England struggled to find a decent left-winger, and at one point Eriksson gave up, placing Heskey on the left? Everyone imagined what might have been had Giggs chosen to represent England rather than Wales. Now, finally, we can see this in action… sort of. Giggs is 38 and the team is under-23 other than Bellamy and Micah Richards. This being the first time Britain has formed a football team, it will be interesting to see how the team responds to the event and in particular playing at home. In terms of footballing entertainment, the likes of Neymar will be on display for Brazil so the summer of international football is by no means over yet.