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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The world's biggest sports festival starts in just under six months. It's the Summer Olympics and the Paralympics Games. Athletes, journalists and fans are getting ready to converge on London. And just as you would not head into competition without a little warm-up, we're warming up for the games with our own Olympic countdown.

In the coming weeks, we'll hear from our sports reporters. But this morning, NPR's Philip Reeves kicks things off, with a letter from London on how the city is preparing.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: The last time the British did this, they had a king. George VI, father of Queen Elizabeth, was on the throne. George was so often tongue-tied, yet he opened the 1948 London Olympics flawlessly.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE 1948 OLYMPIC GAMES OF LONDON)

GEORGE WINDSOR VI: I proclaim open the Olympic Games of London, celebrating the 14th Olympiad of the modern era.

REEVES: It was late July. The sun shone down on London from a cloudless sky. The BBC had acquired the TV broadcasting rights for just $4,000, and made the most of them.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE 1948 OLYMPIC GAMES OF LONDON)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Tall, blonde, with a beautiful stride; and the flare sending out a glow and a sputter of spark...

REEVES: People packed Wembley Stadium, eager to forget the horrors of the Second World War.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE 1948 OLYMPIC GAMES OF LONDON)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: He lifts the torch high once more, and there's the flame leaping up in the bright sunlight.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE, SINGING)

REEVES: The 1948 Olympics are known as the Austerity Games. London was rebuilding after being bombed to smithereens by Hitler. Food and gas were still rationed. The athletes had no luxurious Olympic Village. They slept in military barracks or colleges.

Now, the Olympics are back in London. And despite these difficult economic times, this time they'll be far grander. The scale is breathtaking: 23,000 athletes and officials - double that if you add the security people - not to mention 20,000 journalists. An industrial wasteland in one of London's poorest areas has been turned into a giant Olympic Park, with a stunning new stadium as the centerpiece.

Most of the games will be concentrated in the park, but not all. The beach volleyball is just a hop, skip and a jump from Buckingham Palace.

The Brits are breaking records even before the starting gun. They're erecting their biggest piece of public art - a twisted steel sculpture taller than Big Ben, their answer to the Eiffel Tower. Visitors can dine at the world's biggest McDonalds, in a capital with record-breaking surveillance.

TOBIAS FEAKIN: Within London, we have probably the largest network of CCTV cameras anywhere in the world.

REEVES: That's security expert Tobias Feakin.

FEAKIN: Just walking up and down Whitehall, I will be filmed approximately 300 times per day by different cameras.

REEVES: The British, who love a good moan, have been griping a bit about all this. Getting tickets online has been pretty chaotic. Security costs are rocketing. So far, though, the grumbling has been subdued.

MAYOR JULES PIPE: The excitement is beginning to build. I've always said that, you know, by the time we get to the Olympics everyone in this country is going to be a fan.

REEVES: Jules Pipe is mayor of Hackney, which contains part of the Olympic Park. There were riots on his patch only last summer. Don't be alarmed, says Pipe.

PIPE: There wasn't a single building set alight in this borough of Hackney. Yes, there was some rioting in the streets, but I'd say that was in common with many other places in the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC AND A CROWD)

REEVES: In an east London market, close to the Olympic Park, you find mixed opinions about playing host. Carol Porter won't be budging from the vegetable stall where she's worked for the last 16 years.

CAROL PORTER: I should just be serving here anyway, whether they are doing high jump or frog jump or whatever. You know? I should just be here.

REEVES: But for all that, I have a sneaking feeling she's looking forward to it.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DANCING IN THE STREET")

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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