August 22nd, 2008
04:24 PM GMT
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On Sunday the baton passes to London (sorry for the pun) for the 2012 Summer Games. But as we have seen in the 4×100 relay with both American squads, it's easy to fumble the exchange and suffer indignation for the next four years.

London's Olympic park will transform the city's east.
London's Olympic park will transform the city's east.

London 2012 organizers have sworn that the city will be ready - and ready a year early. Of course we've heard that before only to see venues finished with just weeks to go. I seem to recall the last minute renovations for beach volleyball in Athens.
London has a right to be confident of a gold medal. The International Olympic Committee said the progress on the Olympic Park is "truly outstanding" with four years to go. The park has been a massive building site for a year already. 

There is little else for London to build. Some of the rest of the venues are existing world-class structures (Wimbledon for tennis, Wembley for football, Eton Dorney for rowing). Then there is the usual temporary use of existing buildings (the ‘Dome' for gymnastics, Earls Court for volleyball, ExCel Centre for boxing, table tennis, weight lifting and martial arts). London is also proud that there will be the last minute transformation of iconic sites just for the games (the Queen's horses will be pushed aside at Horse Guards Parade for the barely-dressed Beach Volleyball participants).

The credit crunch has made it difficult for private contractors to get funding to build the athletics' housing. The money is coming from the existing budget for now, but will have to be paid back. At least that's the plan.

The British press continues to focus on this budget. It was set last year at £9.3bn ($17bn) and has not moved. It was a lot smaller when the 2012 Games were awarded in 2005, but tax and security was added along with a contingency cushion. Then there is the rise in steel prices.

The games themselves will cost a further $4bn and be paid for by corporations, TV rights, merchandise, ticket sales etc.)

That budget - much of which will be spent on lasting projects that will transform east London – has not moved once.

And that is why London won the games instead of Paris.

London promised to clean up an industrial wasteland. I was at the site two weeks ago and the biggest structures on site are massive machines that literally wash the soil for reuse. The rivers are also being cleaned up and the ugly power lines are being buried below the whole area. 90 percent of the industrial waste (bricks etc.) is staying on site to build foundations for the venues.

So now with the budget set and the building well underway, everyone is asking what will be left afterwards.

The stadium will be cut down from 80,000 seats to 25,000 and become the home for the country's athletics. The various cycling venues will be relocated next to the new velodrome being built near the stadium. Britain won four times as many medals in cycling in Beijing compared the next country and it wants to build on that success with a focused national cycling center.

But many people want to know how London will benefit beyond sports, particularly since tax payers, lottery players and local councils are footing much of the bill.

East London is ethically diverse with high unemployment, high crime, and few decent stores, even though it is just a few miles from the bank towers of Canary Wharf.

Organizers say the Olympic site will be transformed into to the biggest urban park constructed in Europe for 150 years. New transportation links will fill a region devoid of infrastructure and the Olympic Village will be sold off for thousands of homes. There is already a massive mall being built on the edge of the site.

But critics are worried that falling land values will be force the Olympic Delivery Authority to sell the land off to the highest bidder to help pay back some of the government's bills. They want the London's mayor to promise that some land will simply be handed over to local groups (as was hinted to years ago).

Britain has done much better than expected in the Beijing Olympics and that will put pressure of the organizers to get it right. Many people in Britain will judge that on whether the budget proves to be optimistic and whether the government continues to support Team GB with the amount of money needed to build on Beijing's success.

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