Security, Infrastrucure Issues Surface In London As Olympics Near
LONDON (AP) — With the Olympics just two weeks away, embarrassing logistical problems about security, staff, phones and traffic made the mood Thursday in London as gloomy as the weather.
British lawmakers clamored for an explanation of why the armed forces need to field more troops to protect the games, eclipsing the day that U.S. track star Michael Johnson held the Olympic flame aloft at sunrise at the ancient monument at Stonehenge.
London's aging infrastructure kept offering up unpleasant surprises as the main road near Heathrow Airport remained closed following emergency repairs. The British mobile phone company O2, meanwhile, acknowledged that thousands of customers had been affected by outages on its network — a bad omen ahead of the first iPhone games.
And then there was the weather. Rain on and off and on again.
An aerial view shows the construction of the Olympic Beach Volleyball arena, on Horseguards Parade, in London, Thursday July 12, 2012. The opening ceremony for the London Olympics is July 27. (AP Photo/PA, Dominic Lipinski)
London's Hyde Park — the site of outdoor concerts and other live events — has trucked in piles of wood chips to cover a muddy quagmire after the wettest June on record. Someone apparently decided that recreating Woodstock wasn't very Olympic-friendly.
Here's a look at the tsunami of bad news.
BRING ON THE TROOPS
British Home Secretary Theresa May confirmed that the government will deploy an additional 3,500 servicemen at the London Olympics amid concerns that a private security contractor had failed to recruit enough staff. The firm G4S had been enlisted to provide the bulk of the 13,200 private security guards across 100 Olympic venues.
British lawmakers questioned why the apparent gap in security had surfaced so late.
"G4S have let the country down and we have literally had to send in the troops," said opposition Labour Party lawmaker Keith Vaz, demanding to know when the issue was first identified and if G4S — which has millions in contracts from the British government — will suffer any financial penalties.
The move brings the total number of armed forces staff at the games to 17,000, dwarfing the 9,500 troops Britain has in Afghanistan.
The massive Olympic security operation also will feature 12,000 police, 3,000 volunteers, Typhoon fighter jets, helicopters, two warships and bomb disposal experts.
WELCOME TO BRITAIN: THE LINE FORMS HERE
The British media has been full of bad news lately about the queue, that long line at passport control while entering the island nation.
Those lines have been blamed on everything from airline schedules to too much wind, but everyone is looking for a way to bring the wait down. More people than ever used London's Heathrow Airport last year — nearly 70 million passengers — straining its traditional immigration desks.
A report from John Vine, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, warned that border staff with only basic training and little immigration experience were being used to cut the length of the queues.
But the Home Office insists help is on the way. Starting this weekend, 500 more people will be manning those desks.
WILL YOU BE ABLE TO GET THERE FROM HERE?
London's aging transport network continued to befuddle planners who have been working — some for years — to get the city spruced up for the games and for the hundreds of thousands of tourists expected.
The main road linking Heathrow to London and Olympic Park remained closed. The Highways Agency said repairs had reached a critical stage and would continue on a damaged overpass least until the weekend.
But the big question mark remains as to whether the entire London transport infrastructure can handle the strain. The city's residents are accustomed to overcrowding and delays but tourists may find it shocking, said Tony Travers, a transport expert at the London School of Economics.
"At this point, we're in the lap of the gods," Travers said. "The London infrastructure is always led on a wing and a prayer."
AND THE RAIN IS A PAIN
The gloomy weather has the entire nation wondering if it will ever get sunny for longer than 15 minutes. The Met Office, Britain's national forecaster, has insisted that the wet start to July does not necessarily mean that it will rain during the Olympics, from July 27 to Aug. 12.
"We could have some nice days," Met spokesman Dan Williams said, somewhat hopefully, although stressing it was still too early to offer any Olympic forecasts.
"It's understandable that people might feel gloomy, especially since we have had such a disappointing run this month," he admitted.
SO MUCH FOR THE IPHONE OLYMPICS
The scariest development for many has been a mobile phone outage.
British mobile phone company O2 restored its 2G and 3G services after a breakdown that hit some customers for as long as 24 hours Wednesday and Thursday.
That's not a good omen for the vast amounts of tweets and photos expected to be sent during what has been dubbed the "Twitter Games." Those responsible for London's fiber optic cables, phone masts and Wi-Fi hotspots are bracing for a tsunami of data.
O2 executives have said previously the company spent 50 million pounds ($79 million) on Olympic-related projects.
IS IT JUST A BAD HAIR DAY OR SHOULD LONDON PANIC?
Historians like to note that with any human endeavor, things go wrong. Martin Polley, an Olympic historian at the University of Southampton, recalled that in the 1948 London Games, organizers forgot to get a union flag for the home team to carry into the stadium. Roger Bannister, who later shattered the four-minute mile, broke into a car to get one for the parade.
So is Jacques Rogge, the head of the International Olympic Committee, worried about the spate of bad news? Absolutely not.
"It's not peculiar for London. We've always had difficulties in the days leading up to the games in the previous games and the games were of an impeccable nature," he said.
Besides, there's still time to sort things out.
"We're confident that everything will be fine by the opening ceremony," Rogge said.
Cassandra Vinograd in London also contributed.