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Race to Olympics enters home straight

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David Bond | 14:49 UK time, Wednesday, 18 April 2012

There is still a lot of work to be done but with 100 days to go London Olympic organisers can reflect that their journey up to now has been largely stress free.

The so-called "big build" of the main venues has been completed with few dramas, Locog have commendably raised £700m in commercial revenues to pay for the staging of the Games and the torch is due to land here in just over a month's time.

Sure, there is a lot still to be done. As Locog chief executive Paul Deighton pointed out at Wednesday's event at a damp and chilly Kew Gardens, they still have 200,000 temporary seats to install - the equivalent of more than two Wembleys.

The last batch of one million tickets will go on sale at the start of May. With Wednesday's BBC Radio 5 live poll suggesting there is still indifference to the Games outside London and the south east this may determine whether the rest of the country starts to get a bit more engaged or whether the sense of disaffection many people feel about the ticketing process will spread.

My guess, having watched the countdown to a number of previous Games closely, is that a lot of the cynicism will melt away as the public get caught up in the hype and the sport.

As Paul Hayward so elegantly pointed out in my old paper The Telegraph, we are a nation of sports nuts and once the Games start people will care less about the £9.3bn budget and more about the enthralling human stories which, in an age of cynical sporting commercialism, only the Olympic Games can deliver.

25,000 flowers make up the Olympics rings on display at Kew Gardens, London. Photo: AP

On that score, those responsible for Team GB are growing increasingly optimistic about their chances of delivering on their target of fourth in the medal table. When you consider the £300m that has been invested in elite sport - boosted by a further £750,000 on Wednesday, then that is exactly as it should be.

The cyclists look in great form judging by their performances in the World Cup in Melbourne.

David Tanner, the performance director for British rowing, told me a couple of weeks back that this was the strongest team he had ever put together - some assessment given his track record in previous Games.

And sailing, the other British banker, also looks to be on course to deliver their usual gold rush.

On Monday I spent a few hours with three-time gold medallist Ben Ainslie as he returned for his first training session of the year on the Olympic sailing course at Weymouth and Portland.

Ainslie has had a dreadful winter. First he faced suspension from the sport after he lost it and dived into the water to confront a cameraman who got in his way during the World Championships in Perth in December.

Then, more worryingly, he injured his back and had to have surgery. He has openly admitted that the last three months have been the darkest of his glittering career but having won on his return to action in the World Cup in Palma, Mallorca, a couple of weeks ago, he does now seem to be back on track.

The impressive National Sailing Academy in Weymouth and Portland is just starting to buzz with the ambition of our sailors. Over the next couple of months the crews will be fine-tuning their preparations on the waters which they will have to race on this summer, testing the tides and the winds so they know exactly what to expect.

You would think that having been here so many times before, someone like Ainslie might not need to put in the hours in quite the same way as he did before his first gold back in Sydney in 2000. But he says he is training harder than ever. He knows that the unique pressures of a home Games mean that his previous achievements could be overlooked if he doesn't win here.

Away from the middle class sitting-down sports, the swimmers look capable of competing with the best in the world - remarkable when you consider where the sport was before London won the bid to stage the Games in 2005.

But the picture in the blue riband sport, athletics, is a bit more mixed. Performance director Charles van Commenee is confident that his team will get the eight medals he has set as a target and the performance at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul was encouraging.

There are some concerns over some of the more high profile members of the team.

Mo Farah has lost some of his invincible aura since his historic triumph over 5,000m in the World Championships in Daegu last August.

Paula Radcliffe was always a long shot for a medal in the marathon but her performance in the half marathon in Vienna at the weekend suggests she is even further off the pace than first feared.

And poster girl Jessica Ennis knows she faces an almighty task to deliver the gold so many people have already hung around her neck.

All of this is very domestic of course and one of the most striking features about the 100 days to go event at Kew was the trebling in the number of international TV crews and journalists in attendance.

Locog chair Sebastian Coe has spent the last few months travelling the globe drumming up interest in the Games. He says he has never experienced such a sense of anticipation around the countdown to an Olympics.

He is bound to say that, of course, but the biggest change many people will notice in the coming months is the level of international expectation and pressure. This is when the scale of the Games and the event Britain is hosting really hits home.

London has earned the admiration of the world for its preparations so far. But all that will count for nothing if Locog and Team GB drop the baton during the final run-in.


  • Comment number 1.

    Purely in anticipation of the torrent of negativity that is bound to arrive, I'll get in early with a positive message.

    100 days to go and excitment for me is building. The venues look fantastic, the atmosphere will be incredible and the olympic park when fully finished will be stunning.

    Yes, it will be busy, yes there will travel problems, yes the ticketing wasn't perfect but it will be worth it. This is an absolute once in a lifetime event and as an East London resident I've been looking forward to the games beginning for years.

    I really hope when the games do arrive those naysayers either do as they keep promising and clear out of London or get on board. This is going to be an amazing 2 weeks and we dont want then spoiling it with their dour attitude.

  • Comment number 2.

    I for one can't wait for the games. I did fairly well with the tickets, bagging tickets to 4 different events (although athletics tickets remains elusive). I am not from London or the South East and I am whole-heartedly in "Olympics mode".

    100 days cant come soon enough!

  • Comment number 3.

    Not every country gets to stage an event of the size and importance of the Olympic Games. And be clear too, this is once in a lifetime stuff. If you have kids under twelve, they may be fortunate to see another Games on these isles in their lifetime – maybe.

    For these reasons alone, shouldn’t we just relax and embrace this incredible opportunity to see our country, and our talent showcased on a stage that simply cannot be replicated?

  • Comment number 4.

    100 days to go, I can't believe it. So many years to wait and now people are counting in days it's incredible.

  • Comment number 5.

    Sorry, is this piece supposed to be about the success or otherwise of the games in an organizational sense? Seems like it, but then Mr Bond goes off on a tangent about the chances of certain individual athletes, as if their own individual fortunes have a bearing in the organization of the games. Excuse me?

    In a news report Mr Bond was just bemoaning the fact that "the star of the Games, Jessica Ennis" didn't win gold in the World Championships. "Star Of The Games" isn't an award I am aware of so presume it's Mr Bond's personal editorial opinion???

    Dear God, are we to be blessed with articles of this "journalistic" standard for the next three months?. If so I think the athletes performance is the least of our worries.

  • Comment number 6.

    Watching some of the video highlights from previous olympics here on the BBC site has whetted my appetite even more & I have always been an Olympics enthusiast (and I live in South Wales not the South East of England).

    I suspect a lot of the cynicism & pessimism will melt away nearer the games as with the Royal Wedding last year - so many who said they had no interest ended up being glued to the TV on the day.

  • Comment number 7.

    Unfortunately we can no longer reply to Steve Cram's pieces but why is Paula Radcliffe even selected. Her time has passed and considering her performances over the last couple of years it is a really questionable selection policy that enables her to qualify for the Olympic marathon so far out.

    Swimming have had the right attitude in setting their standards high and forcing their athletes to raise their performance so they can go to the games and compete, rather than go to the games and make up the numbers.

    Back on topic and can't wait. Booked the time off work for the first week before anyone else can and can't wait. Talking of which considering they moved the Bank Holiday for the Jubilee they really should have moved the August bank holiday to mid-Olympics (as it will be in Scotland) too.

  • Comment number 8.

    I just keep thinking of how many hours of really good programmes could have been made with the money that the Beeb has squandered on this charade. Now we have a slogan to add. Nothing from Seb and his mates about the financial disaster for UK businesses as we struggle to carry on in London; no compensation (I have asked but no reply!) and we all remember that no country has ever recouped the costs of an olympics event. It's a farce; our license money is being wasted on hours of boredom all because Seb decided it would be a good idea. Conned? Oh yes! And now £7billion over budget (and counting) - why have we all believed in this utter crap?

  • Comment number 9.

    100 days out,I just can't wait, I've love the Olympics, watching LA84 with my dad as an 11 year old is the first one I can remember, I've got tickets too, My misses is from Australia and missed out on Sydney 2000, so to take our family to games will be a dream come true, the only thing I'm hoping for now is we beat the Aussies in the medal table so I can have the bragging rights in our house.

  • Comment number 10.

    I cannot wait for the Olympics! So glad that its not just London that has events and that the South West has had a bit of a revamp as well.

    So many people just thinking this is all about London, but with other events around the country this is a completely national event and I for one cannot wait!

  • Comment number 11.

    Cannot wait for this, it's once in a lifetime and will get so many youngsters into sport as a result of this.

    I kinda enjoy reading peoples negative comments, it's funny and no doubt people like the Aussies read it and think "whinging poms", as it's these whingers that give us this kind of reputation! They are probably just bitter as pre-tickets they were all excited but as soon as they got no tickets via ballot or other ways then they throw their toys out the pram!

    Whatever the case, this will be a huge spectacle and looking forward to an upsurge of interest in my local athletics club when it's all over!

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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