LONDON (Reuters) - Swimming’s biggest names slug it out in the men’s 200 metre freestyle on Monday as the weather stayed cool but sunny and London’s transport system defied predictions of gridlock on the first regular working day of the Olympic Games.
London’s transport bosses expect an extra three million journeys per day on top of the usual 12 million during the Games, an Olympian test for an underground train network that first opened in 1863 during the reign of Queen Victoria.
But on the first morning rush hour since the Games opened on Friday night, commuters said buses, trains and the metro were working surprisingly smoothly with a few hiccups, and roads were generally clear.
“It’s nothing like they warned it would be,” said Letizia, an Italian living in London, at London Bridge station. “They said we’d have to queue thirty minutes just to get on the Tube but I ended up getting to work an hour early.”
The city has implemented Olympic-only traffic lanes for the exclusive use of athletes and officials and set traffic lights to stay red for longer.
At Olympic venues, a scandal over empty seats showed no immediate signs of abating. Sports fans all over Britain who tried and failed to get tickets to the Games have been angered by television footage of empty seats at some of the hottest events, including tennis, swimming and gymnastics.
Organising committee chairman Sebastian Coe said the missing spectators were mostly officials from sports federations, other Games officials or their families and friends.
Ticketing confusion also led to the opposite problem - overcrowding - in at least one instance on Monday. Dozens of angry ticketholders trying to get into the men’s 10m air rifle competition at Royal Artillery Barracks were turned away because the venue was too full.
A venue manager said the problem was that ticketholders did not understand that their “general admission” tickets meant that seats would be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.
Later on Monday American Ryan Lochte, Sun Yang of China and France’s Yannick Agnel were due to chase a second London gold in one of the most anticipated races in the pool, the 200 freestyle.
Lochte won gold in the 400 individual medley, trouncing his compatriot Michael Phelps, Sun triumphed in the 400 freestyle and Agnel beat Lochte to clinch a shock gold for France with a devastating surge on the last length of Sunday’s 4x100 relay.
Monday’s race also includes world record holder Paul Biedermann of Germany and South Korea’s Park Tae-hwan, a line-up that could decide bragging rights over who is the best male swimmer at the Games.
Also up for grabs are the men’s 100 backstroke, where Matt Grevers of the U.S. qualified fastest, the women’s 100 backstroke where Australia’s Emily Seebohm almost broke the world record in qualifying, and the women’s 100 breaststroke in which 15-year-old Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte leads the field.
On Sunday, South Africa’s Cameron Van der Burgh and American Dana Vollmer set world records in the men’s 100 breaststroke and women’s 100 butterfly respectively, both erasing times set in 2009 before buoyancy-boosting polyurethane bodysuits were banned.
Van der Burgh became the first South African male to win individual Olympic swimming gold.
Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima, trying to become the first male swimmer to win gold in the same event at three successive Olympics, could only finish fifth.
There was a further pool gold for France when top-ranked Camille Muffat won the women’s 400 freestyle.
Phelps’s silver in the relay was his first in these Games, which along with his 14 previous golds and two bronzes left him one shy of the all-time record of 18 medals held by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina.
The weather early on Monday was cool with only a 20 percent chance of rain - happy odds for Britons who have suffered one of their worst summers in years, including the wettest June in a century.
British cyclist Lizzie Armitstead maintained that it was the rainstorms on Sunday afternoon that helped her land the host nation’s first medal of the games, a silver.
“What a ride by Lizzie, she was doing a rain dance this morning, praying for rain. You think I‘m kidding - she really was,” Team GB performance director David Brailsford told reporters.
The race was won by favourite Marianne Vos of the Netherlands, who was desperate for road gold after finishing second in the last five road race world championships.
Overall, China took a commanding early lead in the rankings with 12 medals, six of them gold, ahead of the United States on 11 medals including three golds.
China’s Guo Wenjun retained her Olympic title in the 10 metre air pistol shooting on Sunday while compatriots Wu Minxia and He Zi took their expected easy gold in the women’s synchronised three-metre springboard diving.
The Chinese team can expect to add another gold by Yuan Cao and Yanquan Zhang in the 10-metre synchronised platform diving on Monday and the squad will also try to challenge the American favourites for the men’s gymnastics team gold.
The latest U.S. basketball “Dream Team”, this time featuring LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, began their title defence with a slick 98-71 defeat of France, drawing ‘oohs’ from the crowd with no-look assists, thunderous dunks and sublime handling.
South Korea’s women extended their domination of Olympic archery by winning a seventh straight team gold although they needed a near-perfect nine from their last arrow to overcome China who took their third successive silver.
But there was nothing close to perfection from U.S. gymnast Jordyn Wieber, the world champion who fled from reporters as her dreams of landing the all-round Olympic crown were shattered.
A scrappy floor routine and a far-below-par balance beam display meant it was her team mates Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman who qualified instead for the individual final. (Editing by Mike Collett-White)