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Brits rally around Games after Romney's Olympic gaffe

LONDON – The bells were ringing across a green and pleasant Britain on Friday morning to celebrate the start of the Summer Olympics.

From Big Ben to the rusty clanger in our old village school, the noise of the bells could be heard for miles.

The only other sound you could clearly hear above them was that of crunching metal – the sound of a politician slamming his campaign car into reverse.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney came to the United Kingdom to launch an international charm offensive and ended up offending a nation.


On the face of it, his gently expressed doubts to NBC's Brian Williams about Britain's readiness to stage a successful Games were not particularly shocking.

Up until a few days ago, we'd been expressing doubts of our own.

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But now that the Games are officially kicking off, it's party time – and the art of a politician is to judge the mood of the public. And on this Romney – as we say over here – dropped a clanger all of his own.

"Mitt the Twit" screamed the headline in the popular tabloid The Sun. "Who invited party-pooper Romney?" asked the Daily Mail.

Suddenly, Romney-bashing became a new gold-medal event.

Read more Olympics coverage on NBC's TODAY in London blog

At a concert in London's Hyde Park, Mayor Boris Johnson threw Romney's comments right back at him like an Olympic shotput: "There's a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know if we are ready," he asked the 60,000-strong crowd.

To a man, woman and child they shouted back, "Yes we are."


British Prime Minister David Cameron was also quick to jump to the country's defense, with a pointed comment sharper than a javelin: "We are holding an Olympic Games in one off the busiest, most active cities in the world. Of course it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere."

"Nowhere," of course, meant Salt Lake City. Romney organized the 2002 Winter Olympics there.

Get the latest on London 2012 with NBC Olympics

There were other gaffes: Seemingly forgetting the Labour Party leader Ed Milliband's name and calling him – in a desperate, odd-sounding ad-lib – "Mr. Leader." Spilling the beans about a private meeting he'd had with the ultra-secretive boss of MI6, the British foreign intelligence service. That's one stop short of telling the Russians we're still spying on them.

Oh dear. It's all so different from the other presidential hopeful who visited Britain four years ago. On that occasion there was an air of excitement as Barack Obama charmed his way across London, not putting a foot wrong.

On this one, it feels like someone has tied Romney's shoelaces together.

But like all good politicians he bounced back. On NBC's TODAY on Friday morning he was gracious and warm in his support of the London Olympics – sticking to the script this time.

He can also take comfort in knowing that back home, there are many who will like him even more, just because the Brits like him less.

Ah yes, we may have a special relationship – an "Anglo-Saxon" heritage, as a Romney adviser curiously termed it before the visit. But that doesn't mean we can't throw the pots and pans at each other from time to time.

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