Kew Gardens on an English spring morning hosted the first in a series of celebrations yesterday to start the 100-day countdown to the London Olympics.
An oak tree was planted to mark Britain’s role in the birth of the modern Olympic movement and giant Olympic rings made up of 25,000 flowers were on display.
A city steeped in theater and pageantry was then entertained in the early afternoon by members of West End theater shows, assisted by British athletes, taking part in a “West End Warm-Up” performance in Trafalgar Square.
Any initial trepidation about Britain’s ability to stage a major global event has long vanished and last month the London organizing committee received a glowing endorsement from International Olympic Committee commission chairman Denis Oswald, who proclaimed: “London is ready to welcome the world.”
“We can feel that London is feeling the fever of the Games,” Oswald said. “We are in no doubt that this summer will be a summer like no other in Britain.”
Ensuring a unforgettable Olympics for London, as well as the thousands of athletes and visitors who will pour into Britain for the Games’ opening on July 27, is the ultimate responsibility of London Games organizing committee chairman Sebastian Coe.
A reminder of the disturbing ease with which big sporting events can be disrupted came this month when an intruder in the Thames disrupted the annual university boat race between Oxford and Cambridge.
The torch relay, as the pro-Tibet protesters demonstrated during the 2008 Beijing Olympics relay, is similarly vulnerable, as are the street races such as the marathons and walks.
In an interview yesterday to mark the 100 days’ landmark, Coe said there was a need to get a balance between the safety of the competitors while ensuring spectators were not subjected to oppressive security measures.
“Competitors are doing something at the highest level, they have devoted over half their young lives to be there,” he said.
“It is our responsibility to make sure they have a secure environment in which to compete, but you do not want people coming to London feeling they have come to a siege town. We will get that balance right, we have to get that balance right. I am not being remotely cavalier or particularly sanguine about the nature of what we have to do, but we will get this right,” he said.
Coe was also upbeat about London’s problematic transport system.
“At Games time things will be different,” Coe said.
“This is the first time a Games will have been on these shores for 64 years and there’s nobody in this room, there’s probably nobody sitting out there now that is going to witness them again in their lifetime, so it is a celebration,” he added.
“The city will look different, getting about it will be different,” he said.
Asked about criticisms of the high cost of a sports event in grim economic times, Coe said there would be some validity to the argument if the Olympics was just a sporting festival.
“But of course it isn’t. We have regenerated in the process a large part of east London, we’ve transformed the lives of many young people living in east London,” Coe said. “More broadly, we have an opportunity to showcase this country in front of four billion people, not just in sport, but also in our cultural communities. We have the ability to host 200 countries.”