Friday’s opening of the Olympic Games comes at a time when the British people and many others around the world feel the stress of joblessness and debt and struggle to maintain living standards.
The Olympics won’t make anyone forget those troubles. But the Games will give us an opportunity to celebrate the best of the world’s athleticism and the spirit of friendly competition.
The British have done this before, and brilliantly. Europe’s problems today pale next to what it faced the last time London hosted the Games.
In 1948, death and destruction haunted postwar Europe. The allies had won the war, but England had lost its economic grip. Its infrastructure was a shambles, its credit tapped out. Even the weather that year was worse than the weeks of rain that preceded this summer’s Games.
The British carried out the ’48 Olympics on the cheap. No new venues were built. Athletes were billeted at former military camps. Contestants were told to supply their own towels. Many brought food as well. One British athlete eager to build herself up ahead of the Games forced down the only readily available, unrationed animal protein she could find: whale meat.
The opening ceremony concluded with a release of pigeons, though fewer than was intended. Thousands had died in their holding pens.
But the Games of ’48 were a popular success. They helped to heal terrible wounds.
The Games beginning Friday won’t match the money’s-no-object spectacle of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. To keep rain and fog at bay for the opening ceremony, the Chinese even used missiles to seed the clouds. But given the times, the 2012 Olympics may be an even more impressive achievement.
The run-up hasn’t exactly been smooth. The planners spent three times as much as the original estimate in 2005. Great Britain has scrambled to meet security concerns. Traffic has been trouble.
Then there was the diplomatic dust-up this week when Mitt Romney arrived in London and promptly and publicly doubted whether the city was ready for the Games. Bad form, Mr. Romney.
London’s preparations were completed on schedule. The city has used the opportunity to regenerate depressed neighborhoods in the east of its metropolitan area. Housing and transit have been transformed, with every expectation of lasting benefits. Working in Britain’s favor: It has a lot of recent experience with showcasing itself to the world. It hosted the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee earlier this year and a royal wedding in 2011.
Sure, there will be controversy. There always is. At least nine athletes already have been suspended for alleged doping violations. One athlete was kicked off the Greek team for sending an insensitive tweet.
But we look forward to 16 days of the most fleet and graceful athletes in the world performing at their peak, performing to honor their homelands.
Best of luck, London. You’ve brought the world to your doorstep. Now bring on the Games.