2012 Olympics begin with little fanfare in Glasgow
Glasgow, Scotland • Seven years after London won the Olympic Games, the event began quietly 400 miles away in a different country entirely.
The Summer Games officially start Friday with the anticipated Danny Boyle-produced Opening Ceremonies, a spectacle that will feature Queen Elizabeth, Paul McCartney, loud music and bright lights.
There was none of that Wednesday for the two-time defending gold medal U.S. women's soccer team. Its 4-2 victory over France was part of a slate of women's soccer games, which along with archery, opened the Summer Games.
"It's the opening game, not only for us, but for the entire Olympics," U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo said.
Not that it felt that way in and around Scotland's National Stadium.
While even the most obscure sports can become a difficult ticket to procure at the Olympics, organizers had a hard time drawing interest in the first round of women's matches. The 52,000-seat stadium was scattered with an announced crowd of 18,090. A spokesman said 6,000 to 7,000 tickets were sold. The rest were given to local youth teams and schools.
In its final Olympic tune-up in June, the U.S. team drew a crowd of 16,805 in Salt Lake City.
Earlier this week, Glasgow venue organizers said they expected about 37,000 people to be on hand for the match against France.
"I'd say it's a little different compared with the past Olympics," said U.S. midfielder Christie Rampone, who is playing in her fourth Summer Games. "Kind of like waiting for that Olympic feeling to start. To kind of set a precedent with a game like this was kind of more of our opening ceremonies to ourselves."
London is jam-packed this week with tourists and other revelers, with Olympic signage on every block. As airplanes descend into Heathrow Airport, an image of British track and field star Jessica Ennis can be seen on a large field, accompanied by the message, "Welcome to our turf."
In Glasgow Central Station on Wednesday, tourists posed with a statue of Olympic mascot Wenlock, while signs with arrows directed traffic to Hampden Park, the lettering of "2012 Games" the only fanfare. Unlike buzzing London, life here didn't seem to be interrupted, or really affected, by the arrival of the first Olympics in Britain since 1948 and the first-ever Olympic events in Scotland.
In part, that seems to be because these are England's games, not Scotland's, despite the blurring of boundaries during the event.
In an Olympic sense, Scotland and England are the same country, despite being otherwise fiercely sovereign. They, along with Wales and Northern Ireland, compete as Team Great Britain.
But a sense of independence remains, even during the Olympics, a time of unity.
"It's in London," said Andy Mitchell, a media manager for women's soccer. "It's 400 miles away. We're very interested, we'll watch it, but we're not really a part of it."
In Scotland, the accents are thicker, the Olympic fervor is thinner and both are a bit tough to understand.
"It's probably because it's in England and the difference between England and Scotland is..." a Hampden Park usher named John said as he made a weighing motion with hands. "â¦There's really not much interest locally."
In hosting the women's games, that is. Scotland, like the rest of the world, is greatly intrigued by the Games at large, John said.
The 67-year-old, who has spent his entire life in Scotland, said there would be greater interest for a Confederations Cup game, of course, or any premier league match. He said the Scottish Cup, played in April for the country's league title, was a raucous party, despite being played by two surprise teams.
Wednesday's women's game was certainly a strange event to kick off the Games, the long-awaited arrival of the Olympics clashing with a turnout more fitting for an exhibition than an Olympic showdown between international powers.
The U.S. was last seen advancing to the Women's World Cup final last year after a run that included a semifinal win against France.
Mitchell, who spent 10 years as a spokesman for the Scottish Football Association, said women's soccer is not popular in Britain, particularly when stacked up against the wildly beloved men's sport.
He said more than 30,000 tickets were sold by midday Wednesday for men's games between Spain and Japan, and Morocco and Honduras on Thursday.
"Scotland's women's team has never played at Hampden," he said. "One thing I think after the first 40 minutes is more of [the fans] will come back Saturday. It's been eye-opening."
So maybe they noticed: The Games have begun.
• More than 48 hours before the Opening Ceremonies in London, the Olympic Games begins with a series of women's soccer matches and archery.
• The U.S. women's soccer team beats France 4-2 to kick off its quest for a third-consecutive gold medal.
• In Glasgow, Scotland's largest city, women's soccer is a marginal, if not poor, draw: Only 18,090 people watch the U.S. in 52,000-seat Hampden Park.