Athletes arrival in London puts airport under pressure


LONDON: The Olympic Athletes’ Village opened its doors yesterday to the first competitors as the logistical operation to handle the arrival of thousands of athletes and officials shifted into a higher gear.

Questions remained though about the recruitment of security staff after Britain was forced to draft in 3,500 troops to make up a shortfall in private guards.

London’s Heathrow Airport was handling a record number of passengers, with the Olympics arrivals swelling numbers to almost 237,000 at the west London hub, compared to 190,000 on an ordinary day.

The first priority “Games Lane” went into operation on the M4 motorway leading from Heathrow, designed to allow athletes and officials to be whisked to their destinations without becoming snarled up in London traffic.

At Heathrow, operator BAA said waiting times had been reduced to within targets set by the interior ministry since extra staff were put in place on Sunday after queues of several hours at passport control in recent weeks.

For the athletes, more than 500 volunteers, speaking more than 20 languages between them, welcomed groups as they landed.

Holland’s women’s beach volleyball team flew in from Amsterdam in a blaze of orange tops and said they were impressed by the setup.

One of the players, Marleen van Iersel, 24, told AFP: “From the moment we walked off the plane there were people helping us straight away. It is very well-organised.”

A large US contingent arrived at Heathrow earlier, including members of the sailing teams.

At the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London, the village was ready and waiting to welcome its first inhabitants.

Competitors and officials will be accommodated in 2,818 apartments across 11 residential blocks, each built around a courtyard offering athletes private areas to relax.

Organisers could do nothing though about the grey skies and persistent drizzle in London as athletes got a first taste of their home for the next three weeks.

The Australian team had already taken over several balconies of one block, with a banner reading “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie; Oi, Oi, Oi” spread across them.

What was billed as the biggest anti-doping operation in Olympic history also got under way yesterday.

Half of all competitors will be tested with a team of 150 scientists taking more than 6,000 samples between now and the end of the Paralympic Games on Sept 9.

Meanwhile, the first complaints about the transport came from two-time world 400m hurdles champion Kerron Clement, who claimed the bus ferrying him and his US team-mates from Heathrow to the Athletes’ Village had taken four hours.

Clement tweeted: “Um, so we’ve been lost on the road for 4hrs. Not a good first impression London.

“Athletes are sleepy, hungry and need to pee. Could we get to the Olympic Village please.” — AFP

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