A crucial 100 days for London’s Olympics
Forget Tony Blair's 1,000 days to prepare for 1,000 years. London's 2012 organisers have just 100 days to prepare for the biggest logistical peacetime exercise Britain has seen. Not to mention the arrival of 10,500 athletes, 21,000 media people and 8.8 million ticket-holders.
The milestone will be greeted with the usual photo opportunities, platitudes and mind-boggling statistics; the PR stunts from sponsors who have invested hundreds of millions in the Games will increase; questions about what taxpayers get for their £9.3bn will get louder, as will government drum-banging about the benefits – all underscored by new urgency as the scale hits home.
The gleaming nature of the permanent venues, from the stunning velodrome to the controversial stadium, has obscured the fact that some temporary venues are still to be built. The £35m "overlay" exercise, involving the installation of 200,000 temporary seats and 10,000 portable toilets, must combine perfect timing with heavy lifting. In Horse Guards Parade, home of the beach volleyball, 3,000 tonnes of sand need to be dumped and 15,000 temporary seats erected. In Greenwich Park, site of equestrian events, a huge area of land has been cordoned off for construction work.
Visitors to the test events have marvelled at the space age structures but were surprised at the expanses of concrete and lack of greenery. With huge temporary structures still being constructed, the Olympic Park retains the air of a building site and landscaping will be necessarily last minute.
There have been concerns over ticketing, the involvement of certain sponsors and the promised legacy. The debate over the budget, a huge hike in the security bill and what should be contained within the £9.3bn public funding envelope will go on. But, aided by the Olympic Delivery Authority building the permanent venues on time and on budget, Locog, the organising committee for the Games, has steered a steady course. Localised rows aside, it has avoided the bust-ups with politicians that have tended to befall its predecessors and cross-party support has held.
There is no mad panic to finish the venues on time and while demand for tickets might have created its issues, to have sold so many is also unprecedented.
But the British public is not yet frothing with excitement. Nor are Londoners paying much attention to entreaties to plan their travel during the Games in order to avoid horrific congestion at key "hot spots".
The torch relay will help, as regional media promote the stories behind the torchbearers, but some may find the involvement of sponsors and its stage-managed nature too cloying. The London 2012 festival – the populist arm of the Cultural Olympiad programme – will also play a role.
Locog executives often cite the royal wedding as the nearest example of an event approached with scepticism by some but wildly celebrated by almost all.
The outstanding round of ticket sales is key. Locog chair Lord Coe has promised that two-thirds of the 1 million luckless applicants from the initial ballot will get one. Then Locog must sell 1.5m remaining football tickets, 1m Paralympics tickets and devise a system for reselling unwanted tickets that avoids the technical issues of last time.
Questions remain. Will London reflect the Games or swallow it? Will the rest of the country feel part of it or look on with curiosity? Will Team GB's biggest names be inspired by the occasion or crushed by the pressure? Coe, unshakeable in his belief that the British public will go ga-ga for the Games once they arrive, has spoken of a magpie approach to taking the best of previous Olympics. Top of the wish list would probably be the enthusiasm of Sydney's volunteers and crowds – organisers have long promised that London's Games will be defined by its atmosphere. The opening weekend, when cyclist Mark Cavendish could sprint to gold or Hannah Miley triumph in the pool, will set the tone.
On their final visit, the IOC's co-ordination commission chair, Denis Oswald, said London was set to win a medal for its Games organisation. The only question was its colour. At Locog, they talk of "controlling the controllables", obscuring the fact that it is the uncontrollables – the weather, the success or otherwise of Team GB, the memorable moments, the mood of the capital and the nation – that will probably dictate whether that medal is bronze, silver or gold.
But it is obsessive attention to detail in the next 100 days – from the final ticket sales in early May to the torch relay days later – that will ensure the chance of a medal is not discarded before the flame is even lit.