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Volume 24 No. 158
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London The Center Of The World's Focus As 30th Summer Olympics Begin

Seven years of “meticulous planning come to a spectacular climax” Friday night when the Olympic flame completes its 8,000-mile journey through the U.K. and “the eyes of the world turn to London” for the Opening Ceremony, according to Ashling O’Connor of the LONDON TIMES. The US$42M “visual feast conceived by Danny Boyle, the Oscar-winning director, will set the tone for the Games during the next 17 days and try to evoke the essence of Britishness, as the world’s biggest sports event comes to London for the third time since 1908.” LOCOG Chair Sebastian Coe said the Games were London’s “extraordinary journey,” and described its culmination as “the largest broadcast moment that this country will ever have experienced.” Crowds turned out Thursday “in huge numbers” as the torch “took a grand tour of London’s most historic sights.” LOCOG organizers said that they “could ‘live with’ the forecast drizzle or sporadic showers, but that driving rain could disrupt” the Opening Ceremony (LONDON TIMES, 7/27). In London, Robin Scott-Elliot notes the Opening Ceremony is expected to “be performed in front of a full house in the Olympic Stadium.” A number of the “most expensive tickets for the four-hour-long ceremony remain on sale but organisers will look to ensure any seats not sold will be occupied.” A LOCOG spokesperson on Thursday said, "We are confident there will not be any empty seats tomorrow” (London INDEPENDENT, 7/27).

ALL HAIL THE (UNITED) KINGDOM: U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday visited the Olympic Park and said, “Seven years of waiting, planning, building and dreaming are almost over. We want this to be the Games that lifts up a city, that lifts up our country and that lifts up our world, bringing people together.” He added, “This is a time of some economic difficulty for the UK but look at what we are capable of achieving as a nation even at a difficult economic time. This is not a London Games, this is not an England Games, this a United Kingdom Games” (London TELEGRAPH, 7/27). London Mayor Boris Johnson said, “The stadium is ready, the velodrome is ready, the aquatic centre is ready, the transport system is running brilliantly” (LONDON TIMES, 7/27). Johnson: "It is our chance to show the world what we are all about, our chance to throw a great party” (London INDEPENDENT, 7/27). More Johnson: "It is unbelievable to watch people who are normally very cynical, very sceptical types getting caught up. It is like a benign sort of virus” (London TELEGRAPH, 7/27).

LIGHT MY FIRE: Johnson said that so far 3.9 million people in London alone "had watched the Olympic torch on its journey to the main stadium in Stratford, east London.” He said that the audience “has exceeded all expectations.” The GUARDIAN’s James Meikle notes city authorities originally “had expected about 1.5 million.” Johnson said even "hard-bitten" members of his own family were "agog" (GUARDIAN, 7/27). The GUARDIAN’s Alexandra Topping notes the Olympic torch relay was “celebrated with a sun-drenched pop concert in front of 80,000 fans at London's Hyde Park on Thursday night, after the flame was carried past some of the capital's most famous landmarks.” In front of a “Coca-Cola-branded audience who raised their bright red ‘beat pads’ in perfect colour-coordinated corporate harmony, the ebullient popsters Rizzle Kicks paid tribute to the 8,000 torchbearers who carried the flame, including Coca-Cola's ‘Future Flames,’ made up of community volunteers around the country” (GUARDIAN, 7/27).

SECURITY ISSUES: The AP’s Paisley Dodds notes security “jitters were being felt across the British capital on the eve of the London Olympics, with the biggest mall in Europe briefly evacuated Thursday and noticeable security changes in place at the Olympic Park.” Cameron said, "You can never provide a 100 percent guarantee but what I've seen, and what I've helped to coordinate is, I think, a fully joined-up effort that involves one of the best armed services anywhere in the world" (AP, 7/27). The FINANCIAL TIMES’ Roger Blitz notes the mood on Thursday was “also helped by signs that some feared logistical problems had so far failed to fully materialise.” What was expected to be “the busiest day in Heathrow airport’s history passed off smoothly, as fewer passengers than forecast arrived and departed, aided through terminals by a small army of volunteers.” In addition, traffic in central London was “not significantly affected by the introduction of designated lanes, as drivers again heeded warnings not to come into town” (FINANCIAL TIMES, 7/27).

DAWN OF A NEW DAY: A FINANCIAL TIMES’ editorial is written under the header, “Three Cheers For London’s Olympics.” The preparations for the London Olympics and Paralympics “have been truly Herculean” (FINANCIAL TIMES, 7/27). Former Chinese Olympic Committee General Secretary Wei Jizhong said, "With the background of the economic crisis in Europe, this Olympic Games will be limited by the budget. It will be an 'affordable' Olympics. It won't be an extravagance” (GUARDIAN, 7/27). In London, Tom Peck writes under the header, “New Olympic Games Chapters To Be Written In London” (London INDEPENDENT, 7/27). In Chicago, Phil Hersh writes these Games “should begin to write a story free of the preconceived global narrative that has accompanied all recent summer games.” The Olympic “center stage really should belong the entire time to the nearly 10,500 athletes competing in 26 sports, with the city's already well-known landmarks and history as set decoration” (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 7/27).

RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME: In Detroit, John Niyo writes if “any city truly is equipped with the kind of self-deprecation to pull this off -- throwing a $14 billion party fraught with security concerns amid a global economic crisis -- it's probably this one” (DETROIT NEWS, 7/27). In Las Vegas, Ed Graney writes London is “about throwing the biggest party it can at a red-tag sales price.” The city will spend “about $15 billion” to put on the Games, compared to Beijing’s ’08 budget of “$44 billion” (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 7/27). USA TODAY’s Kelly Whiteside in a front-page piece writes America’s “love affair with all things British should make the Games alluring for the U.S. sports fan” (USA TODAY, 7/27).