Worries end when the Olympic Games begin
07/19/2012 12:01 AM
07/19/2012 1:02 AM
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.
There was a thick haze over the city for weeks prior to the Opening Ceremonies, leading to the nickname “Grayjing.’’ News reports quoted outraged environmentalists and there was much discussion over what would happen to the marathoners and triathletes. Chinese organizers scrambled under pressure to deliver blue skies — well, less gray anyway — by closing factories and restricting traffic on city streets.
Once the Games got going, we turned our attention to the breathtaking Opening Ceremonies, Phelps’ quest for eight gold medals and Bolt’s jaw-dropping times on the track.
No, the sky never got truly blue. And, yes, China still has human rights issues. But the Olympics were well-organized and exciting, and our then-8-year-old daughter got the experience of a lifetime, visiting the Great Wall and the other ancient wonders of that amazing city.
And so, here we are again, four years later, reading about what could go wrong.
There were athlete Twitter postings about transport delays. Sebastian Coe, head of the London organizing committee said: “But for a missed turning and a couple of Tweets, we’re in pretty good shape. I don’t think we should get out of proportion some of these issues. We had a tweet yesterday talking about a four-hour delay, it was actually two-and-a-half. We had a driver that missed a turnoff. Out of 100 coach journeys that’s likely to happen.’’
Like the Chinese, the British are hoping to offer blue skies after the wettest summer in more than 100 years. There is much concern over soggy sandpits, mucky equestrian trails and waterlogged stadiums.
Hopefully, the sun will come out by next Friday. If not, we will have our umbrellas and rain slickers handy.
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