LONDON – The Olympic Athletes Village opened its doors Monday to the first competitors as the logistical operation to handle the arrival of thousands of athletes and officials shifted into a higher gear.
Questions remained though about the recruitment of security staff after Britain was forced to draft in 3,500 troops to make up a shortfall in private guards.
London’s Heathrow Airport was handling a record number of passengers, with the Olympics arrivals swelling numbers to almost 237,000 at the west London hub, compared to 190,000 on an ordinary day. The first priority “Games Lane” went into operation on the M4 motorway leading from Heathrow, designed to allow athletes and officials to be whisked to their destinations without becoming snarled up in London traffic.
For the athletes, more than 500 volunteers, speaking more than 20 languages between them, welcomed groups as they landed.
The Netherlands women’s beach volleyball team flew in from Amsterdam in a blaze of orange tops and said they were impressed by the setup.
A large US contingent arrived at Heathrow earlier, including members of the sailing teams.
At the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London, the village was ready and waiting to welcome its first inhabitants.
Organizers could do nothing though about the grey skies and persistent drizzle in London as athletes got a first taste of their home for the next three weeks.
The Australian team had already taken over several balconies of one block, with a banner reading “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie; Oi, Oi, Oi” spread across them.
Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), insisted the deployment of extra military personnel, bringing the total number of servicemen involved in the Games to 17,000, had given him peace of mind.
What was billed as the biggest anti-doping operation in Olympic history also got under way Monday. — AFP