Night of wonder

2012-07-28 16:14

The proudest moment for SA was when Semenya emerged carrying the Rainbow Nation’s flag

The time has finally arrived for London to deliver what the British promised the world in the 30th edition of the Olympic Games of the modern era.

Friday’s opening ceremony, which was close to six hours long, captivated the imagination of the world and television audiences with a display showing the country’s development from a rural society through the Industrial Revolution up until today.

Hundreds of spectators started streaming into the Olympic Park precinct from about 11am for the night’s spectacle.

One would have expected to bump into normally sports-crazy South Africans, but the exorbitant price tag of travelling to the UK, plus accommodation costs, were a major obstacle.

In the midst of close on 100 000 people who had descended on Stratford Stadium, City Press bumped into a South African couple living in London, Mervyn and Janine George.

“In the UK, products are cheaper and service is expensive,” said Janine, who came to London on a Nelson Mandela scholarship five years ago.

“We are fortunate that we didn’t have to spend much as we are already here. So far the atmosphere has been fantastic. It was unreal to be part of the Olympic set-up from when the stadium was built to the changing face of London. We worried about overcrowded transport, but it’s turned out to be smoother than we expected.”

The proudest moment for South Africa was undoubtedly the emergence of 800m star Caster Semenya carrying the Rainbow Nation’s flag among the other 205 bearers parading around the arena, which seats 95 000.

The normally hostile British media gave the ceremony a big thumbs up, with headlines such as “Blast Off!”, “A flying start!” and “Night of Wonder!” screaming across some of the mainstream daily newspapers.

For anyone new to London, travelling will always be a nightmare if you don’t know the main routes.

Said Games volunteer Nicolle Addington: “You must know how to read your map well because then it is really easy to use the tube (the underground) or the bus.”

Chances of getting access to the Queen are more likely than getting into the Athletes’ Village.

From hi-tech security cameras to heavily armed police on site 24/7, the athletes couldn’t have asked for a more secure place.

Even accredited media are restricted from entering the premises. “We are leaving little to chance here,” said one of the two police officers brandishing military combat-style M-rifles.

Swimmers Cameron van der Burgh and Chad le Clos gave South Africa a glimmer of hope on day one of the competition, with Le Clos winning his heat in the 400x individual medley and Van der Burgh, who is tipped to be South Africa’s strongest medal contender, breezing through his 100m breaststroke heat to book a place in the evening’s semifinal.

Athletics is also popular with locals looking forward to Games record holder Usain Bolt starting his defence of his 100m and 200m titles in the week to come.

On the weather front, competitors basked in rare sunshine on Saturday as most of the time the weather has been overcast, with a light drizzle during the opening ceremony.

» Follow me on Twitter @DanieMothowagae

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