Daily Digest London: The Games begin

Jeff Hargarten

Individual flames combined to form Stratford’s Olympic torch Friday evening, marking the end to director Danny Boyle’s open ceremonies and the athlete’s parade. Marry Poppins had slain Lord Voldemort before cheering crowds admiring the £27 million theatrical event. Smoke from the performance and blitz of fireworks cleared, ending the first of many spectacles to come.

The Games have begun.

Gold medals have already been claimed on the first day of competition, China taking two victories in shooting and one in weightlifting, continuing their success from Beijing. China currently leads the medal count with three, followed by Russia with two.

Straight shot Javelin trains from St. Pancras brought spectators to Stratford’s Olympic Park this morning. London’s Underground also overflowed with tourists and locals alike piling onto the Tube. Others crossed the River Thames between Greenwich and the East End aboard newly-opened cable cars shooting through the sky. Weeks of warnings to prepare Londoners for extra stress on city transportation systems continued droning over public speaker systems as many more continue to arrive from all across the globe.

Those leaving the Tube in East London emerged in Westfield’ Stratford City, a sprawling American-style megamall teeming with shoppers and gawkers purchasing souvenirs from the many London 2012 Stores or snapping photos from observation platforms overlooking the sporting venues. Those without tickets cannot enter the Olympic Park, but can stare in from its periphery from the mall and train station.

Westfield was a separate project from the Olympic construction effort, but has been called a success in the Games’ preparation by LOCOG officials, the mall acting as a major hub of commercial and social activities for organizers, employees, residents and visitors. Games employees, delegates and athletes strolled through Stratford and Westfield on break, wearing telltale purple shirts with badges hanging from their necks. They sat in expansive food courts offering a diversity of eats from across the world, ranging from fine dining to a quick bite.

Some of London’s more than 12,500 police officers on hand for the Games patrolled shops, ticket gates and transport hubs. Military personnel returned from Afghanistan were assigned to fill gaps in London’s security scheme for the events, camouflage-clad soldiers in red barrettes likewise guarding parameters through Stratford’s new beating socioeconomic heart.

Reporters from across the world are camped out throughout London though mainly concentrated in Stratford’s Media Village. Media professionals carrying large microphones were standing among streaming crowds trying to get reactions from Olympic spectators and shoppers.

Dark pink signs pointed pedestrians to the nearest sporting venues and hundreds of screens showcased live Olympic events from across London. Event tickets are mostly sold out, making the purchase of last-minute passes extremely difficult, even for some of the smaller events. Tickets on LOCOG’s website, those meant for UK residents, are also mostly unavailable.

A couple visiting from the Twin Cities sat in Westfield’s food court, meeting with the wives of Team USA wrestlers. Neither had been in the UK before and had been touring the city since Wednesday, having scored tickets for wrestling events later in the games.

Olympic-themed events and festivities coinciding with the Games have popped up across London and the UK to provide outlets for celebration for those unable to obtain event tickets or access to the Olympic Park.