London 2012: It's almost here – but are we ready?
As the final countdown begins, are Britons finally being infected by the Olympic spirit?
It has been nearly seven years – or 2,479 days to be exact – since Trafalgar Square erupted in celebration at the announcement that London would host the Olympic Games in the summer of 2012.
Now there are only 100 days to go before the Games finally, officially begin. With the stadiums and venues in place, the travel arrangements (almost) ironed out and the oft-revised budget finalised, organisers are preparing for the final countdown to what they hope – and claim – will be the greatest show on earth.
"This is the moment that we really do start getting ready for celebrating and welcoming the world," Lord Coe said yesterday. Of course, if you are one of the many people for whom seven years of near-constant publicity has taken the shine off that summer day in 2005, it is the moment to book your outbound flights. Like it or not, the Olympics will be everywhere for the next 100 days. And then they will actually begin.
Before the Opening Ceremony on 27 July, the ancient ritual of the Olympic torch relay will ratchet up excitement, as the Flame moves ever closer to London from its spiritual home in Olympia, Greece. On its way, it will complete a relay of the Greek mainland, before being carried by 8,000 torchbearers on a 70-day UK tour that will take in 1,024 villages, towns and cities. At the Olympic venues themselves, the sporting action will begin long before the Games proper, with series of test events.
Back in 2005, as Lord Coe returned triumphant from the International Olympic Committee meeting in Singapore that sealed London's fate, we were promised new stadiums, new investment and "the most fantastic opportunity to do everything we ever dreamed of in British sport." While there have been many detractors and despite the Games running up a taxpayer-funded budget of £9.3bn – nearly £2bn more than forecast – most grand plans of seven years ago have become reality.
The transformation of a 2.5km/sq corner of east London has progressed on schedule, as have the creation, renovation or preparation of all 32 Olympic sporting venues in London and beyond. Worryingly for the Organising Committee, however, a recent poll revealed that more than half of those surveyed did not believe that London 2012 would be worth the huge public expense.
Will the next 100 days win the nation over? This selection of voices suggests that, while opinion remains divided, there is a quiet groundswell of enthusiasm for the Games that Lord Coe and London's Organising Committee might find mildly reassuring.
Nuneaton Harriers are an athletics club in Warwickshire received a £50,000 Olympic legacy grant from Sport England's Inspired Facilities Fund. Jared Wilson, 20, is a coach at the club
We have already seen an increase in numbers – the amount of people using the club has doubled from this time last year. We have a club championship every year, but are adapting them this year to tie in with the Games. We will split athletes into categories and run our own. The club is mainly outdoors at present, and a lot relies on the weather. With the grant we have received we are expanding our buildings to bring more inside by the time the Olympics finish."
Graham Phelps is the manager of Phelps Transport, a deliveries firm based on the edge of the Olympic site in east London
Of course I'm anticipating a great Games in terms of the sporting event, but all my business and others in the area are really concerned about is safeguarding our companies and securing jobs for our employees. With 100 days to go we still haven't had any clear answers from Locog or from Transport for London about the potential impact congestion could have on our business. We've had statements about liaising with local business, but no clear indication of how big an impact this will have on our ability to trade as normal. We have to go where and when our customers need us to go, and if we can't they will take their business somewhere else. We'll lose that job, and we might lose that customer. No-one knows yet what will happen, but having got through the worst of the recession, it would be devastating to lose business because of the Olympics."
Roger Love, 45, is the co-owner of London Fields Fitness Studio which is less than three miles from the Olympic Stadium
We will get a huge benefit in two ways: from visitors coming into the area to watch the Games and an after-burn from locals inspired by the Olympics to get fitter.
During the Games, we will run extra morning and lunchtime classes for visitors who want to exercise. We would hope to be training hundreds of extra people a week. If our classes doubled in size, which is not inconceivable, and we added an extra two full-time trainers, we would be looking for bigger or second premises. We are naturally cautious about not over-extending ourselves but genuinely believe that the Olympic effect could gives us a second lift-off that would allow us to expand and consolidate."
Kerry-Anne Mendoza is a spokesperson for OurOlympics, a campaign group that plans to organise and promote acts of civil disobedience around the Games
The Olympics are an £11bn, taxpayer-funded advertising campaign for some of the worst corporations in the world. McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Cadbury's have a monopoly on food and drinks at the Games while local food vendors won't be able to participate. Pledges that this will be the most ethical Games ever are laughable. Sponsor Dow Chemicals have not adequately compensated the people affected by the Bhopal disaster and the idea of having BP, the company behind the biggest oil spill in history, as a 'sustainability partner' could have been dreamed up by a master satirist. Even some of the kits the athletes will be wearing have been made by sweatshop workers. The Olympics are only good for big business." The International Olympic Committee and Locog have consistently argued Dow has no ongoing liabilities for the 1984 disaster, which occurred before Dow bought the company responsible, Union Carbide.
Sarah Holmes is the co-director of Merrythought Ltd, a toy makers based in Ironbridge, Shropshire, that has been selected to produce the official Olympic Teddy bear
We are proud and excited to see this small, traditional business take such a key part in the Games, supplying the Olympic teddy bears. The London 2012 project has allowed us to recruit more staff and also given a boost to our suppliers, the majority of which are British-based. The project has required us to take on a certain level of risk in terms financial investment, and in return we hope the project will prove rewarding for the company. There will always be detractors, but most people seem to view the Games with great pride and patriotism."
Rowshan Mizan, 17, a student from Bow in east London, will volunteer as a London ambassador
The most important thing about the Games for me is that they will be in east London. It has given this part of the city a makeover and it's become such a great environment to live in. I've got a huge opportunity to represent the place I live in. I already have my uniform – with the purple shirts and trilby – it's interesting, but I like it! I am really looking forward to the Olympics – the whole world will be looking at my country, my city and the area right outside my front door. It's something very positive for the community to look forward to."
The small town of Hadleigh in Essex will host the Olympic mountain biking events. Stephen Castle, 47, is a cabinet member on Essex County Council and helped to bring the Games to Hadleigh
The Games are a great opportunity for south Essex. Our area conjures up images of The Only Way is Essex, factorie and tower blocks, so I see this as a chance to change all of that for the better. This is an opportunity to show the outdoor landscapes, the beautiful green land, and the new facilities that have been implemented for the Games. The Olympic grant from the Government has allowed us to invest in the arts and culture of the area, with developments including an arts centre, archives, and other facilities. This is the Olympic legacy."
The Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy will host the sailing events during the Olympics. John Tweed, 61, is the chief executive of the academy
We are delighted that the National Sailing Academy will be part of the venue for the Olympic and Paralympic sailing events this year. The event will raise the profile of the venue and the whole Weymouth and Portland area, with permanent benefits for the local community and economy. The Games will provide a template for hosting major sailing events in the future and the opportunity for Weymouth and Portland to be the centre of world-wide media attention during the event will provide enormous benefits for a local economy that has a strong tourism sector, boosting and showcasing both the town and the academy. We can't wait!"
Janet Dooner, 47, owner of the Railway Tavern, near the Olympic site, has lived in Stratford for 46 years and will be celebrating the 100-day countdown today at the Olympic Aquatics Centre
Where has the time gone! It shows that we can get things done when there is a goal and a deadline – it is just the British way. I have been very privileged – I visited the Aquatics Centre when it first opened. But now I will be taking my 87-year-old mother there, so I am really looking forward to it. If I had a penny for every time someone asked me about how my business will do during the Olympics, I could retire by now! On the hotel side, we are fully booked. But I just do not know how the bar will do during the Games. No one has ever done a study into how businesses on the periphery of Olympic parks are affected, so we won't know whether they will be a success until afterwards. Most people I have spoken to over the last five years are very excited. It is obvious that it will have an affect on business. The people of Old Stratford understand that there will be road closures, but it is all about managing and ordering your goods in now. If people can learn from the mistakes, it will benefit the people in the future. We are going to have an amazing time."
Steve McNamara, 49, is a London taxi driver and representative for the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association of London
Everyone is pleased about the Olympics, but the organisation has not been ideal. The Olympic committee has been making decisions that are wrecking lives. The regular customers will disappear in August and the 'Big Ben' tourists who would usually replace them are not going to be here. Instead we will have Olympic tourists, and I'm not sure they will use taxis. The only thing we have to gauge it by is the Royal Wedding, which was the quietest day of the year. When you throw in road closures, limo lanes and the prospect of worse traffic, from a taxi driver's point of view this means gridlock and a lack of custom. London is being organised for these Games by people who are not from London, who don't know anything about the roads or how they work. My gut feeling is that it will be a disaster for cab drivers and local businesses. They are playing with people's livelihoods."
Additional reporting by Luke Garratt, Heather Clark and Aisha Gani
Countdown: Milestones on the road to London 2012
100 days to go: 18 April
Test events begin for synchronised swimming, at the Aquatics Centre in Stratford (above), and shooting, at the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich
95 days to go: 23 April
Final qualification match for Men's Olympic Football (Senegal v Oman, City of Coventry Stadium)
87 days to go: 1 May (approx)
From the beginning of May, Olympic tickets will begin to be posted to those successful in the ballot
84 days to go: 4 May
Athletics test events at the Olympic Stadium, Stratford (until 8 May)
78 days to go: 10 May
Olympic torch is lit at Olympia, Greece
69 days to go: 19 May
Olympic torch relay begins at Land's End
36 days to go: 21 June
Olympic torch relay reaches London. The London 2012 Festival, a 12-week celebration of the arts, begins
8 days to go: 19 July
All competing athletes will by now have arrived in the UK
6 days to go: 21 July
Olympic torch begins its tour through London's boroughs
2 days to go: 25 July
Women's football starts; first traffic restrictions likely to be in force
0 days to go: 27 July
The Olympic Opening Ceremony, directed by Danny Boyle, marks the true beginning of the XXX Olympiad, which continues until 12 August
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