• Brits revel in gloom ahead of London Olympics, but don't believe the gripe

    Oda / Getty Images

    From Wimbledon to Wembley Stadium to The Dome, a look at the venues for the 2012 London Olympic Games.

    Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

    Will Brits start celebrating the Games when they actually begin? A man sits in the Atlas cafe in Leyton near the Olympic Park in London, England, on March 22, 2012.

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    This badge, which was put up for sale on eBay, gives an indication of the attitudes of some Britons ahead of the Olympics.

    Darren Staples / Reuters, file

    Morris dancers, similar to these Leicester Morrismen dancing in Newtown Linford in 2010, may stage flash mob-style protests after being left out of the opening ceremony, The Daily Mail reported. Morris dancing stretches back some 600 years, but its origins are obscure.

    The pilot of a JetBlue flight had a meltdown midair on Tuesday and now the FBI is holding Captain Clayton Osbon for a “medical situation." Passengers describe the atmosphere aboard the plane.

    The International Olympics Committee President Jacques Rogge said the organization is "happy" with the progress and that a great legacy had already been left. ITV's Rags Martel reports.

    thewebweddingstore on ebay

    This badge, which was put up for sale on eBay, gives an indication of the attitudes of some Britons ahead of the Olympics.

    LONDON -- If grumbling ever becomes an Olympic sport, the United Kingdom has to be a surefire bet for gold.

    The level of complaints, fears and general discontent about the 30th Olympiad in London this summer has reached fever pitch, moving well-known commentator David Randall, of The Independent on Sunday newspaper, to write a column entitled "Come on, Britain! Stop moaning! It's the Olympics, for heaven's sake!"

    Some fear too many people will come to London, causing a "perfect storm" of congestion on the roads -- so bad that lives could be endangered -- along with congestion on the subways, and also on the Internet; others think that actually fewer visitors than usual will come because ordinary tourists will be put off, so the games will provide little or no boost to the city's economy.

    Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber even predicted "a bloodbath of a summer" for London's theaters after a slump in advance orders for tickets.

    Then there has been a slew of gripes about tickets for Olympic events, such as not being able to get them unless you are a member of the super-rich, and unnecessary secrecy about the ticketing process.

    Some worry London will get a bad name if visitors are ruthlessly gouged for every cent, by unscrupulous landlords, over-priced hotels or expensive Olympic souvenirs, for example.

    The International Olympics Committee President Jacques Rogge said the organization is "happy" with the progress and that a great legacy had already been left. ITV's Rags Martel reports.

     

    However, one of the main groups representing London taxis seemed somewhat put out after it tried unsuccessfully to get approval to increase fares by a hefty 22 percent during the games. Allowed only a 5.3 percent raise, a drivers' representative suggested that many cabbies might decide not to show up for work.

    Morris-dancing anarchists?
    Other complaints include the potential $17 billion cost of the event to taxpayers, and that Scotland, some 500 miles to the north of London, will see little benefit from the presence of the Games in the U.K. capital. 

    Labor unions have also been threatening to go on strike during the games to protest the government's austerity measures. 

    Darren Staples / Reuters, file

    Morris dancers, similar to these Leicester Morrismen dancing in Newtown Linford in 2010, may stage flash mob-style protests after being left out of the opening ceremony, The Daily Mail reported. Morris dancing stretches back some 600 years, but its origins are obscure.

    And, if all that wasn't enough, there's the fear of a large-scale terrorist attack, and other assorted threats -- of varying degrees of seriousness -- from solar storms, diseases spread by shaking hands, Morris-dancing anarchists, and, cue the scary music, the "Illuminati."

    Olympic housing crunch: London landlords evict tenants to gouge tourists

    Any sports enthusiast looking forward to the spectacles of Usain Bolt on the track, LeBron James on the court and Alex Morgan on the soccer field might be somewhat discouraged by all this negativity.

    'It's cathartic'
    But Peter Catterall, lecturer in history at Queen Mary, University of London and editor of the journal National Identities, told msnbc.com that this would be a "cultural misreading" of the current outbreak of moaning.

    "I think it reflects, if you like, a national history," he said. "The national narrative is often about making the best of heroic defeat, like [the Second World War evacuation of] Dunkirk and so on. The national experience in Britain is not one that's tended to create a sense in which you can just 'seize that hill.'"

    Oda / Getty Images

    From Wimbledon to Wembley Stadium to The Dome, a look at the venues for the 2012 London Olympic Games.

    "There's a tendency to think in terms of what could go wrong, rather than what could go right," he said. "It's a kind of low-level grumbling amongst people who are often quite good at grumbling. I think also people quite like grumbling, it's cathartic."

    Testing for terror: Preparing for the unthinkable at London Olympics

    Olympic organizers may even have taken this into account in their planning.

    "I do think in part the public authorities have been trying to get the moaning out of the way early," Catterall said, although he added that this "may well put off some visitors."

    An age-old attitude?
    This kind of attitude may go back at least as far as what was arguably the world's first international event for the masses, London's Great Exhibition of 1851.

    It was essentially a trade fair showing off the best products from across the world -- exhibitors included China, Persia (now Iran), the United States, India, Tunisia, Philippines and many European countries -- and it attracted more than 6 million visitors during its five-month run.

    Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

    Will Brits start celebrating the Games when they actually begin? A man sits in the Atlas cafe in Leyton near the Olympic Park in London, England, on March 22, 2012.

    However, in the run-up to the exhibition, Londoners expressed a string of complaints and worries that are notably similar to the current ones about the Olympics.

    "I think there was a parallel in terms of all these fears," Michael Leapman, author of a book about the Great Exhibition, called "The World for a Shilling," said.

    The prospect of hordes of visitors sparked alarm about congestion -- and as it turned out there were some traffic jams of the horse-and-carriage variety -- and the spread of disease, Leapman told msnbc.com.

    And while tickets could be bought for a shilling, prices were increased at the weekends and other times to enable the wealthy to enjoy the exhibits without rubbing shoulders with the "hoi polloi," he added. Leapman said the author Charles Dickens was on a committee to represent the interests of working-class people, but the exhibition's organizers paid so little attention to it that Dickens quit.

    Security was another big concern, with the event coming not long after several European revolutions in 1848 and amid unrest associated with the working-class Chartist movement in the U.K.

    "The Duke of Wellington [a national hero after his victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815] wanted to put a troop of cavalry into Hyde Park, but the government said that would be a bit too provocative," Leapman said.

    The government also attempted to set up a register of accommodation with set prices, but Leapman said most landlords resisted signing up, trusting the free market to give a better return.

    'Enthusiasm'
    But the generally positive outcome of the event gives Leapman, who has tickets to watch hockey, some comfort amid all the present-day moaning.

    He said that while there might be "some inconvenience" during the Olympics "I have a feeling it will be a great success, partly judging from the Great Exhibition."

    At Olympics, dogs have sniffed out a key anti-terror role

    And so the views of Hugh Robertson, the U.K. government's minister for sport and the Olympics, should perhaps not be viewed with the usual British cynicism toward politicians.

    "My experience of the Games across the country has been one of fantastic support and enthusiasm," he told msnbc.com in a statement, noting the "huge demand" for tickets.

    "The Royal Wedding showed that Britons know how to get behind national events, and London 2012 will be the chance to do that on a giant scale," Robertson added. "We [are] determined that everybody who comes to London for the Games has an amazing time."

    John Powell, chairman of leading athletics club Belgrave Harriers, is exactly the sort of person who should be bursting with enthusiasm for the Games.

    He will carry the Olympic torch and is the coach of sprinter James Ellington, who is a medal prospect for the U.K. if he makes it through the trials.

    Powell told msnbc.com that he was "very excited" about carrying the flame; and it would be "amazing" to coach an athlete to a medal, the "pinnacle" of his 36 years of coaching.

    But even he has a gripe.

    If Ellington wins gold, Powell, his coach of some 13 years, will watch his triumph on television because, he said, he and many other coaches will not be given access to the stadium, a decision he described as "shambolic and a scandal."

    "That really does take the edge of it from my point of view," Powell said.

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  • Afghanistan's answer to 'Million Dollar Baby'?

    Teen boxer Sadaf Rahimi, who aims to compete at this summer's London Olympics, hopes her achievements will be an example to others in her war-ravaged country. NBC News' Kiko Itasaka reports.

    Teen boxer Sadaf Rahimi, who aims to compete at this summer's London Olympics, hopes her achievements will be an example to others in her war-ravaged country. NBC News' Kiko Itasaka reports.

     

    Olympic hopeful Sadaf Rahimi's family and coach have received death threats because she's a boxer.

    The 18-year-old Afghan, who trains in a stadium where the Taliban used to carry out executions, says: "I want to show Afghan women don't stay behind closed doors." NBC News' Kiko Itasaka reports.

    Related content: Afghan girls punch their way to equality

    Taliban's bloodsoaked stadium re-opens as 'peaceful place'

     

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  • At London Olympics, dogs have sniffed out a key anti-terror role

    NBC News

    Officer Graham Rowlstone of the British Transport Police pats Benson after he correctly identifies a threat in London's St. Pancras Station.

    British Transport Police

    Benson the police dog even has his own business card.

    A cadre of bomb-sniffing dogs gets set to find threats at the 2012 London Olympics alongside the tens of thousands of two-legged security personnel preparing to make the city safe. Msnbc.com's F. Brinley Bruton reports.

    A cadre of bomb-sniffing dogs gets set to find threats at the 2012 London Olympics alongside the tens of thousands of two-legged security personnel preparing to make the city safe. Msnbc.com's F. Brinley Bruton reports.


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    LONDON -- Benson’s tail wagged lazily as he weaved through the crowds in London’s St. Pancras railway station.

    “Good morning ladies and gents, police dog working,” said the pooch’s handler, Graham Rowlstone of the British Transport Police, as the pair strode beneath a soaring glass-and-blue-steel ceiling. “Just making sure it’s nice and safe for you.”

    Some travelers and commuters smiled, laughed and said hello to the black lab. A few petted him. But mostly the pair slipped easily through the concourse.

    Suddenly, Benson cocked his ears, lifted his tail and picked up the pace. He trotted in front of a nondescript man in a dark blue fleece, sat down and looked up expectantly.

    “Good morning, sir. Where are you traveling today?” Rowlstone asked.

    It was a drill to show that Benson’s explosives-sniffing skills were still sharp. The dog passed the test and the man in blue – dog trainer and police officer Paul Saunders – dropped a tennis ball, which Benson chewed enthusiastically.

    Dealing with threats
    As Britain gears up for the estimated one million visitors expected to descend on the city for the 2012 Olympic Games, bomb-sniffing teams like Benson and Rowlstone are preparing to deal with the threats that come with the big crowds.

    Olympic housing crunch: London landlords evict tenants to gouge tourists

    Benson is a relative newcomer to the explosives-detection space, which has been long dominated by “proactive” dogs, which concentrate on inspecting places such as lost-luggage departments and suspicious packages left on trains and buses. In other words, they deal with stationary targets. 

    About three years ago, the British Transport Police and others began to train so-called passive dogs like Benson, which search for explosives among crowds of people, essentially following a scent until it stops.

    NBC News

    Officer Graham Rowlstone of the British Transport Police pats Benson after he correctly identifies a threat in London's St. Pancras Station.

     

    Bomb-sniffer dogs are an integral part of the system in place meant to keep travelers safe and public transport running smoothly, British Transport Police Inspector Ed Purchase told msnbc.com.

    “The dogs are an extended part of the security operation within London and around the country, making sure the railways are safe, members of the public are safe and that we can keep all the transport system open,” he said.

    With the biggest and oldest dog unit in the country, the British Transport Police – in charge of policing Britain's railways and subways – know what they’re talking about.

    Attack highly likely?
    Britain has faced threats to its mass transit systems for well over a century – the first terrorist strike on London’s underground network was in the 1880s.

    And just a day after the announcement was made to award the Olympics to London on July 6, 2005, the city suffered its worst peacetime attack when four suicide bombers killed 52 commuters.

    Al-Qaida to Occupy: UK preps Olympics security

    So it comes as no surprise that the issue of security on the country’s transport system weighs heavily on the minds of the Olympics organizers.

    The games will see the U.K.’s largest peacetime security operation involving tens of thousands of security officials, with 13,500 military personnel, 12,000 police and 10,000 private contractors.

    Current potential dangers to London come from a variety of sources including al-Qaida and related jihadi groups, right-wing extremists and Northern Ireland-related militants, according to officials.

    The U.K.’s alert level is expected to be raised to “severe” during the games, meaning that an attack is considered highly likely, the government says.

    Four-legged ambassadors
    For Benson and his canine colleagues it will be a busy time. But while they are most valued for their keen noses, the dogs also have a key public relations role to play.

    “(The dogs) are a tool … effective across a range of activities – reassurance, engagement with the public and detection – that’s why they’re attractive to us,” Superintendent Philip Trendall, of the British Transport Police's Counter Terrorism Support Unit, told msnbc.com.

    “People notice us a lot more,” said Constable Tony Mart, who works with another black lab, named Pete. “They will always see a police officer with a dog. The interaction with the public is great,” he said.

    British Transport Police

    Benson the police dog even has his own business card.

    About a dozen passives have been incorporated into the team over the last three years, Trendall said, but declined to discuss their success rates.

    And he says that the dogs’ public-facing role in boosting confidence and good cheer is almost as important as its explosives-sniffing one.

    “A machine that people want to come up and give a biscuit to and pat doesn’t exist,” he said.

    F. Brinley Bruton is a reporter and editor with msnbc.com in London. Follow her on Twitter.

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