LONDON – For skeptics, the Olympics were deliciously doomed: London’s transport network would surely fail, Britain’s athletes would flop, rain would prevail and terrorists would strike. But then the sun came out after months of sodden skies, vehicles moved briskly, there were no attacks, and British athletes reeled in a shocking 65 medals.
On Monday, as international athletes and visitors poured out of London and the city’s 8 million residents resumed their normal lives, British officials hailed the 2012 Olympics as an unqualified success. Even the naysayers predicting doom and gloom had to eat their words.
“I was moaning like everyone else before the Games, thinking the roads would be packed and nothing would work,” said London shopkeeper Yvette Tracton, 28. “But it’s been brilliant.”
Celebrations kicked off around the country as athletes returned home to cheering crowds. Leeds held a reception for three medalists, including triathlon gold- and bronze-winning brothers Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee.
“It’s been a fantastic week in London, but to come home to Leeds is better than anything else,” said Alistair.
Some 116,000 people were leaving Monday from Heathrow Airport, London’s busiest hub, compared with 95,000 for a typical August day. Gatwick Airport was handling 70,000 departing passengers, 15 percent more than usual.
Airports had come under scrutiny in the months leading up to the Olympics for lacking the staff to deal with backlogs of people and luggage, but Monday’s crowds moved through without a hitch.
The exodus included thousands of athletes and Prime Minister David Cameron, who was heading on vacation to the Mediterranean.
Heathrow built a temporary Olympics terminal with 31 check-in desks to accommodate departing athletes and support staff. The terminal was decorated like a park, and some staff wore bearskin hats in the style of those worn by Buckingham Palace guards.
“I have to say to Britain, you guys did a great job,” said passenger Tumua Anae, 23, a Californian who won gold as part of the U.S. water polo team.
London’s quirky mayor, Boris Johnson, gloated to reporters, saying London had defied the skeptics. Some 300,000 foreigners and 5.5 million day-trippers flocked to the city for the games. Hotel occupancy was at 84 percent – double what Beijing and Sydney saw during their Olympics.
Johnson said the city’s public transport had coped just fine. Use of London’s subway, the Tube, was up 30 percent, but there were few major problems. London’s overground commuter train saw double its normal crowds, and the city’s bike hire scheme broke a record with 46,000 bikes rented on a single day.
Security officials, too, could cheer the lack of any major incident during the games.