In London, optimism fulfilled

Thousands celebrate as Britain is awarded the 2012 Summer Olympics

July 07, 2005|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON - Britons shinnied up lampposts yesterday, scaled public monuments, stood jammed side by side and heel to toe on public squares or crowded on balconies high above the gathering crowds. They waved flags large and small, enjoying themselves while they could.

The British can be accused of a lot of things, but optimism isn't one of them, so it was time to have a laugh before an expected defeat rained down like a London shower, washing away their dreams.

The British, it seemed, were doing what the British do: getting just excited enough to be genuinely disappointed when their hopes come crashing down.

Even as they gathered, a slow drizzle spit on them.

Then this happened: Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, took to a podium in Singapore just before 1 p.m. London time and announced, "The International Olympic Committee has the honor of announcing that the Games of the 30th Olympiad in 2012 are awarded to the city of - London."

After that pause, then after he said, "London," the city temporarily lost its collective mind in very un-British-like euphoria.

And with his announcement, London's almost perpetually overcast gray skies - honest to Queen Elizabeth II - soon broke to clear blue and bright sunshine.

London began a party that lasted until that sunshine gave way to night, celebrating the capture of the 2012 Games against high odds. The victory was made all the more sweet because the capital's cross-channel rival and the favorite of oddsmakers, Paris, was slumped in defeat.

"Yes! Yes! Yes!" screamed Cesar de Araujo, 26, a courier who curbed his scooter at Trafalgar Square to listen to the announcement - to listen, he figured, to Paris being named as the 2012 hosts.

"I was waiting, hoping, but not believing," he said, when his fist stopped pumping into the air. "Of course, I knew we had a chance, but London doesn't win much."

In hero's shadow

Trafalgar Square, where the British naval hero Lord Nelson stands perched atop a towering column - he's the person who beat the odds to rout the French and Spanish at sea 200 years ago - was, fittingly enough, the center of London's celebration.

Thousands of people had gathered in the square to watch the announcement on large-screen televisions, arriving before the lunch hour began. And when bid cities Moscow, New York and Madrid were eliminated - leaving Paris and London to go at it homme to bloke - thousands more people streamed from their offices to the square - just in case.

When London was announced the winner - final vote over Paris: 54-50 - they hugged and hopped and even cried in Nelson's shadow, then danced and kept dancing as cannons shot plumes of confetti in the Olympic colors down upon them.

They cheered from windows of the National Gallery, waved flags of St. George and flags of Great Britain. And from the great balconies of the South Africa house and from the rundown lots of East London, people did the same.

At Trafalgar - the surrounding streets taken over by people rushing on foot to celebrate, finally, a national victory - people on open-topped, double-decker buses stuck in their tracks jumped up and down with arms stretched overhead. And these people were mostly tourists, just caught up in the mood.

From nowhere, nine jets flying in "V" formation thundered overhead, so close to the ground it seemed Nelson's remaining arm might go up in a very un-Olympic-like, one-fingered salute.

`Greatest city'

"Many people do reckon that London is the greatest city in the whole world at the moment," Prime Minister Tony Blair gushed after hearing the result in Gleneagles, Scotland, where he is host of the Group of Eight summit.

The prime minister, who spent two days lobbying in Singapore this week, said he "couldn't bear to watch" the vote on TV and heard the result when he received a call from the switchboard at his Downing Street office in London.

"This is a momentous day for London," he said.

The Olympics will be the first in London since the 1948 Games.

And while the spirit of the Olympic Games is supposed to be about sportsmanship and not gloating in victory, London's victory was a finger in the eye to French President Jacques Chirac.

It could have been a kick in his teeth, but his mouth has lately been occupied by his foot: Two days ago a microphone picked up his comments to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, catching Chirac joking that the only thing the English have contributed to agriculture has been mad cow disease - a disease that has killed dozens of Britons.

French congratulations

The French president, who had traveled to Singapore for the city's final presentation to the Olympic committee, learned of the defeat aboard the plane carrying him to the G-8 summit in Scotland.

Chirac congratulated London and wished "good luck and full success to the authorities and British people," his office said.

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