Olympian exodus begins from London
London’s Heathrow Airport set up a special terminal designed to resemble a city park to cope with the busiest day of the Olympics as around 15,000 athletes, officials and media headed home Monday.
Just hours after the closing ceremony the gateway airport for the Games said it was ready to cope with the mass exodus, having got through the rest of the Olympics without the travel chaos that the British media had feared.
The Games terminal, which is only for athletes, is dressed like a London park with plants, benches and fake grass. Staff are dressed as park wardens and a backdrop features the London skyline, with one of the city’s famed red buses.
It has 31 check-in desks and seven security lanes.
Heathrow said it was the biggest single day for Games departures or arrivals. A total of 116,000 people is expected to leave from Heathrow on Monday, compared with 95,000 for an average day at the airport.
“We want to continue the feel-good factor of the Games at the airport on our busiest day for departing athletes,” said Colin Matthews, chief executive of Spanish-owned airport operator BAA.
“I hope our Games Terminal park will bring a smile to passengers’ faces and contribute to final happy memories of London.”
Around 6,000 athletes are expected to be among the 15,000 members of the so-called “Olympic family” who will depart through Heathrow on Monday, Heathrow said.
Many athletes used check-in and bag-drop facilities at the Olympic village on Sunday and Heathrow collected 5,040 bags from the village overnight, it added.
Athletes leaving through Heathrow said they were impressed with London’s hospitality.
“I have been tremendously well looked after here in London,” said Chris Brown of the Bahamas, who won a gold medal in the men’s 4x400m relay.
Tumua Anae of the USA women’s water polo team, who also won a gold medal, added: “The Games were awesome. The people were so good to us. All the volunteers were so friendly and gave us a lot of support.”
Meanwhile some athletes were traveling by train.
Eurostar said it was putting on a special service to Paris to get the French team home.
At Stratford underground station, the main rail link for the Olympic Park in east London, some signposts read “Rio de Janeiro” – pointing the way for the next Games in the Brazilian city in 2016.
[image via Agence France-Presse]