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BEIJING 2008

That sound is London calling

Its Games are in 2012, but you can glimpse a bit of the future in the closing ceremony.

August 24, 2008|Bill Dwyre | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING -- Now, the Olympic hot seat moves to London.

Its Games will be in 2012, but the official moment of gaining possession will take place here during tonight's closing ceremony.

They call it the Handover. It is an eight-minute segment when the next Olympiad period begins for the host city. That city usually uses it to keynote a theme for its Games, but London organizers cautioned against digging too deeply for significance into a show that will feature a galaxy of stars, including soccer's David Beckham, singer Fiona Lewis and Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page.

"Don't be tempted to analyze," said Bill Morris, director of culture, ceremonies and education for the London Games. "Just enjoy it."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, August 26, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Olympic "Handover": An article in Sunday's Beijing 2008 section on the closing-ceremony segment for the 2012 host city, London, said that the segment was to include "singer Fiona Lewis." It should have said Leona Lewis.

He also said his eight minutes will be "athletic, loud and proud, like London."

Members of the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) have taken a high profile during these Beijing Games, enjoying, analyzing and answering lots of questions about measuring up to this China extravaganza.

Can they? Do they want to? Does it matter?

Paul Deighton, chief executive of LOCOG, answered all three here Friday during different stages of a press briefing.

First quote: "How can we compete with them? London will be great in its own way. The Games will light up the city."

Later: "After China, everybody gets the power of the Games. Everybody gets it."

And later still: "London is a world in a city. We'll be fine."

If any of that sounds defensive, it should not. London organizers know that Beijing ran these Olympics like Germans run trains. They know that China spent $40 billion on fabulous sports structures and went to extremes to satisfy every detail.

They also know that the perception of these Games has become one of soul-less efficiency and robotic lockstep.

When asked about working toward bringing "more fun" to the London Games, since, the questioner said, there wasn't much of it going on in Beijing, LOCOG officials furrowed their brows in attempts to hide the twinkle in their eyes.

"I strongly disagree with that premise," said Sebastian Coe, chairman of LOCOG. "Once the track and field began in the second week, I walked around a lot, outside. I thought things got rather buzzy."

Coe is the face, voice and heart of the London Committee. He is ideal on several fronts.

He is the only man to win the 1,500 meters in two Olympic Games, his gold medals coming in 1980 in Moscow and '84 in Los Angeles. He is a former member of Parliament and a likely candidate for higher political office if things go well in 2012.

He is 51, good-looking, well-spoken, personable and impenetrable. He is critical of no other Olympic movement, nor effort, and articulate about his own.

"We will deliver a spectacular Games," he said.

He said that the Olympics, after all is said and done, are about athletes. "The DNA in me says that we must take care of them first," Coe said.

This will be the third Olympics in London, the only city so honored. In 1908, London inherited the Games scheduled for Rome after Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 1906, destroying nearby Naples. The Italians couldn't afford a relief effort, plus an Olympics, so London took over.

Then, in 1948, London hosted again, marking a return of the Games from a 12-year hiatus caused by World War II.

Both were successful, especially so for Brits in 1908, when they won 56 gold medals, 51 silver and 39 bronze, an unthinkable domination of 146 medals. The United States was second with 47.

Interestingly, there is a bit of medals frenzy going on for Britain right now. Through Saturday, Britain was fourth behind China, the U.S. and Russia with 47 medals overall, 19 gold, 13 silver and 15 bronze. This was for a country that in Atlanta won one gold and 15 total, and in Athens nine gold and 30 overall.

Several British columnists proclaimed Sunday, Aug. 16, when their country won five gold medals and nine overall, as the greatest day in British sport since July 30, 1966, when England's soccer team won the World Cup at Wembley Stadium.

British media here have taken to calling their Beijing Olympics "The Great Haul of China."

Sometimes, excitement has overrun journalistic integrity.

When Louis Smith, a 19-year-old from the Village of Eye, won a bronze medal in the pommel horse for his country's first individual medal in gymnastics in 100 years, he walked toward a BBC reporter, who ignored the interview opportunity and hugged him.

The enthusiasm, expected to hold reasonably well for the next four years, will be manifested in an Olympics that will operate on a budget of 2 billion pounds (about $3.7 billion) for the organizing committee's work and 9.3 billion pounds ($17.2 billion) for governmental improvement of infrastructure.

Olympic Park, site of most of the main venues, will become one of the largest parks created in Europe in the last 150 years. The Olympic village will be transformed after the Games into 3,500 homes, most in the affordable category.

The committee said that 30 bridges will be built between now and the Games, and that London's Lower Lea Valley area will be revitalized.

And then, there will be additional little touches, such as tennis at Wimbledon -- an Olympic first-ever grass court tournament -- and beach volleyball located just a stone's throw from 10 Downing Street.

It will all start tonight with the Handover. There will be a network of big screens for viewing all over London, plus a party of 40,000, selected through a lottery, and a concert in front of Buckingham Palace.

It is projected to be noisy, exciting, fun. It will be London's turn.

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Times staff writer Lisa Dillman contributed from Beijing and correspondent Chuck Culpepper from London.

--

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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