The Road To London Is Paved With Olympic Gaffes

The road to any big event, be it a family reunion, a graduation, or the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, is often pockmarked with screw-ups, flubs, and insensitive oversights. Robert Siegel and Audie Cornish catalog a few of the gaffes leading up to the London games, including torch flame-outs, missing hurdles, and the resurrection of the apartheid-era South African anthem.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

When you're gearing up to host a big event - say, a family reunion, a regional training conference, or the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, there are bound to be some screwups, oversights, flubs, more than a few whoopsies. For those of you keeping track at home, we have a shortlist of blunders so far in the lead-up to the London games.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

That's a recording of "Die Stem." Don't recognize it? Well, neither did many of the players on the South African women's field hockey team. It was played Tuesday before their match with Great Britain at the Investec London Cup, one of the game's warm-up events. "Die Stem" is South Africa's old anthem, the one used during the apartheid era.

Great Britain Hockey quickly apologized to the South African team and its supporters. They had their contractor apologize, too. That's right - they outsourced the job of keeping track of flags and anthems for each country. There is a lesson in there.

CORNISH: Speaking of track, Robert, how many hurdles are there in the women's 10-meter hurdles?

SIEGEL: Ten?

CORNISH: Ten, that's right - unless it's the great city games in Manchester, England. Last month, U.K. favorite Jessica Ennis beat her rivals and achieved a personal-best time of 12.75 seconds. Many people hoped it was a preview of how she'd perform in the London Olympic Games, except - wait for it - there were nine hurdles, not 10. The win was invalid. She got an apology, too.

SIEGEL: No apology necessary for this one, just a quick fix. It is the flameout of an Olympic torch.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hey, it's raining - it's soaked!

SIEGEL: In western England last month during the torch relay, a burner malfunctioned and the device attached to the wheelchair of para-badminton player David Follett went kaput. Follett came to a stop. So did the big bus creeping along behind him. Several athletic-looking men and women bounded out of that bus. One swapped out the bad torch. And then two others, equipped with a small lantern, ignited the new torch from the mother flame. Follett then resumed the torch relay, to a smattering of applause.

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SIEGEL: This well-choreographed business took less than a minute and would have made Vulcan, the god of fire, proud.

CORNISH: Don't you mean Hephaestus?

SIEGEL: His Greek name, you mean?

CORNISH: Yes. You'd expect to refer to the Greek gods since we're talking about the Olympics, right? Which brings us the final flub in our list. The Royal Mint has issued commemorative gold coins for the London games, coins embossed with the names of Jupiter, Mars, Minerva.

SIEGEL: And those would be the Roman names of the Greek gods Zeus, Ares and Athena.

CORNISH: When pressed, the Royal Mint justified the use of the Roman names because the Olympic motto is in Latin.

SIEGEL: Citius, altius, fortius - swifter, higher, stronger. All of these Olympic gaffes make us wonder if the motto for the lead-up to the London games really ought to be this...

CORNISH: Errare humanum est: To err is human.

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SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News.

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