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The Globe and Mail

While Londoners herald 100 days to Olympics, the rest of the U.K. couldn't give a toss

Members of West End theatre shows and British athletes take part in a "West End Warm-Up" performance at Trafalgar Square in London April 18, 2012.


One hundred days to go, and it was a rainy morning of mixed tidings for the 2012 Olympics: A giant sandcastle bearing the famous rings was built on the beach at Weymouth, while at the other end of the country 82 per cent of the population sniffed that a month of sports and hoo-ha would do them no good at all.

Only 16 per cent of Scots think the Olympics will benefit them, according to a BBC poll released today (two per cent are unsure). That disdain, to varying degrees, is reflected in the country outside of London, where the Olympics begin on July 27.

But at least one Scot thinks that only a numpty would disparage the games. "This is about the whole of Great Britain," said John Hamilton, one of 8,000 people who will carry the Olympic torch across the country. "We're the United Kingdom, not the divided kingdom. And I hope we never will be."

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Mr. Hamilton, 47, is originally from Glasgow but now lives in east London, where his local MP nominated him for torch-bearing duties, to honour his work with a Christian charity. He stood shivering in his London 2012 uniform in the miserable aftermath of an icy downpour, while nearby the British Olympocracy toed the 100-day mark.

The forecast from the experts: An optimistic outlook, but there's always the chance of unexpected squalls.

"Preparations have gone extremely well but there is still a huge amount to do," said Jeremy Hunt, the secretary for culture, media and sport, at a press conference in London's Kew Gardens this morning. His message for colleagues in government? "There's no room for complacency."

Seb Coe – now Lord Coe, the London 2012 point man, but three decades ago an aspiring Olympian in Moscow and Los Angeles – dug out his old training diaries. One hundred days before 1984 games he was running 200 meter sprints, with 160 training sessions in front of him. That, he implied, was the hard work London had to look forward to in the next three and half months.

The main structures have already been built, but as the CEO of the Olympics organizing committee, Paul Deighton, pointed out, there are still 200,000 temporary seats to install; the historic venues of Horse Guards Parade and Greenwich Park to be transformed into beach volleyball and equestrian venues; and five new arenas to be built inside the Excel conference centre. Or, as he liked to put it, "When it comes to the risk of complacency, only the paranoid succeed."

So, what could go wrong, apart from all the shrubs not being planted in time? Security is obviously the most pressing concern, with Olympics minister Hugh Robertson noting that more money had been found in the government budget for safety measures: "There's now a much better mix of military, private security guards, and volunteers backed by a very considerable military contingent who work very closely with the Metropolitan Police and the security services."

But will all of this cost too much, especially for a country on weak economic footing? The £9.3-billion Olympics budget may cost twice that in the end. Sixty-four per cent of people responding to today's BBC poll said that taxpayers were shelling out too much for the games.

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For Mr. Hunt, it was analogous to asking a shopper on Christmas Eve whether he had spent too much on gifts: "The time to ask whether it's been worth it all is after the event, when people can look at this amazing summer that we're going to have."

That is, unless Heathrow and London's roads are clogged like a flu-season nasal passage. A special terminal will be erected at the airport on Aug. 13, the most hectic departure day, but there's still only so much that can be done to relieve congestion at the world's busiest international airport.

The mood one hundred days away may be described as cautious optimism – except among the 70,000 Olympic volunteers and the 8,000 torch bearers, in which case there's nothing guarded at all.

Margaret Noel, 58. who will carry the torch for a mile through her home borough of Ealing in west London, said, "it was an amazing thing to be chosen. And it was a complete surprise." Ms. Noel, who has run a charity for young people for twenty years and recently launched a campaign against knife crime, was nominated, without her knowledge, by her daughter. "When I read what she'd written, I cried."

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