Britain deployed 1,200 extra soldiers on Tuesday in a last-minute effort to bolster Olympic security, while global diplomatic tensions started to play out among athletes and politicians three days ahead of the opening ceremony.
The additional troops, which took the military contingent at the London Games to well over 17,000, were called in to cover an embarrassing shortfall left by private security group G4S, the world’s largest by some measures, in the run-up to the Games.
The company caused a scandal by failing to meet its target for the number of guards it could provide and on Tuesday said that it had deployed about 5,800 security personnel, still short of its revised objective of 7,000.
Police stressed that they were content with security arrangements for the greatest show on Earth, which kicked off in Cardiff, Wales, yesterday with a soccer match between the women’s teams of Britain and New Zealand.
“We’ve done all the planning, we’ve looked at the way in which terrorists have attacked in the past and we try to make sure that none of those could get through our security measures,” said Chris Allison, Britain’s national Olympic security adviser.
Hundreds of thousands of visitors have descended on London and a million extra people are expected in the city each day of the event, from tomorrow until Aug. 12, putting pressure on a creaking transport system, some of which dates from the 19th century.
Yet for all the grumbling by a notoriously critical media and Londoners braced for disruptions to their daily lives, the sense of excitement was palpable with the Games just around the corner and the sun shining brightly after weeks of rain.
Early buzz from Monday evening’s technical rehearsal for the opening ceremony at the main stadium of the sprawling Olympic Park was positive, suggesting filmmaker Danny Boyle’s unusual, quirky and ambitious vision might just work.
About 11 million visitors will witness the thrill of victory and despair of defeat as some of the world’s greatest athletes, from Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt to US swimmer Michael Phelps, battle for the ultimate prize in sport — Olympic gold.
Britons, buoyed by Bradley Wiggins’ historic victory in the Tour de France, are confident of another impressive medals haul after success in Beijing in 2008.
As well as a flood of ordinary people, luxury yachts of the super-rich have moored close to the stadium. Expected dignitaries include Russian President Vladimir Putin, US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and US first lady Michelle Obama.
Politics played out before the world’s media as much as sport in the final countdown to kick-off, with a debate over how to mark the 1972 Munich attack by Palestinian militants that killed 11 Israeli Olympic team members moving up the agenda.
Widows of those killed in 1972 arrived in London yesterday to pressure Olympics organizers to mark the 40th anniversary of the tragedy, stepping up a long campaign to organize an official commemoration.
British Prime Minister David Cameron may use the Games, which unite world leaders, businesspeople and celebrities, as well as more than 16,000 athletes and 20,000 journalists, to press Putin over his ties to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Sources said he would accompany Putin to an Olympic judo match if the Russian leader attends the Games and may urge him to drop his support for Assad’s regime, which is engaged in a violent conflict with rebels seeking to topple him.