Golden dawn of a nation’s Olympic

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TODAY is the day many have been waiting for as tonight’s Olympics opening ceremony approaches.

Excitement reached fever pitch yesterday as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge welcomed the Olympic Torch to Buckingham Palace, carried there by Todmorden Scout volunteer Jon Sayer, 33.

A star-studded roster of torchbearers including Joanna Lumley and Ab Fab co-star Jennifer Saunders, Sir Bruce Forsyth and David Walliams had earlier drawn huge crowds as they carried the flame through the capital.

But while many yesterday eagerly awaited what surprises film director Danny Boyle has in store for tonight’s £27m curtain-raiser, the UK also had to fend off questions raised about London’s readiness for the Games.

US presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who was chief executive of the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002, voiced his doubt as he visited the capital to meet the UK’s political leaders.

Barack Obama’s Republican challenger told US television that security firm G4S’s failure to provide enough staff and the now called-off strike immigration and customs officials had been planning were “disconcerting” signs.

“It’s hard to know just how well it will turn out,” he said.

Mr Romney also questioned whether people in the UK were behind the Games when he appeared on NBC News.

“Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment? That’s something we only find out once the Games begin,” he said

David Cameron, who met Mr Romney yesterday, dismissed his apparent criticism as he visited the Olympic Park.

The Prime Minister said: “The Torch relay really demonstrates this is not a London Games, this is not an England Games, this is a United Kingdom Games.

“We’ll show the whole world not just that we’ve come together as a United Kingdom, but also we’re extremely good at welcoming people from across the world.”

Mr Cameron said every effort would be made to avoid a repeat of the embarrassing blunder which saw the South Korean flag wrongly displayed before sworn enemy North Korea’s women’s football team took to the pitch for a match on Wednesday.

The mix-up prompted the players to walk off in protest, delaying the game against Columbia at Glasgow’s Hampden Park stadium by an hour.

The Prime Minister said it had been “an honest mistake” and an apology had been issued.

“It was unfortunate, it shouldn’t have happened,” he added.

Another blunder emerged yesterday, however, as it was revealed organisers have had to print new official programmes for future football matches after listing Welshman Joe Allen as English.

Mr Cameron also insisted yesterday that all parts of the UK will get “value for money” from the Games despite the multi-billion pound cost of staging the event.

He valued the returns from increased spending, tourism and business opportunities at £13bn and said it would leave a legacy of infrastructure and inspiration.

Mr Cameron also paid tribute to military personnel who have stepped in to meet security requirements after the G4S fiasco.

“They are doing a fantastic job and I want to say on the record how much we thank them and their families,” he said.

London Mayor Boris Johnson also dismissed the suggestion that the capital was unprepared for the Games yesterday.

“London is as ready as any city has been in the history of the Olympic Games,” he said.

The UK came under fire again yesterday for refusing to budge on a decision not to include a minute’s silence in the opening ceremony in memory of 11 athletes killed in a terror attack at the Munich Games despite pressure this week from the widows of some of the victims.

Palestinian gunmen took hostage and then massacred the Israeli teammates at the Olympic Village in Germany in 1972.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, a competitor at the 1972 Olympics, said earlier this week the opening ceremony’s atmosphere is “not fit” for remembering the tragedy.

A memorial event will be held at London’s Guildhall instead.

Mr Cameron said yesterday: “It’s right that in 2012 – 40 years on from the Munich Olympics – we remember the Israeli team members who were killed there.

“We will be properly marking the anniversary of that tragedy with a special commemoration and every day of these Games we’ll be demonstrating there is no more diverse, more open, more tolerant city in the world than this one.”