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Special Report: With just one week to go until it all begins are the people of Norfolk excited about the Olympic Games?

PUBLISHED: 14:10 20 July 2012

The Olympic Stadium. PA Images.

The Olympic Stadium. PA Images.

PA Wire/Press Association Images

Seven years of planning, waiting, anticipation, expectation and preparation will come to an end next week when the greatest sporting show on earth gets under way in London.

Adam Gretton - “I can’t wait”

It’s not every day the world’s greatest sporting event comes to our shores. So why are so many people whingeing about the Olympics or simply going to ignore it?

I for one can’t wait to see the world’s best athletes competing in London – all be it from the comfort of my armchair.

The Olympics is our one chance to get behind our sportsmen and women who have shed blood, sweat and tears over many years to get to London 2012.

The sight of big sporting names like Sir Chris Hoy, Rebecca Adlington, and Mo Farah competing on home soil – and hopefully winning medals – is set to inspire a new generation to take up a new sport or encourage older ones to do more exercise.

The Olympics represents one of the few opportunities we get to cheer on athletes competing in less publicised sports such as cycling, rowing, swimming, martial arts and gymnastics.

The Games will also make unlikely heroes out of athletes we’d never heard of before who succeeded against adversity or just turned up and did their best. Remember ‘Eric the Eel’, the 100m swimmer from Equatorial Guinea, who competed at the 2000 Sydney Games?

In Norfolk and Suffolk, we are not affected by the traffic chaos caused by the Games lanes in London or adversely by the queues at the airports.

But we do have a wonderful opportunity to benefit from the thousands of extra tourists and day- trippers who will be exploring the country during their visit.

The Games will also leave a lasting legacy in regenerating a previously rundown part of London and giving new hope to people living in the Stratford area.

The Olympics and Paralympics only happen once every four years and it will be decades before the Games return to Britain, so let’s get behind Team GB.

The eyes of the world will be on Great Britain when the London 2012 Olympic Games officially begin with the opening ceremony next Friday evening.

Years of hard work and dedication will come to fruition as athletes from around the globe shed blood, sweat and tears over the two weeks.

There will be moments of glory, heartache, joy and fury as medals are won and lost.

Aside from the sporting action, businesses which have been involved in the project will see the fruits of their labour, thousands of volunteers will work like Trojans to ensure the event runs smoothly and ticket- holders will have the chance to see the action live.

Adam Aiken - “It has been a seven-year nightmare”

The massive overspend. The confusion over ticketing. Motorway lanes shut for proper traffic (and stinging fines for drivers who accidentally use the wrong lanes as early as 5am). The athletes’ coach drivers getting lost. Surface-to-air-missiles on tower blocks across east London. The G4S fiasco . . .

Even now, we don’t know if we’ll have enough staff to man the Olympics properly.

The athletes are the stars. Once they start to run, jump and throw things, we’ll be treated to some of the best sporting action in the world.

But the rest of it has been a seven-year nightmare.

It started with the ticketing. The website kept crashing and they had to keep extending the application process. We weren’t even allowed to know how the system worked – it was like some Soviet state secret.

(Then again, it looks as though the organisers themselves don’t know how it worked – only this week, we were told that organisers were determined to get rid of the last 200,000 tickets “by hook or by crook”. But haven’t they had seven years to do that?)

Then there has been the big-brother crackdown. It’s one thing for the main sponsors to want to stop their rivals piggybacking for free, but the brand police have been outrageous.

Newspaper supplements that have done nothing but help build interest in the whole caboodle have not been allowed to use even the word “Olympics” in their titles.

An army of trademark police have cracked down on everything. The “Olympic Café” in London was forced to change its name. There was even a letter sent to a US knitting group, informing it that its planned “Ravelympics” was a breach of trademark.

These heavy-handed tactics are about as far removed from the original Olympics spirit as can be imagined.

I guess there’s the Olympic legacy. That’s if, of course, some poor family stuffed into a grim flat in Tower Hamlets is going to have their lot improved thanks to a huge empty stadium just down the road.

Yes, that’s EXACTLY what they’ve been looking forward to for all these years.

It is an exciting time not only for the athletes but for all those involved in making the Games happen – and for the nation as a whole as the Olympics are held in this country for the first time in 64 years.

A buzz of excitement has been felt across Norfolk in the build-up to the spectacle.

More than a quarter of a million people lined the streets of the county to see the Olympic torch, schools have hosted their own opening ceremonies, traditional sports days have been turned into mini summer Olympics Games and people have been inspired to get out and be active.

British flags can be spotted flying proudly outside people’s homes ahead of the much-anticipated event and people have made plans for meeting up with friends and family to watch some of the action.

But, there are some people who “cannot wait” for it all to be over. There have been complaints from those who missed out on tickets, controversy over elements of the sponsorship deals associated with the Olympic park and people have complained it has been a “major spend”.

Britain’s summer weather has done little to lift spirits and the fiasco over GS4’s failure to recruit enough security staff failed to improve some people’s attitude towards the Games.

Even so, the people of Norfolk seem ready to embrace the Games and get behind our Olympians.

Simon Wright, Norwich South MP, said: “Despite the fact that I won’t be going, I’m excited about the event and will be keeping an eye on what’s going on.

“It’s an incredibly exciting moment for the whole country and it’s really putting Britain in the global spotlight and giving everyone a real boost, whether you are involved directly or indirectly, whether you’ve got children who have been taking part in school activities or if you are a business that’s been fortunate enough to have won some of the business that’s gone along with staging the event.”

Ralph Gayton, Lord Mayor of Norwich, said he will be watching the athletics but would like to see Team GB do well in all sports.

“It’s a spectacle,” he said. “I normally watch as much as I can and I hope we will do well. I’m looking forward to it.

“I think the torch relay captured people’s imagination and brought the Games to people individually and personally. I think the torch demonstrated that people are interested and I think it will be good for the country if it is successful.”

Norfolk and north Suffolk have some strong contenders for the Olympics in the form of Norwich-born windsurfer Nick Dempsey, Pott Row’s steeplechaser Barbara Parker, Norwich cyclist Emma Pooley, Diss judoka Colin Oates, Lowestoft boxer Anthony Agogo and former Norwich schoolgirl and fencer Anna Bentley. A host of companies have also been fortunate enough to have won Olympic contracts, including coach firm Simonds of Botesdale, Trade Electricals Direct (Ted), which is part of the Hughes Electrical Group, and Salix River and Wetland Services in Croxton, near Thetford.

And there are people across the county who have individual and personal reasons for getting excited about the Games, including Fakenham grandmother Jennifer Wright who is volunteering, Hayley Gerrard, from Norwich, who has tickets for the 50-kilometre race walk – the event in which her grandfather won gold in 1936 – and Hainford’s Gina Atherton who is set to perform in the opening ceremony.

And in Norwich, people will be able to watch all the action on the live screen in Chapelfield Plain – one of just a handful of live sites in the country.

Chloe Smith, Norwich North MP, who will be watching the badminton and cycling as well as other sports, said she thought the Olympics will provide a “great opportunity” for the county.

She said: “I’m excited about the Olympic and Paralympic Games and I’ve got the chance to watch one event at both.

“It’s a great chance to show off what we’ve got and crucially to get things moving in the economy. A lot of people will be coming into the country, buying things and using British companies and that means there’s a lot of economic opportunity which is very important.

“In Norfolk and Norwich we also stand to benefit from the Olympics because of our rail link to Stratford. Having led the campaign for improved services, we want to see a good performance on that line during the Olympic Games.”

Norman Lamb, North Norfolk MP, added: “As you get the train into London you can see this fantastic site which has been developing week by week and month by month, and it’s now the most amazing place. It will be fantastic for the country to be hosting it and I am totally positive about it.

“I’m also very hopeful the Games will act as a spur for people to get active and involved in sport – that will be a very positive legacy for it as well.

“I’m very disappointed David Beckham isn’t playing, as I think that after what he did to bring the Games here, he would really have raised the profile of the football.

“But I’m looking forward to the whole mixture. It’s a rich tapestry of so many different sports, but as a cyclist myself I will be looking forward to that. However, I think they will be going a little faster than me.”

kate.scotter@archant.co.uk

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