* London Olympics dogged by criticism in recent weeks
* Anticipation builds as torch relay tours capital
* Mayor says "Olympo-scepticism" is being banished
(Adds quotes on border staff strike, pope comment)
By Mohammed Abbas
LONDON, July 22 Organisers of the Olympics hit
back on Sunday at cynics after weeks of negative headlines,
saying criticism over planning mistakes and costs were being
outweighed by a surge in public excitement as the gala opening
Britain's famously caustic media, which have highlighted
security and transport problems before the July 27-Aug. 12
Games, also seemed to adopt a more positive stance as thousands
turned out to cheer the Olympic torch relay through London.
"I think possibly what we're going through as a nation, as a
city is that necessary, pre-curtain-up moment of psychological
self-depression before the excitement begins on Friday when the
curtain goes up," London Mayor Boris Johnson told the BBC.
"The mood is perceptibly changing. People are starting to
get really excited here in London about the arrival of the torch
.... The last remaining clouds of dampness and Olympo-scepticism
are going to be banished," he later told Sky News.
Thousands turned out in London on Saturday as the Olympic
torch relay began the final leg of its journey around Britain,
and on Sunday the flame was carried to the top of the London Eye
ferris wheel opposite Big Ben and the houses of parliament.
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 east London.
The run-up to the Games has been dogged by weeks of rain and
difficulties in recruiting enough security staff, prompting the
government to draft thousands of extra army personnel to make up
for the shortfall.
Transport delays also loom over the Games, with border staff
planning to strike on July 26 - expected to be one of the
busiest days in the history of London's Heathrow airport - over
job cuts and pay, and train drivers in central England set to
walk out on Aug. 6-8 in a dispute over pension contributions.
London's underground rail network, a 19th-century creation,
may struggle to cope with tens of thousands of Olympic tourists.
The government and the union representing border staff on
Sunday appeared no closer to averting industrial action.
"People are working at breaking point. When passengers are
queuing at Heathrow for four hours, they take their anger out on
front-line border staff and nobody should have to work in those
conditions," said union boss Mark Serwotka.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt gave little ground.
"Surely this is a time not for promoting an industrial
grievance, but putting the country first," he said.
The spat has added to a slew of negative headlines about the
Games and a raft of logistical headaches for Olympic organisers.
Writing in the Daily Mail newspaper, Sebastian Coe, chairman
of the London Olympic organising committee, said the words
"fiasco, chaos and crisis" had become the new currency of
journalists, who describe his committee as "dysfunctional".
"Sometimes you fight back because the reportage bears no
resemblance to reality .... You have the insatiable desire to
start every explanation to your inquisitor with: 'Lighten up. We
are staging the greatest celebration of sport'," he said.
Britain's press, however, appeared to be joining the Games
bandwagon on Sunday, dedicating pages to the torch relay in
London and giving away special Olympic guides and supplements.
Still, jitters hang over the Games, with 2012 being the 40th
anniversary of the 1972 Munich attack by Palestinian militants
that killed 11 Israeli Olympic team members - a reminder of the
security challenges ahead.
"This is an event that is naturally attractive, even if
there aren't concrete alerts. Readiness and vigilance are
required .... Things like the Munich massacre have happened in
the past," Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak told reporters.
Olympic organisers on Saturday ruled out marking the
anniversary of the killings at the London opening ceremony,
despite campaigning by the victims' families.
For one Olympic team, security problems began before they
had even left home, with the president of Libya's Olympic
Committee Nabil Elalem taken from his car by gunmen in Tripoli
last week, before being freed on Sunday.
A colleague said he may still make it to the Games.
Pope Benedict, speaking during his regular Sunday address,
said he hoped the London Games - the first in the British
capital since 1948 - would foster world peace.
"I pray that, in the spirit of the Olympic truce, the
goodwill generated by this international sporting event may bear
fruit, promoting peace and reconciliation throughout the world."
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem, James
Mackenzie in Rome and Marie-Louise Gumuchian in Tripoli; editing
by Mark Heinrich)