LONDON — Sammy Lee remembers it vividly: food rationing, bombed-out buildings, rubble.
The year was 1948, and London was playing host to the Olympics amid severe austerity in the aftermath of World War II.
Lee, an American diver, and fellow amateur athletes slept on cots at local air bases and schools, brought their own towels and were ferried to events in old London buses.
“We didn’t mind,” said Lee, who won a gold and bronze medal in the Empire Pool. “It was the spirit of the Olympics. We were there to compete against the best.”
Sixty-four years later, Lee will return as a spectator when London welcomes the world again.
Saying these 2012 Olympics will be much different is in itself a gold-medal understatement. This will be a $14.5 billion extravaganza featuring multimillionaire professionals and global stars like Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps, shiny new purpose-built venues and a revitalized east London.
Britain’s biggest peacetime project should be London’s finest hour. A chance to throw a rousing five-ring celebration, a global bear hug that restores the festive atmosphere lacking at the past two Olympics, in Athens and Beijing.
“London this summer is going to be the place to have a party,” Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson said.
The city will provide a stunning mix of old and new:
• Beach volleyball players diving across the sand in Horse Guards Parade, practically on the doorstep of the prime minister’s 10 Downing Street residence.
• Marathon runners and road cyclists winding past Buckingham Palace.
• Tennis stars dueling on the Centre Court grass at Wimbledon.
• Sprinters and swimmers competing in brand new arenas erected in a once-derelict area of east London brought back to life as the Olympic Park.
The tone will be set at the opening ceremony on July 27 at the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium, a three-hour spectacle directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Danny Boyle, of Slumdog Millionaire fame.