LONDON — Amid extra-tight security boasting of surface-to-air missiles on rooftops and a warship on the famous River Thames, the US$14.5 billion 30th Olympic Games comes off the wraps on Friday with a welcome party that promises to take your breath away.
To the booming sound of a 27-ton bell, the party begins at nine on a beautiful evening as this city that’s home to a beloved king and queen becomes the battle ground for athletic excellence among more than 10,000 athletes from 204 nations in the next forthnight.
Queen Elizabeth II will declare the Games open before an audience of more than one billion people and a long list of personalities from politics, entertainment and business inside the Olympic Stadium as the city basks in the limelight as host of the world's biggest sporting event for the third time.
Before battles begin in 302 events from 26 sports, the world will be treated to a glitzy, expensive opening rites themed 'Ísles of Wonder' with a cast of thousands under visionary director Stephen Boyle of the Slumdog Millionare fame.
The welcome party promises to entertain, dazzle and awe with a large dose of British touch in store for all of us — Beatles songs, James Bond 007 antics, William Shakespeare’s inspired sequences and wonderful moments derived from fictions Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and Harry Potter.
In another highlight of the show, a total of 205 nations will take part in the marchpast, with the host country coming out last, 542 strong and looming large to get a good slice of the medal pie that will be on the line.
As host of the 2008 Olympics, China lorded it over, winning 51 gold, 21 silver and 28 bronze medals in a triumphant campaign as they dislodged the United States (36-38-26) as the new No. 1 power for the first time since coming back to the sports mainstream in 1992 in Barcelona.
Here in this city noted for famous landmarks such as Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park and double-deckers and fish and chips, it’s going to be the same with the Chinese and the Americans figuring in another battle for the overall championship.
It’s one spectacle teeming with household names,the rich and famous, the good and the beautiful.
Name them and this edition of the quadrennial meet has got it.
It has swimming demon Michael Phelps, the face of the 2008 Beijing Games, who achieved a historic eight-gold medal haul as he raised his career Olympic victories to 14 after winning six in Atlanta.
It has Usain Bolt, the ‘Lighting’ to one and all who dazzled the world with a sweep of the 100m and 200m events in record times, and a host of worthy challengers led by Yohan Blake and Tyson Gay.
It has basketball superstars like Lebron James of the Miami Heat, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who won the gold medal in Beijing without a loss.
It has tennis icons like Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova , Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic, making the Olympics as if it’s Wimbledon time all over again.
And it has Zara Philips, daughter of Princess Caroline, and 14th in line to the British throne. She’s a former equestrian champ.
So the Olympiad marred by security concerns up to the closing days of its buildup is about to explode in a kaleidoscope of sights and sounds, its problems buried and forgotten.
Security became a big worry after a private company appointed to handle this aspect failed to produce enough personnel for the job, forcing organizers to scramble for help.
The government came to the rescue, pulling out some men in Afghanistan to secure the Games which come amid economic travails for the country and the rest of Europe.
And the Games is on.