Sports stars and politicians are in London to tour the Olympic Park construction site, where in exactly two years athletes from around the world will compete in the 2012 Games. Despite cost concerns, British authorities say they are ahead of schedule and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has indicated its satisfaction with the city's progress.
Within sight of the skyscrapers of central London lies what organizers claim is the biggest building site in Europe. Thousands of construction workers are toiling away across a swath of the eastern suburb of Stratford, and in their midst are emerging the shells of spectacular stadiums. This is the London 2012 Olympic Park.
In two years, the Olympic flame will be lit in the main stadium as athletes from an estimated 205 countries parade for the opening ceremony of the 30th Olympiad.
To mark the countdown, one of the world's most successful athletes took a tour of the stadium to the thrill of local spectators.
American sprinter Michael Johnson, the winner of four Olympic gold medals, says that for competitors, the two-year milestone will focus the mind.
"It is easy to get caught up in the training so much and this is a great reminder of what they are training for, this special moment in two years' time," said Johnson.
It is not just a milestone for the athletes. London is beginning to gear itself up for 2012. The venues are taking shape; from the dramatic waveform of the Olympic pool, where athletes like Michael Phelps will be going for gold; to the futuristic shell of the basketball stadium and the dramatic outline of the velodrome, where one of Britain's biggest medal hopes will compete, cyclist Chris Hoy.
British cyclist Chris Hoy
"Straight away you can imagine yourself in here racing on the big day with the place packed out and you do get a bit of a tingle up the spine," said Hoy.
But the facilities have come at a huge cost. The budget for the Games is $14.5 billion, nearly three times the original estimate when London bid to host the Olympics. The government now says the Olympics will not be immune from current spending cuts, but says major projects will not be affected.
Reporter Patrick Lane of The Economist newspaper says by any measure, the bill is too high.
"It was presented as 2 things - both as a sporting festival and as a regeneration project," said Lane. "And whichever way you look at it, it's an expensive way of doing either. For example you probably wouldn't build an 80,000 seat stadium and then scale it back to whatever it's going to be in its post-Games use if you were thinking solely about regeneration."
As Deputy Chair of the London 2012 Organizing Committee, Keith Mills disagrees. He is talking up London's progress at a ceremony to mark the countdown in London's St. Pancras international station, where high speed trains will run to and from the Olympic Park as well as through the Channel Tunnel to Europe.
"At a time when economically around the world it is really tough, I think one of the things that is going to stimulate this country and perhaps take us out of recession is going to be the Games in 2012," said Mills.
Londoners are not letting financial concerns overshadow the excitement of the buildup. Polls show three-quarters of the city's residents now support the Games, an increase from when London won the bid.
The final bill may be huge, but the Games organizers claim the 2012 Olympics will re-energize London and the city should be proud to host the greatest sporting show on Earth.