The London Olympics could use an early gold medal from British cyclist Mark Cavendish to boost the atmosphere as the city prepares to welcome 750,000 visitors to the games, the top Olympics official said.
Cavendish is the gold-medal favorite in the men’s cycling road race, which starts at 10 a.m. tomorrow and finishes on The Mall by the Queen’s residence, Buckingham Palace. It’s the first test of how London handles crowd congestion, Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, told a news conference.
“I know the entire Great Britain is waiting for Cavendish to win gold,” Rogge said. “This is one of the crucial events.”
The first London games since 1948 officially gets under way today with an opening ceremony overseen by Danny Boyle, director of Oscar-winning movie “Slumdog Millionaire.”
Cavendish, a 27-year-old sprinter, will be supported by Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins in the 149-mile (240-kilometer) race. The first gold of the games will be awarded earlier in the women’s 10-meter air rifle shooting event.
Rogge, overseeing his sixth games as president of the Lausanne, Switzerland-based IOC, said London is as well-prepared as previous hosts Sydney and Beijing, although the “proof of the pudding is in the eating.”
He said transportation is his biggest priority after security and the welfare of athletes over the next two weeks of competition.
“London is already a congested city, and adding 750,000 more to an already crowded city is not an easy task,” Rogge told reporters at the Olympic Park in the east of the capital.
Rogge, a 70-year-old Belgian surgeon, said he hasn’t had a chance to travel on London’s subway because of meetings into the early hours of the morning, although he plans to do so “systematically” as he travels to each of the 26 sports events at the Olympics.
Some soccer matches already took place. Japan upset gold-medal favorite Spain 1-0 in the men’s tournament at Hampden Park in Glasgow yesterday when Britain drew 1-1 with Senegal at Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium.
Rogge said he wasn’t privy to who will light the Olympic cauldron at today’s opening ceremony.
Bookmaker William Hill Plc said yesterday it closed betting after 98 percent of bets that morning were on Roger Bannister, a Briton who in 1954 was the first athlete to run a mile in under four minutes.
Five-time gold medal-winning rower Steve Redgrave was second-favorite, ahead of David Beckham. The former England soccer captain is from east London, where the main Olympic stadium is located.
“This is one of the best kept secrets,” Rogge said.