The Olympic torch relay began its final stretch in London's historic district of Greenwich on Saturday, a journey officials hope will help dispel a cloud of gloom and cynicism hanging over the Games.
Officials were all smiles in Greenwich as a young torch bearer jogged through the maritime district's Royal Park past the grand colonnades of the old naval college. But many Britons fear the games will be a costly, rain-soaked logistical fiasco.
As weeks of rain dampened prospects of a summer buzz ahead of the sporting event, Britain has struggled to raise the necessary number of security guards for the July 27 to August 12 Games and transport and border staff are soon set to strike.
"As it sprints through the city, I know that its radiance will dispel any last remaining clouds of dampness and anxiety ... and it will spread the crackling bush fire of Olympic enthusiasm throughout the city," London Mayor Boris Johnson told reporters, referring to the torch.
It arrived in London on Friday after touring scores of British cities, towns and villages, delivered by a Royal Marine Commando who abseiled from a helicopter into the Tower of London, one of the capital's most popular tourist sites.
After leaving Greenwich the relay continued amid cheers and flag waving to Stratford in east London, where officials hope the newly built Olympic Park, which includes the main stadium, will help regenerate what has long been a run-down area.
In the coming days the torch will be carried around London's religious, political and royal landmarks, culminating in the lighting of the Olympic cauldron in Stratford.
FOCUS ON ATHLETES
Foreign media covering the run up to the Games have poked fun at the British tendency to whinge, with an article in the New York Times labeling "complaining, expecting the worst and cursing the authorities" Londoners' favorite sports.
However, while organizational difficulties in hosting the Games may have hogged the headlines in recent weeks, attention is now increasingly turning to the athletes and the political backdrop of the countries they represent.
In Britain, pressure is mounting to beat or at least maintain the fourth place its athletes achieved on the medal table at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
"This will be the most competitive Olympic Games in history and we don't take for granted for one moment that this will be easy," Andy Hunt, chief executive of the British Olympic Association and chef de mission of Team GB, told reporters.
African neighbors Kenya and Ethiopia, giants of middle and long distance running, will renew their long tussle for dominance of the running track, and North Korea hopes it will flex its muscles at the Olympics in weightlifting and wrestling.
The isolated, impoverished state will face the United States, with which it is technically still at war, on the soccer field when their women's teams face each other on July 31.
Turkey said on Saturday Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan will travel to London as part of his country's team to push for the 2020 Olympics to be held in Istanbul.
Athletes began arriving in London last weekend, and on Saturday Libya's delegation to the Games left Tripoli for the British capital, hopeful the committee's president, taken from his car by gunmen last week, would join them.
Transport delays loom over the event, with border officials planning to go on strike on July 26 and train drivers in central England set to walk out from August 6-8 during the second week of the Games.
London's underground rail network, a 19th century creation, has long struggled to cope with millions of commuters.
Misgivings over heavy-handed enforcement of copyright on Olympic branding have also cooled enthusiasm, amid reports of vendors being banned from displaying Olympic rings in shop windows or selling types of fast food sold by Olympic sponsors.
Michael Payne, a former Olympic marketing director credited with reeling in sponsors such as Coca-Cola and McDonalds, told Britain's Independent newspaper that the Olympic authorities' policing of the sponsorship deals had "gone too far".
Still, there are signs the mood may lift as the Games near.
An Ipsos MORI poll on Friday found that 71 percent of Britons say the Olympics will boost the public mood and 61 percent say hosting the Games will boost Britain's image abroad.
The Daily Telegraph newspaper on Saturday urged Britons to "prepare to be inspired" by the Games, while the Guardian newspaper said it was time to "sit back and relish the heady, exhilarating, unforgettable mix of triumph and disaster".