Betting the London Olympics don't sink

The name Andrea Doria stuck out because it was referenced in a "Seinfeld" episode. It was a ship famous for sinking.

But what were the other names? More shipwrecks? De Braak, Lexington, Thresher, Empress of Ireland, Mary Rose, Alabama. Yes, shipwrecks all, confirmed by an Internet search hours later.

The radar screen in front of us on the plane to London Monday night was, for reasons beyond comprehension, showing us the names of two things: cities and famous shipwrecks. The tragedies at sea, some of them occurring hundreds of years ago, apparently littered the ocean floor below the route we were to fly from Philadelphia to the English capital.

We came to the realization the airline was pockmarking its in-flight radar screens with shipwrecks only after our pilot had turned the plane around, taking us from the runway back to the gate because of a "mechanical problem."

One of our guys thought the pilot said they needed to "bleed a hose" -- which reminded me of an exchange between Steve Martin and Bill Murray in an old "Saturday Night Live" sketch:

Murray: "I was at the festival of the vernal equinox, and I guess I had a little too much mead, and I darted out in front of an oxcart. It all happened so fast. They couldn't stop in time."

Martin, playing his Theodoric of York character: "Well, you'll feel a lot better after a good bleeding."

Murray: "But I'm bleeding already!"

The delay was about an hour, no big deal. During it, a mechanic looked like he was fixing something on the floor of one of the bathrooms.

Before we left the pilot pointed out that members of the University of Florida marching band -- who told us they would be playing at Olympic venues here -- were on board with us. They proudly wore their school colors. Somehow I think if they'd been from Penn State the mood would have been different.

The shipwrecks are a nice anecdote and the short delay is relatable to anyone who flies these days, but this isn't a story about how rocky the trip was. On the contrary, the first few hours in London went swimmingly -- nothing like what we'd heard was happening here last week when Kerron Clement, the American hurdler, caused a stir with a tweet that said his bus had been lost on the road for four hours.

"Not a good first impression London," Clement wrote.

Things can change quickly at these things, of course, and some of it is beyond anyone's control. Like the weather: one volunteer smiled that we had brought the good stuff with us, saying it was rainy and cold last week, which we'd heard. It was sunny and 75 when we landed.

We breezed through the airport: deplaning, customs, accreditation, luggage and finding the Heathrow Express train downtown took less than an hour. We were herded along by helpful, pleasant, talkative volunteers that would have made even the disciplined, stride-in-step Chinese from four years ago nod in appreciation.

While we stood on the platform at Paddington station trying to decide which train to get on next, we were grabbed by one of the volunteers who walked us to the media shuttles. She knew Philadelphia, has friends there.

And despite our driver's apparent fascination with playing chicken on the ride to our hotel -- we came within a medal's width of swiping a few vehicles, at least one of them a red double-decker bus -- he seemed to know the fastest route instead of the third- or fourth-fastest like so many of the Olympic drivers I've known before him.

We were off the plane and inside our hotel rooms in no time.

So much was made about how London would match up to the spectacle of Beijing that we forgot what a steely veteran this city is. It is, after all, the first city to host three Olympic Games.

So far, it shows.

Of course, the bad press London received over the past several weeks -- the sodden venues, a failed security contract, the rooftop missiles -- may have a genesis in what British press did to Vancouver organizers 2 1/2 years ago. They were so relentless in their browbeating of VANOC for its hiccups -- bad ice, broken Zambonis, late buses -- that they may have opened LOCOG up for a bloodletting.

They may have pushed the organizing committee in front of an oxcart.

And about those rooftop missiles and the government's decision to deploy an extra 1,200 armed forces in the wake of problems encountered by one of the security contractors, Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Chris Allison said Tuesday that organizers had planned all along for the threat of terrorism to be severe.

"It is always easier to downgrade the resources at the last minute than to upgrade your resources," Allison said.

Details of Friday's anticipated opening ceremony have trickled out, including reports that Paul McCartney's performance will include a singalong of the Beatles standard "Hey Jude." But one thing that's sure to remain a secret is the identity of the person who will light the Olympic cauldron.

There's a lot of pressure for London to match Beijing's instant-classic opening ceremony, but there shouldn't be. It very well may be an impossible task. And if British oddsmakers were taking bets on how Friday's ceremony will go, I know how I'd lean.

I'd bet it doesn't sink.