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Run, London, Run!
It has taken London seven years and £ 93 billion to get ready for the mega show - the 2012 Olympics. When London won the bid in Singapore, Sebastian Coe, the head of the organising committee, announced in the glow of victory : "This is just the most fantastic opportunity to do everything we have ever dreamed of in British sport. " One doesn't know that the host country has done just that. What we do know is that given the nature of the beast, there have been massive budget over-runs. There is no talk of graft issues and no talk of legacy now. But the jury can wait. On the eve of the take-off of the Games, there is general talk of indifference and after the security hiccups, the fear that something could go wrong. At the same time, there is quiet optimism that Britain has managed to string it together despite many roadblocks, primarily economic. Given the economic slowdown, the business community has been eagerly looking forward to more footfalls in shops across the city.
That has not really happened. "Where are the tourists?" my landlady, who works in a Turkish restaurant, asked on Wednesday night. "We were hoping for much better business. " In fact, like in any other country, the pulse of the mood - a bit exaggerated, though - is best caught by the taxi drivers. They come in all shapes and sizes, with different appetites for conversation. While some are friendly, some simply ignore you. In London, most of them love to talk and educate. So far, Andrew has been the best of the lot. He loves to talk. "You are Hindi? He asks. "Oh, Hindu. . . If you are looking for good Indian restaurants, I can suggest. " You sound bored and he changes gears. "Actually, there is a beautiful temple of Shiva near Leyton, you know. Are you religious?" You mumble and he continues to talk, numbing your mind. As you get down, he says, "It's good to see people from so many countries come visiting. " Good for business ?
"I would be lying if I said no. But honestly, we are a world city. It's like a pot of your Indian curry - crazy mix of spices which can go wrong if you can't strike a balance. " That is true, and in many ways, it could be the reason why you often get the feeling that not everyone is involved in the Games the way you expect from a city, or a nation. You could be wrong, though. First impressions can be misleading.
Transport has been a major issue this past week in London. Stories on traffic snarls could be daunting for the most die-hard traveler. For the locals too, it has spelt pain. Beyond the freshly-made, pleasant-looking Olympic Park, which houses the main stadium, the hockey stadium and a few others, the other venues can make fans think twice about visiting two venues. Travelling to Wimbledon from the Olympic Park takes 90 minutes. You wouldn't want to come back.
London may have been pretty late to warm up (literally too, after never-ending rain) but it could change overnight with the opening ceremony on Friday night. Oscar-winner Danny Boyle has conjured a visual feast, the organizers tell you. It's charming, they say. It probably is but yes, with the action shifting to the stadium, the mercury will certainly rise.
In the arena where the action begins on Friday, the fight for the top spot is between USA and China again. Hosts Britain are looking to bounce back, while other countries are also trying to improve on their Beijing show. So where does it leave India? After Beijing and the three medals, Indians are not merely here for the Olympic movement. They are here to compete. While in Sydney and Athens, organizers smiled at huge Indian media presence despite empty coffers, no one seems to be complaining here. Indians are in with an outside chance to double their Beijing tally and that would be something. As another taxi driver told me the other night: "Even one medal is good, isn't it? There are so many countries which don't win nothing. "
At this moment, an Indian fan would not be willing to buy that. There are obvious names that have been splashed all over Indian newspapers the past few weeks. The first name which comes to mind is of archer Deepika Kumari. Like her name she has spread light wherever she has gone in the past few years. And to think she is still in her teens. This shy girl from Ranchi has a very cool head on her shoulders and she can light India's fire in London.
Beyond her are the shooters, the boxers, the wrestlers, the shuttlers and the tennis pros. Ronjan Sodhi, Gagan Narang, Saina Nehwal, Leander Paes-Sania Mirza combine, Vijender Singh, Shiva Thapa, Vikas Krishan, Sushil Kumar, Yogeshwar Dutt... these are the names India will be talking about in the coming month.
One would wish the same for the hockey team. It's a young bunch, slightly inexperienced as compared to the teams from the Netherlands and Germany but with the focus having shifted from hockey some years ago, they can just go and do their thing - their way. Coach Michael Nobbs has ensured that they have the spine to fight.
In the international arena, the obvious face-offs are two: Jamaican superhero Usain Bolt vs rising star Yohan Blake. Trust the main stadium to wake up the neighbouring counties when the two go flying head-to-head, neck-to-neck, breath-to-breath. The other one again is the same country affair: Michael Phelps, the golden boy of Beijing Games vs Ryan Lochte, the man who wants to be king.
For the hosts, the star of the Games is heptathlete Jessica Ennis. The 26-year-old's clash with Ukraine's Nataliya Dobrynska will surely light up the Games. These are just a few names. Several reputations will be shattered and new ones made. Among the new stars, look out for 17-year-old American swimmer Missy Franklin, Japan's 23-year-old gymnast Kohei Uchimura, British cyclist Laura Trott and decathlete Ashton Eaton.
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