British officials were hoping Monday would bring relief from a barrage of bad news in the countdown to the London Olympics, now just 10 days away.
But while Heathrow Airport shuttled through a record number of travelers without a hiccup, the journey many Olympic VIPs took across London to the Olympic Village caused a public relations nightmare no one had predicted.
Despite the opening of a “Games Lane” along the M4 motorway to the Olympic Village, three buses carrying athletes, journalists and Olympic officials from Heathrow lost their way for hours.
London Mayor Boris Johnson tried to shrug the fiasco off as a sightseeing tour.
“I understand that some of our visitors took the scenic route,” Johnson told the BBC. “They saw more of our fantastic city than they would otherwise have done. And that’s no bad thing.”
But after an overnight flight, most athletes simply wanted to find their way to a bed.
U.S. hurdler Kerron Clement vented his frustration in two tweets: “Athletes are sleepy, hungry and need to pee. Could we get to the Olympic Village please.” “Um, so we’ve been lost on the road for 4hrs. Not a good first impression London.”
Australian Olympic official Damian Kelly, on a wayward bus carrying medical staff and other officials, told the Daily Telegraph that “it would have been a great tourist trip if that is what you are here for.” On that bus, a doctor used his iPhone to direct the driver when it became clear the driver was unable to get the GPS navigation system on board to work.
Olympic organizers released a statement acknowledging the delays: “It is day one of team arrivals. … Whilst there may have been one or two journeys taking longer than planned, the vast majority were completed successfully.”
The transport mishaps came on the heels of more serious anxieties over security during the Games.
Last week, the U.K. government announced that the security firm it hired would fall 3,000 guards short of its commitment, and that additional British soldiers and police would fill the gap.