London is a place steeped in history, from every churchyard, pub and palace to every theater, park and monument.
So it is only fitting that London is the first city to host the modern Olympics three times.
Only in London would the British Library display the marathon finish-line tape from the 1908 Games while across town, Christies in South Kensington is auctioning off a 1908 gold medal won by rower Raymond Etherington-Smith in a dramatic race during which the Belgian eights capsized. Suggested price: $10,000.
In London, the past matters, even if the present bears no resemblance to it.
The mix of old and new will be the overriding theme. The Games open Friday with a ceremony modeled on Shakespeares play The Tempest in a new, environmentally conscious stadium on land reclaimed from an industrial waste dump.
Competition venues include the iconic Lords Cricket Grounds and the All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon village.
Old and new: Beach volleyball players in bikinis spiking balls at Horse Guards Parade.
The Olympics have survived all sorts of turmoil, as has London, and the 1908 and 1948 Games illustrate how the institution of the Olympics has changed, as has the great capital.
In 1908, the Games were reassigned to London from Rome after Mount Vesuvius erupted and Italian authorities decided they could not spare funds to stage the sporting spectacle.
The postwar 1948 Austerity Games were held in a city still recovering from bombardment. Athletes brought their own food rations and stayed in military barracks.
The 2012 Games are being held in a city that lobbied for the Games before terrorist bombs killed 56 on the public transport system in 2005 and before the populace was reeling from the global economic crisis.
The Games are altogether different now. Or are they?
A closer look
In 1908, the stadium, which was to be used for the Franco-British Exhibition, was built at a cost of $120,000 and it contained a track, a 100-meter swimming pool, a cycling oval and seats for 66,000. It was a Games with no budget, whereas the budget for 2012 is $15 billion. About 2,000 athletes from 21 countries competed, compared with 10,500 athletes from 204 countries today.
For the first time, women competed, although modern Games founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin objected. Among the 37 female athletes was Wimbledon champ Lottie Dodd, who won a silver medal in archery. Great Britain won more medals 146 than any other country for the first and only time.
The 1908 Games featured the first elaborate Opening Ceremonies. Athletes could only compete for their home country. The U.S. team, made up of many Irish-Americans from New York who were pro-independence for Ireland, refused to dip the flag to the king. It was the first of many rows between Great Britain and its former colony. Olympic politics had arrived.
In the 400-meter run, the British claimed American runners blocked Lt. Wyndham Haleswelle and asked for a re-run. The Americans refused, so Haleswelle won the gold medal by jogging around the track by himself.
For the Americans and the British, the Olympics were a clash of ideals.
The Americans came with the concept of modern sport while England was still obsessed with the concept of the gentleman sportsman, said Rebecca Jenkins, author of The First London Olympics: 1908. The Americans felt the Olympics werent about rules of fair play but about winners and losers because they came from the strenuous life of Roosevelts America. They didnt understand each other and got up in each others noses.