LONDON — “We’ve won ‘ave we? Oh, excellent, that’s great news,” exclaimed Richard Wildshire as word spread across London about the British capital's unexpected Olympic glory.
With fighter jets painting the colors of the Union Jack across the skyline, celebrations broadcast live from Trafalgar Square and the East End, Londoners were amazed Wednesday to find out that the city had narrowly beaten Paris to host the 2012 games.
“Oh, I am surprised, but it’s great,” Wildshire said.
Triumphing over a fierce cross-Channel rival only sweetened the pleasure across Britain. “It’s always a pleasure to beat the French — that’s an added bonus,” said Hugh Willmott, a Londoner originally from Sheffield.
The City of Love and Light had been the front-runner throughout the competition.
Despite London’s “Back the Bid” campaign, support from sports stars, and thousands of Olympic logo stickers, many of those interviewed shortly after the announcement was made said they had been convinced London didn’t stand a chance.
“I didn’t think we would win actually," said John Gallimore, a television production designer originally from York, northern England. "We don’t usually win things like this,” he said.
News coverage had highlighted the woes of London’s public transport system, lack of infrastructure, and the derelict area slated for the Olympic Village — not far from where Jack the Ripper once lurked.
But, at the 11th hour, Britain piled on the pressure with a boost from Prime Minister Tony Blair, who campaigned relentlessly for two days in Singapore where the Olympic Committee delegates gathered to cast their votes.
Meantime, some felt that France’s president dealt his country’s bid a mortal blow by mocking Britain’s food and cases of mad cow disease.
“I thought Paris would win actually, but in the end, I think they shot themselves in the foot really,” said Willmott, a university professor.
“In two words, it was: Jacques Chirac. I think they showed a great deal of arrogance with the comments on the food and all that malarkey,” the 32-year-old said.
“The London bid was much stronger and more professionally run,” he said.
While some gloated at their win over centuries-old rival France, others focused on the positive effects the games will have on the city.
“I’m not particular to whether it was the French or someone else but I think that because London is a cosmopolitan city it will do fantastically well,” Nil Kumar said.
London’s Olympic team had focused on the city’s multicultural background in its video package, impressing on the judges that hosting the event here would have a global impact.
“I think it’s beautiful — I think we’re going to have a great time here,” Kumar said.
“Apart from football and Wimbledon, sports was almost derelict in this country and now I think it will revive,” the 40-year-old events director said.
Along with increased sportsmanship, others saw monetary gain.
“It’ll bring in jobs and give inspiration to people who really need it in this country,” said Simon Bhart, noting that the area where the Olympic village will be constructed is the part of London most in need of funding and work opportunities.
“And it’ll obviously be good for corporate companies too,” he said.
Win doesn't please everyone
In the aftermath of Wednesday’s win, not everyone was celebrating. “I’m not happy about it,” said John Rodwell.
“Who’s gonna pay for this? I think they’re gonna make the people in London pay for it (through taxation) and it’s not right,” the 77-year-old said.
Although born and bred in London, the senior citizen said: “I think Paris should’ve got it cause it’s a better city. …It looks much better and they’ve got all the facilities already, but here they’ve got to build it all.”
“Who’s gonna go all the way to the other side of London to watch it? You might as well watch it on the television,” he said.
Meantime, even some supporters weren’t without worry.
“I hope we do it right after all the promises, so here’s hoping,” said Stella Scolding, 24.
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