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Richard Moore:

Ready to go

Richard Moore Posted 27th July 2012 view comments

There are still small bits of it that look unfinished, but that is par for the course. Otherwise, there is no mistaking, as you enter the Olympic Park, that the Games are very nearly upon us.

You can feel it in the air. Everyone's in a good mood, for one thing. The volunteers are smiling and helpful. The soldiers who frisk you on the way in are ready with a friendly quip.

The staff in the shops are polite and chatty, and as eager as everyone else to make a good impression, even while declining your MasterCard (Visa only, which feels faintly sinister, as though you've stepped from the Westfield shopping centre into a parallel universe with its own currency).

Still the good mood persists. It combines the nervous excitement of a first day at a new school with the giddy anticipation of Christmas Eve. Grizzled, cynical old journalists seem in unusually buoyant spirits, bounding around the vast media centre, recce-ing the coffee bars and massage parlour (seriously: there is a massage parlour).

Even the poor sods on the IT desk, whose job it is to help said journalists work their laptops ("Have you tried turning it off and then on again sir?"), are in happy spirits.

I had slight problems but nothing too serious. I am ready to go.

Usain Bolt
Quotes of the week

It'll never last. Or maybe it will? Perhaps, as seemed to be the case in Beijing, these Olympic Games will infuse the host city and its people with goodwill and good humour.

The effect is like sunshine. And it probably helps that the two events have coincided: summer and the start of the Games.

You can find yourself carried along on a wave of optimism and enthusiasm, which must be true of all Olympics, with the exception of the joyless experience of Atlanta in 1996. Those Games are recalled with a shudder.

Four years ago I was in Beijing and enjoyed all the obvious highlights: Bolt, Phelps, Adlington, Hoy. Four years on, it is a little strange, though certainly no less exciting, to once again be looking forward to Bolt, Phelps, Adlington, Hoy. But I expect that, as in Beijing, the more personal highlights will be the unexpected and the surreal.

It is impossible to predict when or where such moments will occur, but in Beijing a highlight was a women's preliminary pool C beach volleyball match: Georgia against Russia, just days after the latter had invaded the former.

Undoubtedly the geopolitical context lent the game special significance. But there was no getting away from it: while two nations were at war, their representatives were doing battle in bikinis on a fake beach in Beijing.

The Georgian pair naturally assumed the mantle of underdogs, especially when the Russians raced into an early lead. The Russian girls were serious and unsmiling; the Georgians cheerful, tanned and beautiful. They looked more Copacabana than Baltic.

A thrilling game ensued, the 12,000-crowd becoming swept up in a contest that was clearly loaded with meaning. Astonishingly, as the crowed spurred them on, the Georgian duo staged a fightback to win, at which the Russian girls stormed off in a huff.

But there was a twist. "If they are Georgian then they are the best," said one of the Russians as she tramped off. "But they are not Georgian, they are Brazilian."

It was true. They were ringers. "They don't even know who the Georgian president is," complained one of the Russians. To which one of the Georgian-Brazilians responded: "Of course I know who the president is - he signed my passport!"

To a greater extent than Beijing, London's local landmarks will form a spectacular or quirky backdrop to some events, and it is to these that I am most looking forward. One highlight is the beach volleyball on Horse Guards Parade, of course. Others are the open water swimming in the Serpentine, the triathlon in Hyde Park, and this weekend's cycling road races, which, before crowds expected to be in the hundreds of thousands, head out from London into the Surrey lanes, then back again to finish on the Mall.

The male cyclists will be riding for six hours, but the most anticipated event of the entire Games will be over in under ten seconds, perhaps even nine-point-five-something. The men's 100m, at 8.50pm on Sunday 5 August, will be unmissable. A much closer race is expected than in Beijing, with Usain Bolt set to be challenged by his countrymen Yohan Blake and Asafa Powell, and the Americans Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin.

All eight finalists could go sub-10 seconds. But there will be as much interest in the start as the finish, with the one-false-start-and-you're-out rule adding even more nervous tension to an event that really didn't need it.

Just thinking about it is enough to give me the shivers.

Some personal highlights:

Saturday 28 July and Sunday 29 July

Cycling: Mark Cavendish starts as favourite in the men's road race on Sunday, and then Nicole Cooke defends her title on Sunday. The women's team appears less harmonious than the men's, with Lizzie Armitstead perhaps the best bet for gold.

Saturday 28 July and Sunday 29 July

Swimming: Two of Britain's top female swimmers, Hannah Miley and Rebecca Adlington, have medal chances on the opening weekend. Miley goes in Saturday's 400m individual medley while Adlington defends the 400m freestyle title she won in Beijing.

Wednesday 1 August

Cycling: Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins rides the men's time trial, as does the man who finished second in Paris, Chris Froome. Wiggins is the favourite for gold.

Friday 3 August

Athletics: Jessica Ennis begins the two-day women's heptathlon having recovered her best form.

Friday 3 August

Rowing: The final of the women's double skulls could, finally, give Kath Grainger, who rows with Anna Watkins, the gold medal that has eluded her. Grainger has competed in three Olympic Games, winning silver every time.

Friday 3 August

Swimming: Rebecca Adlington also has her second event, the women's 800m freestyle, in which she is also the defending champion. This is her best chance of another gold medal.

Friday 3 August

Cycling: The action hots up in the velodrome, where Britain will have numerous gold medal prospects, including Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton, but perhaps the most eagerly awaited event is the men's team pursuit. Britain and Australia have been battling each other for supremacy, with GB edging out their rivals at the world championships in March. A new world record seems very likely in the new London Velodrome.

Saturday 4 August

Athletics: Heats for the men's 100m get underway, but the main British interest is likely to centre on the men's 10,000m, Mo Farah's strongest event and his best chance of a gold medal.

Sunday 5 August

Athletics: Men's 100m final. The most eagerly anticipated race of the entire Games, with arguably the best line-up in history.

Sunday 5 August

Women's 400m: Christine Ohuruogu defends her women's 400m title. Tennis men's final: The Wimbledon-based tennis tournament could be a replay of the recent Wimbledon final, between Roger Federer and Andy Murray, with both players in separate halves of the draw. But first, if the games go according to form, Murray will meet Novak Djokavic in the semi-final.

Tuesday 7 August

Men's triathlon: The Brownlee brothers, Alistair and Jonathan, compete for Britain in the Hyde Park triathlon.

Saturday 10 August

BMX: Shanaze Reade starts as the hot favourite in the women's BMX. She was also the favourite in Beijing, but crashed out.

Saturday 11 August

Diving: men's individual platform. One of Britain's star athletes, Tom Daley, competes in one of the classic Olympic events. He isn't the favourite, with Qiu Bo, his Chinese rival, likely to win gold. Men's 5,000m: Mo Farah has his second chance at a gold medal over the shorter distance.

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