London rolls out the red carpet for Olympic guests
Posted Tuesday, July 24 2012 at 23:49
- British capital big and ready for the biggest show on earth that gets under way this Friday
From the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to London’s Heathrow, one can clearly feel the Olympic spirit.
Taking the Virgin Atlantic flight to London – one of the final ones by Sir Richard Branson’s airline that has made a business decision to close down its London-Nairobi-London operations in September – it’s difficult to fail to notice something different in the air.
The Olympic Identity and Accreditation Card (OIAC) also serves as a multiple entry visa for the United Kingdom, and after thorough scrutiny at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, the rest of the journey to London is flawless.
While it normally takes one well over 30 minutes, sometimes an hour, to go through passport control and immigration at the London Heathrow airport, due to long queues and thorough checks, it took me a record 10 minutes from the luggage belt to the taxi rank at arrivals!
This thanks to special Olympic desks set up at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 to accommodate Games traffic.
Then there the special, dedicated ‘Olympic Lanes’ well marked out that help the Games dignitaries motor through the notoriously busy streets of London with minimal inconvenience.
Scores of volunteers in maroon shirts wait enthusiastically to help visitors through, from the airports to the train and bus stations, and even with Syria hogging global headlines, all for the wrong reasons, the Syrian Olympic team was accorded a VIP reception when they landed in London on Monday.
The build-up reached fever pitch on Monday too when International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge and his delegation were hosted to a Games reception by Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace.
And with the summer sunshine finally out, the Union Jacks flying all over and Great Britain celebrating Brad Wiggins’ weekend Tour de France victory, the first by a Briton in the 107-year history of the world’s toughest cycling race, one couldn’t have hoped for a better final few days leading up to the Games.
Writing for the Daily Mail on Monday this week after Wiggins’s Tour triumph, columnist David Jones aptly summed it up: “After enduring yet another year of hurt thanks to a failing England football team and the perennial Wimbledon agony of Andy Murray, it is wonderful enough to be celebrating a momentous British sporting triumph. “And with the Olympics just four days away, Wiggins’s victory couldn’t have been timelier.”
Monday night saw 50,000 people participate in rehearsals for Friday’s £27 million (Sh3.5 billion) opening ceremony at the Stratford, the Olympic Park that houses most of the Games’ venues including the centre piece, the Olympic Stadium.
There are well over half a million Kenyans living in the United Kingdom and demand for tickets at Kenya competitions is high, with the elite squad of Kenyan runners eagerly awaited here for the marathon, track and field action that starts on August 3.
Ugali far away from home to keep boxers in shape as officials leave nothing to chance
Ever since the 1988 Games in Seoul, when Robert Wangila pounded Frenchman Laurent Boudouani into submission in the second round of their welterweight final to win Kenya’s and Africa’s Olympic gold, no Kenyan fighter has panned the precious medal.
It was in unbelievable fashion that Wangila tore through Dorde Petronijevic (Yugoslavia), Khaidan Ganulga (Mongolia) and Khristo Furnigov (Bulgaria) before a walkover against Pole Jan Dydak landed him in that memorable final. But ever since his death 18 years ago in Las Vegas from head injuries sustained in his pro fight against David Gonzalez, Kenya has tried in vain to dedicate an Olympic gold to the trail-blazer.