LONDON — With the flame comes the games.
After years of preparation and months of buildup, London’s Olympic moment finally arrived Friday night.
Royal Marine Martyn Williams carried the Olympic torch as he rappelled down from a Royal Navy Sea King helicopter into the Tower of London on the shore of the River Thames. The commando’s grand entrance plunged the symbol of the games into the city’s historic heart, bringing Olympic pageantry to the British capital that last held the event in 1948.
Crowds lined the city’s famed river banks to see the torch arrive, while Yeoman warders — the ceremonial Tower guards popularly known as Beefeaters — looked on from inside the landmark’s grounds.
For Londoners, the arrival of the torch ignites a time of excitement — as well as four weeks of extreme crowds and transport strains.
Organizers have tried to smooth the way. London Underground subway lines are festooned with large magenta and pink signs pointing routes to the Olympic venues. Cartoony ads with wide-eyed horses and beefy musclemen warn commuters to remember that Olympic competitions are taking place and to rethink their daily journeys. Barriers are being erected to mark the special traffic lanes for Olympic vehicles — disparagingly dubbed “Zil lanes,” after the limousines granted exclusive use of special lanes on Soviet-era highways.
Londoners who already struggle to get to work on any given weekday aren’t convinced all will be well — and haven’t been shy about saying so. The atmosphere of gloom has been segmented by the never-ending rain and a constant stream of headlines about the failure of security contractor G4S to provide enough guards.
The mayor has a message for the naysayers: “Put a sock in it.”
Speaking at a ceremony at the Tower of London, Boris Johnson said the arrival of the torch would “dispel any last remaining clouds of dampness and anxiety.”