It seems to happen every four years, doesn’t it? Locals in the Olympic host city fret for months, whine about traffic congestion, gripe about ticket distribution, and yes, many of them flee. Visitors worry about security and transportation. Then, the Opening Ceremonies come along and all the anxiety seems to disappear amidst the pageantry. By the time the endless Parade of Nations gets going, everyone is in party mode and ready for the athletes to take over the spotlight.
By the end of the first week, those pre-Olympic worries seem like ancient history. That certainly is the case at these Games.
The 2012 Opening Ceremonies were deemed a huge triumph as more than a billion viewers around the world tuned in to see Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle’s $42 million tribute to Britishness — Shakespeare, James Bond, Mr. Bean, the Beatles, Mary Poppins, and, of course, The Queen.
As the Games reach the midpoint Sunday, Londoners are in a fairly jolly mood. There have been some glitches, to be sure. But organizers could not have asked for a better first week. After record-rainfall for months, the weather has held up nicely. The javelin speed train is running on schedule. Buses are running on time. The 70,000 volunteers have been perky and helpful. The venues — many of them set at historic sites such as Horse Guards Parade, Lord’s Cricket Ground, Wimbledon, and Wembley — are picture-perfect. If there have been security issues, they haven’t been big enough to make headlines.
And the sports competition has provided plenty of drama.
Here’s a look back at the first seven days• The Medal Race: Team USA took over the top spot on the medal chart Saturday with its 24th gold. Along with 11 silvers and 14 bronzes, the Americans had 49 medals heading into the evening competitions. China was second with 23 gold, 16 silver and 11 bronze (50 total). Host Great Britain, after hang-wringing for four days awaiting its first gold medal, was up to 11 golds, seven silvers and eight bronze. Their goal coming in was fourth place, so they are ahead of schedule with much success in rowing and cycling.
Korea sits in fourth with nine gold, two silvers, five bronze (16 total) and France is fifth with eight golds, six silvers, eight bronzes (22).• Best U.S. performances: The U.S. swim team and U.S. women’s gymnastics teams dominated as expected, as did Serena Williams, the women’s soccer team and the two basketball teams, although the NBA star-studded men’s team got a scare from Lithuania on Saturday before escaping 99-94.
Going into the final night of competition, American swimmers had won 14 of the 28 available golds and 28 medals total. Superstar Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian of all time with five medals, bringing his total to 21. His rival and relay teammate Ryan Lochte also won five medals, though he was hoping for more than two golds. Bubbly 17-year-old Missy “The Missile’’ Franklin was the fresh face among the U.S. stars with four medals.
Gabby Douglas was the biggest winner on the gymnastics team, taking team gold and all-around gold, the first black athlete to win an all-around title. The rest of the U.S. team was very strong, and Danell Leyva of Miami wowed the crowd with a daring and perfect bars routine to clinch bronze in the men’s all-around.
The U.S. women’s basketball team, which hasn’t lost an Olympic game in 20 years, is winning by an average of 36 points. Heading into the Lithuania game, the men were winning by 52. Williams rolled past Maria Sharapova 6-0, 6-1 to win the women’s tennis gold on Saturday, and twins Bob and Mike Bryan won the men’s doubles.
The American women’s volleyball team is also rolling, and pulled off a huge upset of reigning champion Brazil.• Biggest Disappointment: All of Great Britain woke up in a euphoric mood the morning after the Opening Ceremony because beloved cyclist Mark Cavendish was expected to win the first gold medal for the host nation in the road race. Tens of thousands of fans lined The Mall leading to Buckingham Palace for the finish. Coming off Bradley Wiggins’ Tour de France win, surely a Brit would win the Olympic road race, right?
Cavendish finished in 28th place, and it was Alexander Vinokourov of Kazakhstan standing atop the medal podium smiling with the gold when it was all over. Cavendish’s collapse was considered the most deflating Olympic performance in recent history.• The Home Team: As if that weren’t enough to depress the locals, imagine their disappointment when they turned on their tellies and saw patches of hundreds of empty seats at many venues. Tickets to Olympic events have been nearly impossible to get for months, and yet, sections of seats sat vacant in the first few days of the Games. Turns out they were mostly in the accredited areas for the “Olympic Family.”
• Blemishes: Turns out there was no need to panic after Cavendish’s bad day. Rowers Helen Glover and Heather Stanning won Team GB’s first gold on Wednesday, and they have been coming in at a steady pace since.
The London organizing committee (LOCOG) frantically attempted to avoid a potential public relations nightmare by getting back some tickets and having volunteers, students and military fill the seats. They also put some of those tickets on the market for the public. By the end of the week, the Olympic venues were 85 percent full. On Friday, the velodrome and 80,000-seat track stadium were filled to capacity and the atmosphere was said to be electric.
It goes without saying that there would be a scandal or two. This time, they came at the Aquatic Center and the Badminton venue. Chinese 16-year-old phenom Ye Shiwen raised eyebrows when the first of her two gold-medal performances came in a time five seconds faster than her previous best. She swam her relay leg faster than Lochte swam his, leading veteran U.S. coach John Leonard to call it “unbelievable” and “suspicious.” She and the Chinese federation denied any suggestion of doping.
The Chinese were also involved in the badminton controversy, which resulted in four doubles teams being disqualified for throwing matches to manipulate the draw. A Chinese team, two from Korea and one from Indonesia were bounced.• Looking Ahead: Swimming is over, and Track and Field takes over the spotlight. Is Usain Bolt still the fastest man in the world? Will double-amputee Oscar “The Blade Runner” Pistorius contend for a medal? Can U.S. decathlete Ashton Easton win the gold? How about Sanya Richards-Ross in the 400 or Allyson Felix in the 200? Will five-time World Cup champion Brazil finally win its first men’s soccer gold? Will the favored U.S. women’s soccer team, volleyball team, and the two basketball teams avoid upsets?
Buckle your seatbelts and keep that remote close at hand.