Olympic test events go ahead amid London riots
LONDON (AP) — Despite three days of rioting and looting in London, Olympic organizers were going ahead with a series of events to prepare for the 2012 Games.
A women's beach volleyball tournament began as scheduled at Horse Guards Parade, with players in bikinis competing on a specially made sand court a short distance from Prime Minister David Cameron's 10 Downing Street residence.
But organizers decided to use two courts instead of one for Tuesday's 12 matches so that play could finish 90 minutes early, allowing spectators and staff to leave before dark.
FIVB Beach Volleyball Director Angelo Squeo consulted with high-ranking London Olympic organizers and police before taking the decision. Squeo, who was on site during the Olympic Park bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Games, told The Associated Press he "will do whatever to not even risk putting in danger anybody here."
Other scheduled test events this week include a marathon swimming competition at Hyde Park on Saturday and a cycling road race that will go through the streets of London on Sunday. The world badminton championships are taking place at the Olympic venue of Wembley Arena in north London.
Olympic men's badminton champion Lin Dan of China said he took some precautions amid the unrest.
"I just aimed not to go along the street too much," he said through an interpreter. "It was all right."
A wave of violence and looting has raged across London, as authorities struggled to contain the country's worst unrest since race riots set the capital ablaze in the 1980s. More than 400 arrests have been made so far.
Television broadcast images around the world of buildings and vehicles in flames and looters running amok.
"A lot of detailed work has taken place regarding security plans for the games and we will continue to review them together with the Met Police and the Home Office over the coming year," LOCOG, the local organizing committee, said in a statement.
Olympic security officials said they are confident of their plans and have already taken public disorder into account as a potential risk.
"Obviously, in light of the appalling events in London over recent days, we will review our planning to ensure that any lessons are identified," said Assistant Commissioner Chris Allison, the national Olympic security coordinator. "But first, we must fully establish the circumstances of what has happened and at this time it is too early to say whether our planning will significantly change.
"What is absolutely clear is that we are committed to the games being delivered in safety and security, for athletes, spectators and the wider public."
Mayor Boris Johnson said he felt "ashamed" at the violence and the damage to London's image around the world.
"In less than 12 months we will welcome the world to a great summer games in the greatest city on earth — and by then we must all hope that we will look back on these events as a bad dream," he said in a column in the London Evening Standard. "It can be done. But it will be hard, and we will have our work cut out."
The volleyball court was bathed in bright sunshine for the start of the 24-team tournament. The stands, which will be boosted from their current 1,500 capacity to 15,000 for the Olympics, were about half full for the opening three matches.
"You'll have incidents anywhere you are in the world," U.S. player Brittany Hochevar said after a win over a Chinese team. "It doesn't matter. If you're in a big city, this could happen anywhere in the world, so this doesn't change my perception of London for 2012 or give me concern for the Olympics. That's the world."
British Olympic Association spokesman Darryl Seibel expressed confidence the games would go safely.
"It makes an Olympic Games and a Paralympic Games all the more important," he said on Sky TV. "We need a reason to come together. What better city to do it in than London. This is not a reflection of London, this is a reflection of the world we live in today."
Hundreds of Olympic delegates from around the world were gathering Tuesday at a luxury hotel in Park Lane, near Hyde Park, to check on logistical preparations for the games. The chefs de mission, or team leaders, from more than 200 national Olympic committees were scheduled to tour the venues on Wednesday.
"We know that security has been a top priority in the planning and preparation for London 2012, and we have full confidence in the work being done to prepare for the games," Seibel said in a statement.
Across town, in the Canary Wharf business district, top International Olympic Committee officials huddled with LOCOG leaders for a regularly scheduled "project review" of preparations for the games. LOCOG chairman Sebastian Coe and his team were meeting with a delegation led by Denis Oswald, the IOC executive board member who heads the coordination commission for the games.
The IOC reiterated its confidence in security planning for London.
"Security at the Olympic Games is a top priority for the IOC," spokesman Mark Adams told the AP. "While we are not responsible for security, we're happy with how local organizers are dealing with the issue and we are confident they will do a good job."
Groups of young people rampaged for a third straight night, setting buildings, vehicles and garbage dumps alight, looting stores and pelting police officers with bottles and fireworks into early Tuesday.
The unrest started Saturday night in the Tottenham area of north London following the fatal shooting of a local man by police. It spread closer to the Olympic complex Monday when scattered violence broke out in the Hackney area of east London.
Hackney is one of the five boroughs encompassing the Olympic Park, a square-mile site that will be the centerpiece of the games. Monday's violence took place about 4 miles from the park.
The unrest, which has affected some of the boroughs encompassing the Olympic Park, comes less than two weeks after London celebrated with great fanfare the one-year countdown to the opening of the games on July 27, 2012.
Cameron cut short his summer vacation in Italy and returned to London to deal with the crisis. He recalled Parliament from its summer recess and said 16,000 officers would be on the streets of the capital Tuesday night — almost tripling the number on the streets Monday night.
Britain was already preparing a massive security operation for the Olympics, but most of the attention has been on the threat of international terrorism. About 12,000 police officers will be on duty each day of the games, which have a security budget of at least $770 million.
A day after London was awarded the games in 2005, suicide bombers attacked London's transport network, killing 52 people. The British government is planning for the national terror threat to be "severe" during the Olympics, meaning an attempted attack is highly likely.
"It's not a great thing to be happening to London, but most of us can see past that to what a great city London really is and all the preparation going into this great event," said Heather Bansley, a Canadian beach volleyball player. "It shows how ready they are for the games."
AP Sports Writer Stuart Condie and Associated Press writers Danica Kirka and Jill Lawless contributed to this report.