The road to 2012: Team USA gets lost for hours

 

A new track record was set yesterday in London, when a bus carrying weary US athletes from Heathrow airport to the Olympic Village took four hours – twice as long as the world record for the marathon, a similar distance.

Kerron Clement, an Olympic champion hurdler, pictured, was one of those treated to the extended tour of the capital. "We've been lost on the road for 4hrs," he tweeted plaintively as the hapless bus driver tried to find Stratford. "Athletes are sleepy, hungry and need to pee… Not a good first impression London."

As athletes took almost as long to make their way across the capital as they had to fly halfway around the world, the host city began shakily in the most punishing 2012 event of all: the Olympic image hurdles.

All eyes had been on Heathrow, which was expecting the busiest day in its history – and the first of three "red days" before and after the Games. With immigration desks fully staffed, and hundreds of volunteers drafted in, the host airport was calm. Simon Johansson, who flew into Terminal 5 from Stockholm, said: "I'd been told I'd be waiting for three or four hours. In fact, it was two or three minutes." The main baggage drama involved three sails belonging to the Australian sailing team which flew in on Qantas. The missing equipment was tracked down to a cargo shed.

Most Olympic opprobrium was directed at London's creaking road network – and the Games Lanes that are exclusively for official vehicles and taxis, with a £130 fine for encroachment. The first lane opened at 5.30am. For the ordinary mortal, it narrows the motorway from three lanes to two just one junction ahead of the normal bottleneck.

After some rush-hour hold-ups as drivers grappled with the new concept, by lunchtime traffic was flowing smoothly on the motorway from Heathrow into central London.

But Londoners reacted furiously to the first experience of being excluded from road space. Charlie Mullins, founder of London firm Pimlico Plumbers, said "I've already told my guys if it's the difference between a £130 fine or letting up to 3,000 litres of water destroy someone's home, then it's a no-brainer." Life is fast in the Games lane, with drivers of many of the official vehicles seeming to think their status gives them immunity from the 60mph speed limit. While i's staff car paralleled the lane at a constant mile a minute, a number of vehicles sped past.

Some bus drivers working for Locog to ferry competitors around appear well short of qualifying for the "Knowledge" of London that is required of taxi drivers, with an Australian contingent taken on an involuntary sightseeing tour that took two and a half hours. The organisers shrugged off criticism: "We have successfully completed a large number of bus journeys so far today," said a spokeswoman for London 2012. "Whilst there may have been one or two journeys taking longer than planned, the vast majority were completed successfully."

When Kerron Clement got to his destination, he cheered up: "Eating at the Olympic Village. Love the variety of food. African, Caribbean, Halal."

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