LONDON (AP) - Mitt Romney may be just what the London Olympics needed.
In little more than 24 hours in London, the
U.S. presidential candidate has gotten Britons to stop complaining about
bumper-to-bumper traffic, cringing about cost overruns and fretting
about shoddy security - and instead start taking pride in their
country's long-awaited day in the sun.
From Prime Minister David Cameron to ordinary
Londoners rushing to work, Britons recoiled at the visiting American's
suggestion that the logistical problems encountered so far were
"disconcerting." Many who have themselves been slamming organizers as
incompetent, and the massive competition as an expensive fiasco, are
suddenly rallying around the flag.
"Mitt the Twit" screamed Friday's headline in
The Sun, which just days ago was trumpeting an embarrassing incident in
which an official bus carrying the U.S. team from Heathrow airport got
lost and spent hours in traffic.
"Who invited party-pooper Romney?" asked the Daily Mail.
"Nowhere Man" declared the more reserved
Times of London, a reference to a biting comment by the famously
diplomatic Cameron, who implied that Romney lacked the experience to
offer advice to one of the world's great capitals since the Olympics he
helped organize in Salt Lake City, Utah, took place "in the middle of
"We are holding an Olympic Games in one of
the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of
course, it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of
nowhere," Cameron said.
Colorful London Mayor Boris Johnson also got
in on the act, using Romney's criticism as a rallying cry to stoke up a
crowd of tens of thousands gathered at Hyde Park on Thursday night:
"There's a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know if we are ready. Are
we ready? Yes, we are!"
Residents learned of Romney's comments from
friends, television and social media. And the fact the Republican
presidential candidate spent hours trying to dial back his dig with more
positive statements seemed to win him little favor.
"What would he know?" asked Londoner Liudmila
Troshina, wearing a Team Great Britain jersey and posing for pictures
along with her husband in Piccadilly Circus. "I don't really care what
people from other countries think about us because I take my information
firsthand - from people who live here."
"No matter what some man said, we are
prepared ... to support our country, our city and our sportsmen with
everything we have," she added.
Those sentiments are a quick about-face from
the weeks of moaning many Britons have engaged in prior to the games,
which begin with the opening ceremony Friday night.
For months, the nation has been awash in
complaints - from taxi drivers angry over special traffic lanes for
Olympics VIPS, to slack-jawed travelers staring down long lines at
immigration, to commuters apoplectic about being asked to rethink their
journey to avoid the crush of Olympic tourists, to residents alarmed
that surface-to-air missiles have been placed on their roofs to fight
Even the heavens have come in for a
browbeating, with the Times of London publishing an editorial recently
demanding an end to weeks of rain.
"It is a British sport," Labour lawmaker David Winnick told The Associated Press on Friday. "We always complain."
He should know.
One of the iconic images of London's troubles
was Winnick's cutting exchange with the head of the G4S security group
earlier this month after the company failed to provide enough Olympics
workers, forcing the British military to step in.
"It's a humiliating shambles for the country,
isn't it?" Winnick demanded of Nick Buckles after the CEO offered a
groveling mea culpa on live TV, repeating the charge until Buckles could
not deny that it was.
But even Winnick winced when he heard what Romney had to say.
"These are internal matters that would be
well dealt with under our own democratic system," he said. "There is a
feeling, and I'm sure it applies in the United States, that ... families
can quarrel bitterly in private, but should anyone from the outside
have a go, the family is united. In other words: 'Mind your own
Associated Press writer Jenna Fryer contributed to this report.