Britain welcomes the world with royalty and rock
LONDON — London welcomed the world in regal style Friday as the 2012 Summer Olympics officially opened before royalty, heads of state, celebrities and the majority of more than 10,400 athletes from 204 countries awaiting their chance to write history.
Queen Elizabeth II had the honour of officially opening the XXX Olympiad. She also opened the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.
Seven young athletes teamed up to light the ceremonial cauldron.
Big Ben chimed to ring in the news that Great Britain, the home team for a third time, will be a welcoming host while a formidable foe in athletic competition.
The lavish ceremonies, featuring a 23-tonne bell, were produced by English-born filmmaker Danny Boyle at a cost topping $40 million. More than 80,000 spectators took in the festivities, which stretched well past three hours.
It will be a fortnight for the record books for Nova Scotia, with a record 11 athletes set to compete. Boxer Custio Clayton of Dartmouth and gymnast Ellie Black will be the first Bluenoses to see action with their competitions set to begin Sunday.
Other Nova Scotians ready to compete for medals are sailor Danielle Dube of Glen Haven, judoka Amy Cotton of Judique, swimmer David Sharpe of Dartmouth, track athletes Jenna Martin of Bridgewater and Geoff Harris of Halifax, marathon runner Eric Gillis of Antigonish and paddlers Ryan Cochrane of Windsor, Mark de Jonge of Halifax and Jason McCoombs of Dartmouth.
Some of the first-week athletes were no-shows. The Canadian gymnasts were absent to retain their focus on the team competition in a few days, and Martin and Harris are training in Germany until the middle of the week. The paddlers are in France.
There have been moments of despair in Great Britain in the months and weeks leading into the Games, and the population was accused of singing a mournful tune. There are concerns about the $15-billion cost during an economic slowdown, there was a well-publicized shortfall in security guards, the trains and highways are overcrowded, and the nation has seen record rainfall over the last few months.
Athletes have already been punted for doping violations, and a flag flap involving the North Koreans had some officials red-faced Wednesday.
U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney questioned the country’s preparations as late as Thursday.
But the country has set all that aside to revel in London’s first Olympic Games since 1948. The completion of the 70-day Olympic torch run drew hoardes to the streets and the banks of the Thames in recent days.
Principal performers in the program included Sir Paul McCartney, the Arctic Monkeys, Rowan Atkinson, Kenneth Branagh and Daniel Craig.
Triathlete Simon Whitfield, a past Olympic gold medallist looking for another, led the Canadians into a stunning Millenium Stadium, the centrepiece of an impressive, sprawling Olympic Park.
Canada is looking for a top-12 finish in these games, with shot putter Dylan Armstrong, kayaker Adam van Koeverden, boxer Mary Spencer, diver Alexandre Despatie, track cyclist Tara Whitten, swimmer Brent Hayden, diver Jennifer Abel, mountain biker Catharine Pendrel and freestyle wrestler Tonya Verbeek among top medal hopes.
Several Nova Scotia athletes could challenge for the podium as well.
“We’re setting the bar high, but we have done everything possible to be as ready as possible,” Abel, a two-time Olympian, told Canadian reporters Friday afternoon.
“It’s great to be here knowing you have no regret. The athletes want the medal more than everybody. We are ready to compete and give our everything.”
Canada has 277 athletes, 93 coaches and 137 support staff.
“Our athletes have spent years preparing for this and the moment has finally arrived,” said Canadian Olympic Team chef de mission Mark Tewksbury.
“They’ve given their everything to represent their country at the Olympic Games. They are truly heroes.”
These will also be the Games of star power, complete with a U.S. men’s basketball team drawing comparisons to the American Dream Team of 1992. Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt and U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps look to reprise their epic performances of 2008 in Beijing, though rival athletes eye upsets.
Earlier Friday, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge offered his views on London’s preparedness for the Games.
“I would think that in terms of readiness these Games equal the readiness of Sydney and Beijing definitely, to speak about the most recent Games. But, again, the proof of the pudding is in the eating so maybe ask me the same question at the press conference at the closing ceremony.”
Rogge also commented on the banning of nine athletes prior to the Games for doping infractions.
“As far as the athletes being caught positive before the Games, this is a good sign for the fight against doping. In all, in total, 107 athletes were caught positive in the two months preceding the Olympic Games. We are continuing to test and test and test again before the competition.
“We will be testing, of course, during the competition, but I will say that this is proof that the system works, that the system is effective and that the system is a deterrent one.”