Roger Blitz reports on the ‘Olympic squaddies’, whose khaki uniforms are now as familiar around the games venues as the logo and livery of London 2012.
France's Yannick Agnel (C) competes in the men's 200m freestyle semi-final swimming event on July 29, 2012 (GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/GettyImages)
After the pageant and pandemonium of Friday’s opening ceremony, we’re now firmly into the Olympics events schedule, with a jam-packed day ahead.
Swimming – Tonight we’ve got the finals of the Men’s 200m Freestyle, the Women’s 100m Backstroke, the Men’s 100m Backstroke and the Women’s 100m Breaststroke. Michael Phelps will be looking to improve on his sole silver medal from the first two days of competition, Rebecca Adlington will return to the pool for the women’s 800m freestyle, and Gemma Spofforth will be hoping to impress with her 100m backstroke. In the Men’s 200m freestyle final, China’s Sun Yang is the main threat to Ryan Lochte of the US. Heats begin at 10am.
Diving – Great Britain’s Tom Daley and Peter Waterfield compete in the Men’s synchronised 10m platform final at 15.00
Gymnastics – Men’s team final at 16.30
General Electric chief executive, Jeff Immelt, is in town for the games, which GE sponsors, and happy to talk about most Olympian matters, except one: Mitt Romney, writes Pilita Clark.
“I’m not going to touch that one,” said Mr Immelt, when invited to comment on the storm of controversy stirred when the Republican presidential contender said Olympic-eve stories of immigration officer strikes and private security personnel shortages were “disconcerting”. The comments had prompted Boris Johnson, London mayor, to encourage a crowd of thousands in Hyde Park to roar their disapproval at Mr Romney for appearing to suggest the capital was not ready to host the games.
As performers dressed up as Jarrow marchers and suffragettes to play their part in an Olympic opening ceremony which celebrated dissent, present-day protesters were being arrested on the streets of London.
Protesters claimed they were “kettled” – pushed into a cordoned-off area – by police near the Olympic Park on Friday evening as anti-Olympics demonstrators bolstered the ranks of the hundreds of cyclists who took part in the regular “Critical Mass” event.
More than 180 people were arrested for breaching one of the conditions applied to the protest, that it must stay south of the river Thames, by heading towards the stadium at Stratford. Four have been charged, with the remaining 178 released on bail pending further enquiries, the Met police said.
Unlike my more privileged colleagues, I do not have a press pass. I have been taking part in the spectator marathon – which had been advertised as a grim and gruelling event.
On Saturday I set myself a tough challenge – get to the Excel centre for the boxing. Unlike the main Olympic Park, which is served by several Underground lines, the Excel can only be reached by the Docklands Light Railway. I have always thought of the DLR as a toy-town system of the sort beloved by urban planners, but useless for actually getting around. In the event, however, we whizzed through Docklands and even got seats on the train.
Spectators are advised to get to events two hours early, to get through heavy security checks. But we actually breezed through in minutes. Even the emergency deployment of the military as security guards appears to have added a dimension to the experience. People were actually posing for photos with the soldiers – which I cannot imagine them doing with the average G4S security guard, whose uniforms are rather less fetching.
One person rather anxious about whether the Queen’s show-stopping acting debut in the opening ceremony would go down a storm with the British public was the head of state herself.
That much can be gleaned from Boris Johnson’s account of a conversation the London mayor had with “The Actress” the morning after the world saw her play herself opposite Daniel Craig’s James Bond in a film sequence for the ceremony.
Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony contained some pretty stark messages as it told the story of Britain, from a green and pleasant land raped by industrial capitalism. He had the NHS front and centre of a section that had both uplifting and dark messages about the literature that Britain has produced.
Extraordinarily, Mr Boyle persuaded the Queen to act in a video sequence of the ceremony, then presented her as if she were parachuting into the Olympic stadium alongside James Bond. The Queen then made her real entrance, late enough to miss most of the political messsages.
Protesters see the games as a symbol of the widening inequality in London, claiming the poor have been shut out of both the Olympics and their legacy. Sponsors are targets either because they represent big business or, in the case of Dow Chemicals, because of links to a previous disaster.