Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Olympic flame arrives to fire up the Games

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LONDON -- With the flame come the Games.

After years of preparation and months of buildup, London's Olympic moment finally arrived Friday night.

Royal Marine Martyn Williams carried the Olympic torch as he rappelled down from a Royal Navy Sea King helicopter into the Tower of London on the shore of the River Thames. The commando's grand entrance plunged the symbol of the Games into the city's historic heart, bringing Olympic pageantry to the British capital that last held the event in 1948.

Crowds lined the city's famed riverbanks to see the torch arrive, while Yeoman warders -- the ceremonial Tower guards popularly known as Beefeaters -- looked on from inside the landmark's grounds.

For Londoners, the arrival of the torch ignites a time of excitement as well as four weeks of huge crowds and transport strains.

Organizers have tried to smooth the way. London Underground subway lines are festooned with large magenta and pink signs pointing routes to the Olympic venues. Cartoony ads with wide-eyed horses and beefy musclemen warn commuters to remember that Olympic competitions are taking place and to rethink their daily journeys. Barriers are being erected to mark the special traffic lanes for Olympic vehicles.

Londoners, who already struggle to get to work on weekdays, aren't convinced all will be well and haven't been shy about saying so. The atmosphere of gloom has been segmented by the never-ending rain and a constant stream of headlines about the failure of security contractor G4S to provide enough guards.

The mayor has a message for the naysayers: "Put a sock in it."

"We've got an advanced case of Olympo-funk," London Mayor Boris Johnson wrote in an op-ed piece in The Sun newspaper.

Ready or not, the Games are a reality. Olympic banners in hot pink, acid yellow and lime green have painted London in neon. The tubby Cyclops-like mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville, are dancing around central London tourist attractions in a desperate bid to be huggable. The city's famous red double-decker buses are sporting ads flogging the last of the unsold Olympic soccer tickets.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 21, 2012 C4

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