For whom the bells toll? The Olympics, of course

Chimes set to announce official start of London 2012 Games; no memorial for slain Israeli athletes, despite int'l pleas.

Olympic Flame in front of Big Ben 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Olympic Flame in front of Big Ben 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
LONDON – Bells will ring in unison throughout the UK on Friday morning, heralding the start of the 2012 Olympic Games in London later in the day.
Big Ben, Parliament’s iconic clock tower, will strike 40 times at precisely 8:12 a.m. for three minutes – the first time it will chime out of sequence since 1952, when it tolled to mark the death of King George VI.
The website of the bell-chiming initiative, which is the brainchild of Turner Prizewinning artist Martin Creed, called for Britons to ring any bell they own at precisely the same time, without forgetting to be polite.
“Please remember it is your responsibility to ensure that you respect your neighbors,” reminded the public. “Please let them know in advance that you will be ringing; they might even want to join in.”
The Games’ opening ceremony, directed by Scottish filmmaker Danny Boyle, will start at 7 p.m. Some 10,000 athletes from 204 participant states will march in a packed Olympic Stadium waving flags and posing for photos.
Besides the usual dancers, this year’s elaborate show will feature 70 sheep, 12 horses, 10 chickens and nine geese, highlighting the country’s pastoral tradition.
It will not include a moment of silence for the 11 Israelis whom Palestinian terrorists killed during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, despite pleas by Israel, Germany, the US and other countries. Families of the slain sportsmen gathered in London on Wednesday to denounce the International Olympic Committee for its decision not to honor their loved ones at the opening ceremony on the 40th anniversary of their deaths.
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“They were not accidental tourists,” Ankie Spitzer, the widow of slain fencing coach Andre Spitzer, told reporters.
“They came with dreams and came home in coffins.”
The IOC has said the ceremony was not an appropriate venue for such a memorial.
Its president, Jacques Rogge, held a “spontaneous” moment of silence for the murdered athletes at the Olympic Village on Monday.
Meanwhile, other Olympic controversies have taken place over the past few days even before a single javelin has been thrown.
Members of North Korea’s women’s soccer team on Thursday were appalled when they were accidentally shown on a giant screen beside the flag of South Korea, their country’s archenemy – causing them to storm out of the stadium in protest.
“Of course the people are angry,” North Korea’s Olympic representative Ung Chang told Reuters Television, speaking in London. “If your athlete got a gold medal and [showed] the flag of some other country, what happens?”
The flag flap, which might be likened to organizers accidentally playing the Iranian national anthem instead of Israel’s “Hatikva”, prompted a quick apology from the highest elected official in the land.
“We shouldn’t over-inflate this episode,” Prime Minister David Cameron weighed in. “It was unfortunate, it shouldn’t have happened, and I think we should leave it at that.”
The same day, Cameron was involved in another embarrassing incident involving presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
During a meeting between the two men, Romney accidentally insulted his hosts by saying the organization of the Olympics thus far was “disconcerting.”
The British premier immediately fired back with a barb.
“We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world,” he said. “Of course it is easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere,” referring to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah that Romney helped organize.
The Olympics were last held in London in 1948, an event remembered for its post-war austerity. Both London and the Games have since undergone immense change.
The Games are now a mega-event with a strong commercial aspect that draws athletes and tourists from every corner of the globe. Meanwhile, London is fully recovered from the bombing it suffered during the Blitz. Though it is no longer the capital of an empire and is currently feeling the effects of the global economic downturn, it remains an international hub of finance, commerce and culture.
Still, as Romney alluded to – much to his detriment – if one is expecting the kind of efficiency or sheer magnitude that was on display at the 2002 Games in Beijing, one might be disappointed. Recognizing their pros and cons, organizers of the Olympics in London never hoped to outdo the Chinese in those fields. Instead, they focused on highlighting British cultural contributions to the world, environmental awareness and attention to detail, and they say they are pleased with the results.
“The London Games remain an example of the vision not being changed,” said Sebastian Coe, chairman of the 2012 Olympics and winner of four Olympic medals, including the 1,500 meters gold in 1980 and 1984. “It wasn’t just a sales pitch. It is a spectacular illustration of the power of the Games to change peoples’ lives and change the face of a city,” he said.
“Of all recent host cities, London can claim to be the one that has done the most to ensure its venues and facilities do not turn into white elephants after the games,” Coe said.