London hits home stretch before Games

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LONDON — When Big Ben struck 12 to ring in the New Year, no one will feel the level of anticipation – and pressure – more than organizers of the London Olympics.

Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, walks past a poster promoting the London Olympic Games at the British Embassy in Beijing, China.  Andy Wong/Associated Press
Andy Wong/Associated Press
Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, walks past a poster promoting the London Olympic Games at the British Embassy in Beijing, China.

With the arrival of 2012, the preparations will no longer be for “next year’s games.”

The Olympics will be THIS year, less than seven months away – exactly 209 days from today until the opening ceremony on July 27.

London has been preparing seven years for the games, ever since it defeated Paris in the final round of the International Olympic Committee vote in Singapore on July 6, 2005.

Now, the countdown is truly in the final stretch for the U.K.’s biggest peacetime exercise, or what organizing committee leader Sebastian Coe calls a “Halley’s Comet” moment for Britain.

In a busy year that also will feature Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee and the European Football Championship in Poland and Ukraine, the Olympics stand out as the marquee event of the summer of 2012, a sporting festival that will put London at the epicenter of global attention for 17 days.

The start of 2012 carries symbolic and psychological significance for Coe, a two-time gold medalist in the 1,500 meters who knows the feeling of entering an Olympic year as an athlete.

“For us there will be the realization that there are no more years now. We are down to days,” Coe said. “This is the Olympics and it doesn’t get any bigger, and the responsibility doesn’t get any greater than this.”

In concrete terms, London is in solid shape as it approaches the moment when it will become the first city to play host to the Olympics for a third time, after previous games in 1908 and 1948.

The biggest concerns weigh on less predictable factors: security and transportation. Will the games be safe from terrorist attack? Will London’s already-stretched public transport network cope under the added strain?

Most of the venues are built and ready for the 10,000 athletes from more than 200 countries who will converge on the city for 16 days of competition in 26 sports and 300 medal events.

“I feel relaxed but certainly not complacent,” Coe said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We have big challenges, of course. Delivery of 26 world championships is never going to be a stroll in the park. There’s nothing easy about the next few months.”


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