From Queen Elizabeth II to Paul McCartney and Daniel Craig, the 2012 London Olympics promise to be a star-studded, glamorous event, according to BRIAN JOHNSTON.
The British are famous for their sense of tradition and history. A visit to London provides a bewildering choice of historic houses and palaces, museums, royal pageantry, and some of the world’s most iconic buildings. Yet the city doesn’t just rest on its considerable laurels: it’s hip and cool, constantly innovating, and renowned for its energetic nightlife.
This summer, London has even more on offer as it hosts the 30th Summer Games between July 27 to August 12 and the Paralympics from August 29 to September 9. It also becomes the first city to host the modern Olympics three times, having previously done so in 1908 and 1948. This time around, it has spent a colossal £9.3 billion on the endeavor, though that covers not only Olympic infrastructure but wider transport upgrades and urban regeneration in east London, where the Olympic Park is located.
In all, 200 buildings were demolished, 1.4 million square meters of land cleared, and 2,818 new homes and 30 new bridges constructed. The former contaminated industrial site now not only has an 80,000-seat stadium and other venues, but 250 acres of green space and riverside gardens planted with some 4,000 trees.
The Games will officially be opened by Queen Elizabeth II, a somewhat more cheerful monarch than Henry VIII, who this year celebrates her Diamond Jubilee. The opening ceremony entitled The Isles of Wonder is the creation of Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle and will commence with the ringing of the largest bell ever cast in Europe. It will be a four-hour, £27 million extravaganza whose details remain a tightly guarded secret. Sirs Paul McCartney and Elton John and pop group Take That are rumored performers, and some say Daniel Craig—featuring as James Bond in a mini movie during the event—will parachute into the stadium.
What we do know is that dance group Underworld will provide the soundtrack and winged cyclists, BMX riders, ballet dancers, and 900 schoolchildren are somehow involved in the ceremony, said to be inspired by the Shakespeare play The Tempest.
Olympic Park might be the main focus of attention, but events will take place across London and some (such as soccer and sailing) well beyond. Among the more striking venues, beach volleyball is hosted on Horse Guards Parade close to Downing Street, and archery at the iconic Lord’s Cricket Ground. The marathon and road cycling races begin on The Mall, the avenue leading to Buckingham Palace that is usually the focus of royal celebrations.
In all, over a million people are expected to travel to London during the Games, and 10 million tickets will be sold. Some 30 official Live Sites will also broadcast the Games to open-air venues across the country. However, this is just a fraction of the 4 billion strong audience expected to watch on television worldwide.
So far, 154 nations have qualified at least one athlete for the Games, but over 200 nations are expected to participate, and over 17,000 athletes will attend. In addition, there are a staggering 380,000 officials, media workers, and volunteers involved in the Games.
This time around, the Olympics feature 46 sports divided into 39 different disciplines; cycling, for example, is divided into mountain biking, BMX, road, and track events. Baseball and softball have been dropped, but women’s boxing features for the first time. In all, 771 victory ceremonies will unfold flags and play national anthems for the medalists.
Even the sports showcase the best of the city, with many historic venues being pressed into service. At Greenwich, the views are superb. This is the point from which the world measures its time and its longitude and has a noted maritime museum. During the Olympics it will be an impressive backdrop for eventing, a cross-country equestrian event featuring over 42 jumps and see riders and horses tackle water obstacles, slopes, and hills.
Also on the banks of the Thames in the west of the city, Hampton Court Palace will provide a spectacular setting for the road cycling time trial. The palace already boasts a rich sporting history, being home to the oldest surviving real tennis court in England, and an 18-hole golf course.
The palace was first built in the 16th century by Cardinal Wolsey, but was so grand it outshone the royal residences and incurred the envy of Henry VIII. Wolsey lost his job and his palace and Henry moved in, greatly extending it, and hurriedly changing the furnishings when he changed wives, which was six times in all. Who said drama is only confined to the Olympic arena?
When the flame arrives, it will have passed through 1,000 communities throughout the UK and have been carried by 8,000 bearers. Nobody knows who will have the final honor of lighting the Olympic flame, or how. But one thing is sure: it won’t be the last of the dramas as the Games begin.