The London Olympics Opening Ceremonies are eight days away, and can’t get here soon enough.
Then, and only then, will we stop reading about how awful things are going to be, how the security is inadequate, the weather is going to stink, the (fill-in-the-blank workers) are threatening to strike, and the local residents are griping about gridlock.
The hand-wringing is getting tiresome.
Please bring on Paul McCartney, 120 farm animals (a few secrets have leaked out) and the endless Parade of Nations with the U.S. delegation in its very un-American berets and Made in China Ralph Lauren outfits.
Let’s get that Michael Phelps versus Ryan Lochte rivalry going. Let’s see who truly is the world’s fastest Jamaican: Usain Bolt or Yohan Blake? Let’s witness history as double amputee Oscar “Blade Runner’’ Pistorius of South Africa becomes the first amputee runner to compete in the able-bodied Olympics. And let pixies Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas start tumbling and tugging on American heartstrings.
Don’t get me wrong. I am deeply concerned about Olympic security. And I mean deeply.
I felt the ground shake outside the Comfort Inn hotel in Atlanta that awful night in 1996 when a bomb went off at the adjacent Olympic Park, killing two people. And I was with my family in London the morning of July 7, 2005, (now known in England simply as 7/7) when four suicide bombers orchestrated a synchronized attack that targeted rush-hour commuters on the subway and a double-decker bus. Fifty-two victims were killed, along with the four bombers, and 700 were injured.
So, yes, security is of paramount importance to me. But I have learned after covering 11 Olympics — 5 Summer, 6 Winter — that for the most part, organizers do a better job than we expect, and much of our fretting is for naught.
Eight years ago, there were rumors the 2004 Athens Olympics would be moved to Toronto because skeptics feared the Greek infrastructure, security, and transportation system would be inadequate. Two weeks before those Olympics, the center of Athens was a crane-filled construction zone with workers scrambling to put the finishing touches on venues.
Hotel workers in Athens threatened to strike, Athenians complained of gridlock on the newly paved roads, ticket sales were lagging and security topped the list of worries. It was the first post-9/11 Summer Games, and Greece was not exactly the most pro-America country. The Greeks spent $1.2 billion on security, deployed 70,000 security personnel and still it didn’t seem enough.
Heck, I was required by the owners of The Miami Herald (as were journalists from many American papers) to attend a seven-hour terrorism survival course, in which we were taught how to deal with car bombs, mass panic, chemical warfare and blast injuries. They taught us how to apply a tourniquet, and distributed gas masks we were instructed to keep at hand throughout the Games.
I left that session terrified, wondering if I was a bad parent for bringing over our 4-year-old daughter. A week into the Athens Olympics, sports had thankfully taken over the news, and our daughter happily bounced from lap to lap on city buses as the warm and hospitable Athenians went out of their way to make us feel welcome.
Four years ago, before the 2008 Beijing Games, headlines centered on air pollution and protests over China’s human rights record, particularly in regards to the Darfur conflict.