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London 2012 hailed as a success

The Olympic Games have come to an end with a spectacular closing ceremony celebrating Britain's contribution to music. Our UK correspondent gives us the British verdict on the games.

The Brits love to moan, and the British press loves to be cynical, very few dare to blow their own trumpet. So, as the London Olympics approached there was a certain amount of negativity and nervousness about the amount of money being spent, about security arrangements, and of course, about whether the British weather would hold up. In short, people were worried about whether the UK could pull it off, about whether the games could succeed.

But the verdict from most Londoners, and foreign visitors to the capital, appears to be that the games were among the best Olympics ever.

It took an American to begin the process of turning the mood around - when Mitt Romney, US Presidential candidate, raised the same concerns many Britons had been expressing ahead of the opening ceremony, there was suddenly a determination to prove him wrong.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who became one of the unlikely stars of the games, used Mr Romney's comments to gee up a pre-games concert crowd.

"There's a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we're ready," he boomed. "He wants to know whether we're ready! Are we ready?"

The crowd roared, and the clip was broadcast all over the television networks the following morning.

Fireworks explode during the Opening Ceremony at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 27, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The opening ceremony got the games off to a flying start

Showcasing modern Britain

And then of course there was the opening ceremony, which went down so well in the UK that the director, Danny Boyle, was hailed as a genius.

"For four years, following Beijing was thought to be the most thankless task in show business," wrote Richard Williams in The Guardian newspaper. "Danny Boyle made it happen. He made the stadium seem bigger than it is, as big as the world. He gave a party, full of jokes and warmth and noise and drama, and he got the Olympics started."

That said, some of the cultural references in the opening ceremony would have been entirely baffling to international audiences, but few will forget the Queen's acting debut alongside James Bond.

"Britain's Queen Elizabeth declared the London Olympics open after playing a cameo role in a dazzling ceremony designed to highlight the grandeur and eccentricities of the nation that invented modern sport," wrote China Daily.

Hauling in the medals

The sport, too, quickly electrified Britain with gold medals rolling in, pushing "Team GB" to a comfortable third in the medal table, behind only China and the US. That sporting success for the home nation was bound to go down well, but there were some teething troubles.

Soldiers sit in the empty seats held by the IOC as they watch the women's gymnastics qualification in the North Greenwich Arena during the London 2012 Olympic Games July 29, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Blake

The organizers were embarassed by images of empty seats

Empty seats at many venues in the early stages of the games caused public outrage, with thousands of enthusiastic fans unable to get tickets themselves. Team GB cyclist Geraint Thomas admitted it was upsetting to athletes too.

"I think it's quite sad to be honest, seeing all the empty seats in the swimming and the gymnastics," he said. "I'm not sure of the reasons why, but you know there's plenty of people out there that want to be here watching, including kids. And I think they should really make the most of that. So I think it's quite sad to see so many empty seats. The demand's there, so it's sad to see it's not being fully used."

London 2012 organizers explained the seats had to be kept free for the "Olympic family" of athletes, officials, media and sponsors - but they moved to reclaim some of the allocated seats and the controversy died down as the games continued.

Slow for business in London

Far from seeing a rush in trade, many businesses and attractions in central London at times saw their takings fall as spectators headed to the east, to the Olympic Park. Others avoided London altogether over concerns that public transport networks would be overloaded and traffic would be brought to a standstill by the Olympic invasion.

A McDonald's restaurant is seen behind a fast food cafe at the Olympic Park in Stratford in London, Britain, 17 July 2012. EPA/ANDY RAIN

Some businesses claimed they were losing out

In the end, the transport network withstood the extra pressure, and the security staff did their job, so the unusual calm in central London has been ideal for those who did venture in to see the sights.

But Arthur Rason works on a stall in a quieter than usual Piccadilly Circus.

"I'm pleased that England's got the Olympics, because it's a good thing for us," he told DW. "I'm very pleased, I'm not bitter about that. But I am bitter about the way that we don't make the money here."

Meanwhile, Bernard Donoghue from the UK Association of Leading Visitor Attractions is optimistic that the short term pain will lead to longer term gain.

"We always knew that the tourism benefit from hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games would come not in the moment, but in the future," he explained. "So by the end of the year we're expecting an increase in visitor numbers over last year, and then really seeing the benefit from hosting the games next year and in the years after that."

The view from abroad

Volunteers with Umbrellas stand in front of the Olympic Stadium in London, Britain, 18 July 2012. Michael Kappeler dpa

The volunteers have been praised for their helpfulness

By and large the foreign press seems to have given favorable reviews of London 2012, too.

Germany's Der Spiegel called them the "good mood games." USA Today said London had been transformed into an enclave of "smiling Olympic volunteers, efficient transit systems and joyful crowds." And in Rio, which will host in 2016, O Globo newspaper spoke of "British excellence in planning, punctuality and keeping within budget."

But in one sense the real test of the 2012 games is only just beginning: London won its bid to host the Olympics with a promise of legacy.

The organizers want to inspire a generation of young people to take up sport, they want to regenerate a previously rundown area of East London, and they want to ensure that Olympic venues like the Aquatics Center, the velodrome and the stadium itself remain in regular use once the games have ended.

We won't therefore know whether London 2012 has fully delivered for a few years yet.

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