All eyes turn to London today for the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, an exuberant journey from Britain’s idyllic pastures through the grime of the Industrial Revolution and ending in a contemporary world dominated by popular culture.
The three-hour showcase created by Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire” director Danny Boyle will be watched by a crowd of 60,000 in the main stadium built in a run-down area of London’s East End and a global audience of more than a billion.
Spectators will be urged to join in sing-a-longs and help create spectacular visual scenes at an event that sets the tone for the sporting extravaganza, when 16,000 athletes from 204 countries share the thrill of victory and despair of defeat with 11 million visitors.
The games will also answer the question on Britons’ lips — were seven years of planning, construction and disruptions, and a price tag of $14 billion during one of the country’s worst recessions, actually worth it?
“This is a very, very tense moment but so far I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Boris Johnson, mayor of London, the only city to host the Summer Games three times. “I’m just worried that I haven’t got enough to worry about at the moment.”
There have, however, been bumps along the way.
Media coverage in the last few weeks has been dominated by security firm G4S’ admission that it could not provide enough guards for Olympic venues, meaning thousands of extra soldiers had to be deployed at the last minute, despite its multimillion-dollar contract from the government.
Counter-terrorism chiefs have played down fears of a major attack on the games, and British Prime Minister David Cameron said that a safe and secure Olympics was his priority.
“This is the biggest security operation in our peacetime history, bar none, and we are leaving nothing to chance.” The first full day of events is Saturday, when Briton Mark Cavendish is favored to win gold in the road race in what would be the perfect start for the home nation.
On Thursday, however, Japan produced the first upset of the games when it beat potential gold medalist Spain 1-0, while favorites Brazil survived a scare before beating Egypt 3-2 on the opening day of the men’s soccer competition. Host Britain, making its first appearance at the games in 52 years, was denied a win when Senegal scored a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw.
Britain’s hopes are high overall after a successful games in Beijing, although the United States, China and Russia could dominate the medals table yet again.