Something happens to cities when an international event is hosted there. As a Cape Town resident I saw this city invigorated during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. It is of no surprise then that I arrived in London expecting to see similar excitement ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games. I may have been expecting too much, too soon.
Personally I find London to be at that place where the party is ready and the host is anxiously and nervously waiting for the guests to arrive, but as some locals corrected me – the party is not actually ready yet.
At least that is the perception of the locals. One can argue about the definition of ready. The infrastructure is ready, the plans are drawn up, and the athletes have arrived. What hasn’t been ready was the security. The papers ate it up and turned it into quite the scandal. G4S has, with this one debacle, managed to completely bring themselves into disrepute and hurt future business. Funnier yet, was seeing the Parliamentary back and forth regarding the matter. The British have always been good at this drama. Apart from the thousands of Olympic banners hanging from lampposts, and the setting up of the Fanpark in Hyde Park, Londoner’s seemed to be going about business as usual.
Apart from all of this there were glimmers of hope. The highlight of my Olympic experience, by far, was a cycle tour by This Big City’s very own Joe Peach from Bethnel Green as close as possible to the Olympic Park. London has implemented a public cycle hire system. For a minimal annual fee you can simply pick up a bike, rather yank it out the bicycle racks with much force, cycle it around town, and then yank it back into a rack at your destination. I forgot how many miles we rode, but to be honest I wish to not remember. The journey itself however was great. The aim was to see the Olympic Park up close and personal. Off we went, first through Victoria Park, in an attempt to access a cycle route that leads directly to the park. I say attempt because the route was closed (due to security reasons we assumed). However, with the London 2012 Olympic Games being hailed as the most sustainable Games yet, closing off one of the most sustainable modes of transport to the Games is questionable. We attempted a number of routes, none got us very close. I did get to know Stratford very well, and London’s super cycle way, which as my host so kindly put it “has the most dangerous roundabout for cyclists in London”. Much to our disappointment the Orbit was about the only Olympic structure we really got to see. There were however a cycle along the Canal and a gorgeous rooftop view that made more than up for it.
I had never been to London before, and it was difficult to differentiate between Olympic “gees” and typical European Summer buzz, which is on its own truly invigorating. London had all the tourists, the cultural events and good disposition of any proud European city in Summer (well rainy Summer). What was brought on by Olympic fever was difficult to tell. However, I do know one city that hosted a massive international sporting event, and I remember many a frumpy-grumpies before the World Cup started. After the event, I do not know a single person that didn’t get on the bandwagon and longs for that glorious time during the Winter of 2010. I do hope that the Londoner’s find their “gees” sooner rather than later. We sure did.