Damp welcome for athletes at London 2012

Athletes began arriving at the Olympic Village on Monday under leaden skies and persistent drizzle to what will be their home for the next three weeks and the scene of their quest for gold.

Consistent with the British summer so far, the weather was anything but golden to welcome the competitors with brooding clouds and umbrella-busting winds keeping the international flags flapping outside one of the entrances.

However, some of the apartments have already been given a splash of national colour.

One block had a banner reading "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie; Oi, Oi, Oi" spread over several balconies.

Another had a long banner in the Belgian colours hanging down, while others were decorated with Slovenian flags.

The smell of damp fresh pine wood filled the air around many of the newly-constructed buildings.

The site's shops are already open, with a range of international newspapers and handy items such as batteries for sale.

With thousands of athletes still to arrive, the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London, still doesn't feel quite like the welcoming park organisers have envisaged.

A myriad of winding, empty roads criss-cross the area, flanked by concrete barricades and metal fences.

Soldiers in combat fatigues operated the airport-style security searches at the perimeter for regular visitors.

Inside the high fences, helpers and volunteers appeared upbeat with 11 days to go until the opening ceremony on July 27.

At one of the entrances to the Olympic Village, the National Youth Theatre rehearsed their energetic routines for the official welcomes that each national squad will receive.

In the shadow of the new shopping centre built at Stratford International railway station, they rolled out red carpets with "Welcome" written in a multitude of languages including Maori and Vietnamese.

The performers were putting the finishing touches to sequences set to Queen hits including "Don't Stop Me Now", "Bicycle Race" and "We are the Champions".

Their routines involved golden bicycles, streamers and banners.

They rehearsed the welcomes they will perform for the representatives from Brazil, France and Italy, though the British Virgin Islands will be the first to receive the official greeting.

"In the spirit of friendship and respect we welcome you all and ask the question: who will be the champion?" they said in English and French. "We are all champions here."

Organisers tried to keep the enthusiasm going despite the drizzle, with many performers wearing green and blue ponchos to keep themselves dry.

For a rain dance, they told their performers: "Absolutely celebrate it -- it's part of our DNA!"
 

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