SPORTS

Olympic organizers draw high praise for just about all preparations, except transport

07/24/2012 03:58 EDT | Updated 09/23/2012 05:12 EDT
LONDON - Praise is coming thick and fast for London Olympics planners for their preparations. But transport problems could still derail their good work.

With the women's football competition kicking off Wednesday, two days ahead of what is being billed as a quintessentially British opening ceremony, most of the pieces are in place. Even the weather has turned friendly.

As the temperature touched 30 Celsius (85.5 F) in the southeast on Tuesday — the hottest day of the year so far in Britain — the International Olympic Committee was lavishing praise on Sebastian Coe and his organizing team, saying it expects the games to be a major success, despite acknowledging continuing challenges with security and transportation.

"Now comes the crucial delivery phase — I remain very optimistic," IOC President Jacques Rogge said.

Former England captain David Beckham missed out on a spot in the British Olympic squad but has confirmed he'll play a part in the curtain raiser.

"It is some kind of role in the opening ceremony which I am honoured to be involved in because obviously I was involved in the start process with this seven years ago," Beckham, who was involved in London's winning pitch for the games in 2005, told The Associated Press. "And for Seb (Coe) to have kept me involved, I'm very proud of that.

"I was at the stadium yesterday and the park yesterday and you can feel the kind of atmosphere building, the excitement building. I was brought up around this side of London and, you know, to actually see the changes that have happened and the excitement that's going on is a proud moment."

Lucky for him, he wasn't relying on public transport. The aging underground and rail system is London's potential Achilles heel, with the system expected to cater for up to 15 million journeys per day during the Olympics.

On Monday night, two train links serving the Olympic Park — one subway line for central London and another for an overland train — temporarily went down as thousands of volunteers rehearsed for Friday's opening ceremony.

"We got everybody home. It was a successful dress rehearsal and we're looking forward to delivering the real thing on Friday," Britain's Transport Secretary, Justine Greening, said Tuesday. "But, of course ... on a transport system as complex as London's, things do go wrong."

Peter Hendy, the city's transport chief, is warning people that "there will be some queues." That's a British event in its own right. And another influx of troops should help keep them in line.

Britain's government opted Tuesday to deploy 1,200 more troops to protect Olympic venues — a move that reflects a lack of confidence that private security contractor G4S can deliver all it promised for the games.

The reinforcements mean that some 18,200 U.K. military personnel are now involved in some capacity in securing the London Games.

"On the eve of the largest peacetime event ever staged in this country, ministers are clear that we should leave nothing to chance," Olympics Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement. "The Government continues to have every confidence that we will deliver a safe and secure Games."

Thousands of British soldiers have been sent in on short notice to fill the gap in guards after G4S failed to deliver on its contract.

Despite the problems, praise was still coming from many quarters — some not entirely expected.

Positive sentiments are usually expressed begrudgingly between Anglo-Australian rivals. Not so on Tuesday, when the head of the Australian delegation to the Olympics said he expected London to host the "best ever" Olympics. That mantle hasn't been bestowed since the days of Juan Antonio Samaranch, who declared the 2000 Games in Sydney — his last Olympics as head of the IOC — as the best ever.

"London's learned a lot out of Sydney ... my view is it'll be the best ever," Nick Green told a news conference, drawing mock indignation from the predominantly Australian media.

The British women's football team will get competition under way in a group match against New Zealand in Cardiff. The U.S. women open against France at Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland, before North Korea against Colombia. World champion Japan opens against Canada in Coventry.

The Americans have been training in Scotland for a week and are ready to get started.

"You can feel the tension start to rise," goalkeeper Hope Solo said. "It's a good, positive energy, and people are going into tackles harder. It's like 'unleash the beast.' We're waiting for somebody to unleash us."

The Brazilian men's squad had a setback two days before it opens against Egypt with goalkeeper Rafael ruled out after hurting his right elbow in a training accident.

Brazil team doctors said exams Tuesday showed the injury will keep Rafael on the sidelines for up to three weeks. Neto, a 23-year-old reserve goalkeeper for Fiorentina, will be Brazil's starter during the Olympic tournament, with 19-year-old AC Milan goalkeeper Gabriel, who was on coach Mano Menezes' standby list, drafted into the squad.

The biggest name in track and field is still keeping a low profile in Birmingham, where the Jamaican track squad is finetuning.

The school kids who lined up to catch a glimpse of Usain Bolt were disappointed when he — along with Yohan Blake — didn't show up for an open session.

The no-show led instantly to speculation that Bolt might be sick or hurt.

Not so says Don Quarrie, an Olympic gold medallist and the team's technical athletics manager.

"He's 101 per cent," Quarrie reassured. "He's ready."

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Follow John Pye on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JP_at_AP

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