BY Ian Pocock
So it didn't take long. Precisely one day for the first ‘transport fiasco’ story of the Olympics. Two buses containing teams from Australia and the United States got lost on route from Heathrow Airport to the Olympic Village.
Could it be, wondered the conspiracy theorist in me, that with it being Aussies and Americans there was some dastardly secret plan to boost Team GB’s medal chances. Sadly no, just normal Olympic service resumed.
Transport is the bain of every host city. It takes hundreds of volunteers to deliver the athletes, media and Olympic Family between Games venues.
Frequently drivers aren’t local and despite the Olympic Route Network, must still contend with the usual hustle and bustle of city life.
No Olympic city I have been in has escaped. Athens had the taxi drivers who randomly terminated journeys when better offers came along. In Sydney, the trains between the city and Olympic Park at Homebush were regularly too full to take people.
But no city has quite compared to Atlanta.
On the sporting front, the Centennial Games in 1996 were great. Michael Johnson’s perfect 200 metres, Carl Lewis’ ninth gold, Kerry Strugg’s one-legged vault to help America win gymnastics gold and Mohammad Ali lighting the Olympic flame. Moments indelibly printed in Olympic history.
However another element has also become part of Olympic legend, the transport. There must be a better chance of winning the Euromillions rollover than there was of ending up in the right place, on time and at the first attempt in Atlanta.
The stories are plentiful. Athletes taken to the wrong venues, a Canadian actually missed his event and a bus full of athletes was abandoned in the city when their driver got so fed up being lost, he got off and left.
My own experience was arriving as part of the organising committee’s news and information team.
“You are based in Athens,” advised the transport volunteer. Being told I had to go to a different country should have been a sign of things to come. But not having slept for nearly 24 hours, I was happy to be led lemming-like to the bus.
There is in fact an Athens in Georgia, about three hours from Atlanta. However when I arrived, I got what was to become a familiar refrain: “err, I think you must be in the wrong place.”
I flurried set a phone calls and it was discovered I should be in Lake Lanier about two hours from Atlanta in a different direction.
So at 5am I am back in Atlanta. I still haven’t slept and the driver is now so fed up he can barely speak. I am taken to a motel downtown, where the metal grill in front of the reception desk is less than welcoming.
Two hours of sleep and off again. The guy behind the reception desk, gives me the, ‘you are completely nuts’ look when I ask how far the walk is to the metro.
“Wouldn’t walk around here if I were you,” he says and calls a cab. At the Main Press Centre, there are no buses to Lake Lanier. Finally after waiting all day for an answer someone, wearing that flustered look which is fast becoming part of the uniform, throws me a set of car keys and says I should go to garage and take a car.
Several hours later, including a wrong turn that resulted in a passing local policeman suggesting I might like to follow him back to the Interstate, I arrived in Lake Lanier to complete a journey that started two days earlier.
On an organisational level, Atlanta was cursed. But it was blessed on sporting one. It was also a fortnight filled with the wonderful hospitality that is so much part of Southern United States culture. Fortunately those memories will far outlive the transport meltdown.
So whatever happens over the next three weeks, whatever stories of traffic gridlock emerge or creaking tubes, we can console ourselves that it cannot possibly be as bad as Atlanta.