Triathletes swimming in Hyde Park’s Serpentine. Volleyball players diving onto a makeshift beach at the Horse Guards Parade.
Marathoners running past Buckingham Palace. Tennis stars not wearing white at Wimbledon.
Athletes will transform iconic landmarks into sporting venues at the London Olympics, a summer spectacle that promises to be rich in pomp, circumstance and history.
Expect to see Queen Elizabeth II waving from the royal box during Opening Ceremonies on Friday. And perhaps the Rolling Stones performing at Closing Ceremonies on Aug. 12.
Who will light the cauldron flame? Sir Steve Redgrave? Dame Kelly Holmes? Roger Bannister? Daley Thompson? Derek Redmond and his father? David Beckham? Or it could be a young athlete symbolizing London’s theme — “inspire a generation.”
Much stickier questions confront the 2012 Games. Security has been a concern since July 6, 2005, when London upset Paris in the bidding to be host. Less than 24 hours later, celebration turned to horror when suicide terrorists’ bombs ripped through three subway trains and double-decker bus, killing 56 people.
Transport worries have already hit traffic-choked London, where the creaky Tube system experienced yet another breakdown in May when a train stalled underground on the Jubilee Line, a main Olympic artery, and passengers walked out through the tunnels.
At least the persistent and record rain that has drenched England for the past three months has disappeared, for the moment.
As for competition among the 10,500 athletes from 204 nations in 26 sports, can the U.S. keep its place at the top of the medals table, or will China — which surpassed the U.S. in the gold medal count four years ago — assert its might? How many golds will swimmer Michael Phelps win in his last Olympic hurrah? Will Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt break any of his world records? How will the audiences react to women’s boxing and the two women added to Saudi Arabia’s team after worldwide pressure was exerted on the kingdom? Will the home team — known by its self-deprecating public for excellence in the “sitting-down sports” of cycling, rowing, sailing and equestrian — make Britain proud?
London is the first city to host the modern Olympics three times. In 1908, the Games were reassigned to London from Rome after Mount Vesuvius erupted. After 12 years of no Olympics, the post-war 1948 “Austerity Games” were held in London. Athletes stayed in military housing, Germany and Japan were banned, and Bob Mathias and Fanny Blankers-Koen were big winners.
Sandwiched between the 2008 Beijing and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, London has also used the Olympics as a lever for redevelopment. The former industrial wasteland and garbage dump of East London have found new life. The 500-acre Olympic Park, hub of the Games, is dotted with bird houses and bat boxes. Surrounding neighborhoods of artists, immigrants and street markets blossom.
Sports venues will be an assortment of historic, temporary and newly constructed facilities.
The emphasis is on practical sustainability and avoidance of the white elephants that have saddled previous hosts with enormous debt and little-used arenas. “Our vision is to use the power of the Games to inspire change in this country,” said Sebastian Coe, the gold-medal-winning middle distance runner and former Parliament member who led London’s bid to the finish line.