Only four days remain until the madness begins: This Friday night London hosts the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony, complete with 10,000 volunteers, farmyard animals, and, wait for it, the world's largest harmonically tuned bell. So get excited, if you're not already. Meanwhile, the athletes are arriving, excited attendees are getting lost on the Underground, and Londoners are already grumbling about well, just about everything, because everything's an inconvenience. Here's a roundup of the many, many ways the city is preparing — or in a few instances, remains
awkwardly embarrassingly unprepared.
- Despite outcry from local residents, planting surface-to-air missiles on top of two public housing towers near the Olympic Village ... and four more across London's suburbs, just because.
- Stationing Typhoon fighter jets around the outskirts of the city, ready at a moment’s notice and capable of “shooting down any passenger jets or other fast aircraft violating the no-fly zone.”
- Oh, and docking the United Kingdom’s largest warship — HMS Ocean — in the Thames, where it’ll be used as a base for eight helicopters and teams of Royal Marine snipers.
- Drastically amping up counter-terrorism efforts, including reassigning 150 MI5 intelligence analysts to “Olympics duty” — FBI agents are also on call — and running attack-themed drills reminiscent of the 7/7 bombings on the city’s public transport networks. (The bombings occurred the day after London’s 2012 Olympic bid won out.)
- Arresting numerous Londoners in similar counter-terrorism sweeps, including three brothers living in close proximity to the Games’ East London sites and a male who, having attended a terror camp with links to Al-Qaeda, violated a court order to stay away from the Olympic Park.
- Drafting TSA agents to work at London airports, because most British people are too reserved to complain about overzealous pat downs.
- Giving the primary security contract to a company, G4S, now proven entirely incapable of fulfilling it. Of 13,700 security officers needed, G4S filled only 4,000 positions, and the company's CEO agreed with government critics, labeling the shortcomings a “humiliating shambles,” which is British-speak for “a huge fuckup.”
- Recruiting members of the British Army and police to make up for said shortcomings. Almost a fifth of the U.K.’s armed forces will now be working at the Games, some losing out on their allocated time on leave from the war in Afghanistan. (Still not the best time to plan an invasion, though, because of, you know, all those snipers, missiles, and warships dotted around.)
- Coordinating a 70-day-long torch relay across the United Kingdom, including one recent leg that saw the torch abseiled from a helicopter into the Tower of London — and another with a dancing policeman. So far, the flame’s been extinguished just twice ... though it also went out "briefly" during the lighting ceremony back in Athens in May.
- Filming a live episode of classic British soap Eastenders, in which one of the many cheeky chappie characters carries the torch through Walford without stopping at the pub for a pint and/or some pork scratchings. That's dedication.
- And encouraging one nice lady, of the 8,000 real torch bearers, to get a tattoo ... in which the word Olympic is spelled incorrectly.
- Casting 4,700 gold, silver, and bronze medals at the Royal Mint in South Wales, each featuring Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.
- Also from the Royal Mint: special commemorative coins in honor of the Games. However, these feature the names of Roman gods in place of the expected Greek ones. (Oops.)
- Sending in the clowns, acrobats, and other oddly intimidating performers for welcoming parties at the Olympic Village.
- Booking nine live geese for this Friday's Opening Ceremony. Directed by Danny Boyle, the performance will tell, in three acts, "the story of a land recovering from its industrial legacy and looking to the future." There will be lots of people in ye olde style costumes, and Paul McCartney will pop up, as is par for the course at big British events.
- Booking British supermodels Kate Moss and Lily Cole for a special fashion show at the Closing Ceremony.
Holding a minute's silence for the Israeli athletes killed during the 1972 Munich Games today at the Olympic Village, despite calls that such a tribute be featured in Friday's opening ceremony.
- After what's described as much careful consideration, creating a bold, colorful, and very controversial logo — which has even left Iranian officials threatening a boycott of the Games.
- And designing universally derided (not to mention creepy) Olympic mascots named Wenlock and Mandeville. They look a little like Teletubbies.
- Commissioning British musicians including Elton John, Muse — whose track “Survival” is the Games’ official song — and grime-rapper Dizzee Rascal to write songs for the event … but sadly not the Spice Girls. They'll get to perform during the Closing Ceremony, though, so it's all good. (And what an opportunity for another Union Jack minidress, right?)
- More music: Mistakenly playing “Die Stem,” the national anthem from South Africa’s apartheid era, in place of the country’s current patriotic sing-along during a recent pre-Games field hockey match.
- Royally messing up ticket allocation — from the glitchy Ticketmaster-backed web service to the lotteries that saw next to no one actually get the tickets they'd wanted. Though some last-minute batches of tickets are still expected to be released, few seats costing less than $200–$300 are available even for the less prestigious events. (And even if they seem to be available, good luck actually confirming/reserving them.)
- Repainting most of the city’s main roads and highways to include special Olympic lanes — for VIP travelers, that is. Regular folk will be left, grumpily, in traffic snarls, and London’s cab drivers are already protesting.
- Attempting to prepare commuters for the inevitable delays and overcrowding at most central London Underground stations. London’s jolly mayor Boris Johnson has recorded messages to be played on trains encouraging would-be riders to not even bother with public transport.
- Offering bonuses of up to $10,000 for Underground train drivers prepared to work extra shifts during the Games. Hundreds of extra bus drivers have also picked up temporary jobs; unfortunately at least two, tasked with shuttling arriving athletes to the Olympic Village, got quite lost en route.
- Not stopping border control agents at London's airports from going on strike the day before the Games begin, as if the security lines aren't long enough already.
- Ensuring that the 1,000 volunteers tasked with helping arrivals at London’s airports speak over twenty languages collectively. Of course, their most crucial phrases will be “sorry about that ridiculous wait at immigration” and “sorry about the weather.”
- And yes, preparing for that weather: don’t worry, the Brits have “lots of mops and buckets” handy.
- Signing up sponsors including Coca-Cola, Adidas, Omega, Visa, and BP Oil. Their logos at the Games will be near omnipresent, if not always well received. For example: at Olympic venues, Visa debit/credit cards will be the only payment options other than cash. Consumers with other credit cards will have to visit special kiosks — the only places their not-Visa brand of plastic is accepted — to purchase prepaid Visa cards.
- Recruiting a 300+ force of “brand policemen” who’ll make sure no non-Games sponsors see their products snuck into the Olympic Village — that means no Reebok sneakers or Burger King Whoppers en masse, for example. (They’ll also work to limit the impact of ticket scalpers.)
- Banning the use of words like “gold,” “silver,” “summer,” or even “London,” in unofficial Games advertising or other marketing stunts. A cafe in South London was ordered to take down a window display featuring five bagels representing the Olympic rings, though officials have since said such strict rules on trademarks are "absolute nonsense."
- Overturning a ban on the free-for-all sale of French fries. (Previously, McDonalds had granted a near monopoly on the product’s sale in the Olympic Village. Other eateries would have still been able to sell fish 'n' chips, but wouldn't have been allowed to sell fries otherwise.) Don’t worry too much about McDonald’s profits though: London’s built the fast-food chain a 1,500-seat restaurant in the Olympic Village, and Team USA has further access to a 24-hour McD’s within its national base.
- Cleverly inserting a London 2012 fleece sweater in Clive Owen's character's wardrobe for the 2006 movie Children of Men more than a year before London was officially awarded the Games. (The film's plot plays out in a dystopic near-future, 2027 to be exact.)
- Gentrifying much of London’s previously gritty East End: Urban and industrial areas across Stratford and Leyton are benefiting from nearly $10 billion in upgrades over the past seven years to look shiny and new.
- Organizing accommodations in the Olympic Village (which will house 18,000 athletes and Games officials) so that folks who, well, don’t really get along right now aren’t in close proximity: “Israel and Iran are housed at opposite ends of the village; TeamGB are suitably far away from their Argentine counterparts; and the German contingent have been placed a good distance from the Greeks.”
- But for the athletes who do get along: supplying a total of 100,000 condoms — stamped with logos specific to the recipient’s sport. An anonymous athlete quoted in the Post describes “the post-competition attempts to fill each remaining day at the Village with as much alcohol-drenched sex as possible.”
- Constructing a 115-meter-high steel tower, the ArcelorMittal Orbit, at a cost of over $30 million — “modern British art” in the sense that no one understands what it’s for or why it’s there, but are still too polite to ask.
- Persuading the Queen to open up rooms in St. James Palace for parties hosted by wealthy visitors to the Games. The Russian Olympic team also rented a field next to Kensington Palace, presumably just to gawk at Prince William and Kate Middleton, because who wouldn't?
- Inspiring non-Royal landlords to charge up to fifteen times their property’s regular rental value for the Games’ duration — and in many cases to kick out their current tenants for short-term Olympic visitors, who'll blindly pay a lot more. (Hotel prices are rising by a large margin also, most implementing nightly rate increases of over 60 percent.)
- Installing “live sites” in cities across the country — big screens so that Brits can get together in larger groups and grumble about how poorly the U.K. is doing.
- And charging over $3 for a cup of tea at official Olympics concession stands. Outrageous.