London has overcome early criticisms

Updated: July 6, 2005, 9:25 AM ET
Associated Press

LONDON -- Today, the heart of London's bid for the 2012 Olympics is a huge pile of dirt in a run-down area on the eastern outskirts of the city.

Amid the rubble in Stratford, however, grand plans are already taking shape.

Picking a Host
On July 6, five cities bidding to host the 2012 Olympic Games will make their final presentations to the International Olympic Committee. Here's a look at each host city:

Monday: London
Tuesday: Madrid
Wednesday: Moscow
Thursday: New York
Friday: Paris

A 500-acre plot of land will be transformed into an Olympic Stadium and village, and then turned into new homes and businesses. Other venues would include London landmarks such as Wimbledon, Wembley Stadium and Regent's Park.

London has overcome early criticisms over transportation links and government support to offer a strong, ambitious bid, with the regeneration of Stratford giving the British capital much-needed sporting facilities and a long-term legacy.

Construction has already been approved for an aquatic center and velodrome.

"This is probably the biggest pitch this country has made in the last 20 years," London bid leader Sebastian Coe said. "This is not an opportunity coming around again in three or four years' time. It has to be grabbed now. It can change the nature of our country forever."

The International Olympic Committee, meeting in Singapore on July 6, selected London over front-runner Paris, New York, Madrid and Moscow.

In a report issued June 6, the IOC evaluation commission praised the "very high quality" and "high level of planning" of London's bid.

A new rail station has already been built in Stratford. By 2007, passengers will be able to travel between Stratford and Kings Cross in central London in 7 minutes by a 5.2-mile underground rail link.

Millions of dollars are also being invested in London's creaking Underground subway system.

This go-getting attitude contrasts with Britain's previous recent record, including years of delays and budget problems in building a new Wembley Stadium and losing the 2005 world track and field championships because of failure to find funding for a stadium in Picketts Lock.

London Facts

Population: 7.3 million.

Previous Olympics: 1908 and 1948.

Major sporting events hosted: London Marathon, Wimbledon, Premier League soccer, 1996 European soccer championship, 1999 rugby union World Cup, 1966 soccer World Cup.

Pros: Legacy offered by regeneration of run-down area of east London; strong support of Prime Minister Tony Blair; cosmopolitan, multiethnic city; backdrop of London's famous sites; effective campaign run by bid leader and former two-time Olympic 1,500-meter champion Sebastian Coe; Britain hasn't hosted games since 1948.

Cons: IOC caution over completion of Olympic Park project on time; creaking Underground subway and concerns about road traffic; opposition of nearly 100 businesses in main proposed Olympic zone.

This time, London has secured guarantees for a gleaming, 80,000-seat Olympic stadium that would be reconfigured to a 25,000-seat capacity track and field arena after the games.

Government support couldn't be stronger -- with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie, two of the bid's biggest cheerleaders.

"It is generating such enthusiasm, inspiring the young people and will leave a tremendous legacy, not just for Britain but for the Olympic movement," Tony Blair said.

The only significant opposition came from about 100 small, private businesses within the planned stadium site who say relocation proposals offered by London 2012 officials aren't good enough.

London has hosted the Olympics twice -- in 1908 and 1948. Britain mounted three recent unsuccessful bids, Birmingham (1992) and Manchester (1996 and 2000), but London was considered the only real potential winner from the U.K.

London got off to a slow start but made big strides under Coe, a two-time Olympic 1,500-meter gold medalist who replaced American businesswoman Barbara Cassani as head of the bid in May 2004.

Coe has run the bid much like an election campaign, drawing on his experiences in politics as a former Conservative Party member of Parliament. He knows many of the IOC members personally.

"Here's a guy who put on track spikes in anger, who fought through the boycott pressure in the U.K. in 1980 and won a gold medal and then came back against all odds to win again," senior Canadian IOC member Dick Pound said. "He's a charismatic guy and is well known among the IOC members of a certain age."

Bid officials say London is the only contending city which has the athletes' village located within the Olympic Park area. Every athlete would have a room at the village, with extra accommodation provided at satellite venues for sailing and rowing. Half the athletes could walk to their venues.

Wimbledon would host tennis, Regents Park would feature baseball and softball, with archery at Lord's cricket ground and triathlon in Hyde Park.

The Millennium Dome would host gymnastics, basketball and handball. Soccer preliminaries would be played at Old Trafford in Manchester, Villa Park in Birmingham, Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, and Windsor Park in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The finals would be held at the rebuilt Wembley Stadium.

Beach volleyball would be played at Horse Guards Parade, which is overlooked by the offices of No. 10 Downing Street -- the home of the British Prime Minister.

Blair went to Singapore to lobby for the bid, along with England soccer captain and former east London boy David Beckham. Blair left before the vote because he's hosting the G8 summit starting the same day in Scotland.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press