100 Days Out: Keep calm and carry on

April, 18, 2012
4/18/12
7:22
PM ET
GardensOli Scarff/Getty Images"100 Days Out" celebrations were held around the world, including (of course) at Kew Gardens in London.

LONDON -- The images beamed around the world from London were staged and pretty: Lord Sebastian Coe, the sporting hero-turned-executive who had more to do with bringing the Summer Games here than any other individual, planted an oak tree in Kew Gardens, and aerial views showed a flowerbed cultivated to look like the Olympic rings. Members of the Queen's Guard in their traditional red coats and black hats stood in a 1-0-0 formation at the Horse Guards Parade, soon to be the site of "beach" volleyball.

But the more nitty-gritty harbingers of an imminent Olympic Games -- long lines, construction and gobs of merchandise -- also were in evidence Wednesday in the hours after I landed at Heathrow Airport.

The wait at passport control exceeded an hour as only three officers were on hand to service hundreds of people pouring off international flights. When I finally reached the front, the young officer asked me the customary questions: "What is your profession? What are you doing in London?"

When I told him, he asked, "Are you going to write about your experience in this line?"

I said I might.

"Good," he said, and handed me a complaint form. According to Raj (his real name), a shortage of Border Guard personnel has resulted in numerous headaches for travelers.

"It'll be better for the Olympics, right?" I asked. "No, it'll be just like this," he said.

So be forewarned.

[+] EnlargeSebastien Coe
Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty ImagesAfter speaking to the media Wednesday, LOCOG chairman Sebastian Coe helped plant one of 40 oak trees which will be installed around the country to symbolize "Britain's role in the birth of the modern Olympic movement."

On what was the opposite of a Chamber of Commerce day -- raw, rainy and blustery -- I disembarked at the Stratford Underground/train/light rail station in London's East End. The station will be the main portal to Olympic Park for hundreds of thousands of fans this summer. It's crowded even in the middle of a workday, and I was hip-checked a few times as I meandered in my non-purposeful, jet-lagged fog.

The public toilets in the vast station were closed due to vandalism. A woman, her purse and other belongings strewn around her on the floor near the turnstiles, was sobbing in full meltdown; police officers milled around her talking into their radios, and it was hard to tell whether she had been robbed or was simply having an off day.

Signs advertised disruptions over the next few days as transit officials test different schedules and new express routes from Central London. Needless to say, London needs to make the trains run on time. The system here looks like several intertwined octopi, some with ancient tentacles and others shiny and new, and much of the city's success as host will be judged on how well it bears the massive influx of people.

A percussion section of jackhammers drowned out the usual urban soundtrack in and around Stratford station. The major venues inside the security perimeter of Olympic Park are done, but the grace notes in the surrounding infrastructure aren't. I kept encountering squadrons of workers in yellow hard hats and fluorescent green vests, forming a sort of national team of their own.

Regeneration of this diverse working-class neighborhood was a big selling point for organizers, but it's still a work in progress. For every new apartment building and promising-looking landscaping project, there's a pile of rubble yet to be carted away or a vacant lot yawning. This is normal in an Olympic city, but there's nothing normal about the disruption those cities undergo.

People were streaming out of Olympic Park as I walked toward it over a footbridge and through an enormous shopping mall, both new. The grounds are being opened for certain test events and today's invitees saw synchronized swimming and wheelchair rugby.

Most of the stores in the new mall are open for business, including one selling Team Russia gear by the apparel maker Bosco di Ciliege. I could smell snow and Sochi 2014; in each Olympic Games are the commercial seeds of the next.

Postscript


The 100-days-out mark was noted by the city's many newspapers in a mostly understated way, with front-page teases to inside material. The Daily Telegraph did a pull-out section with an interesting column by Paul Hayward and a list of "100 athletes who can become stars this summer." Brits comprised the majority, but the list included numerous nationalities, including Americans Jordyn Wieber (gymnastics), Alise Post (BMX) and Boyd Martin (equestrian); the NBA's Derrick Rose; and swimmers Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin and Janet Evans.

Bonnie D. Ford covers Olympic sports for ESPN.com.

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