The Olympics: What London Can Learn from Vancouver

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Daniel Berehulak / Getty

The 2012 London Summer Olympics logo

The construction site just off east London's Pudding Mill Lane is a hive of activity. To a sound track of saws, whirring engines and vehicle horns, workers are shifting earth, laying roads and scaling a cavernous steel-framed structure. On a viewing platform overlooking the site, a steady stream of people gather to watch the development take shape. Many linger: a dedicated coffee shop at one end of the platform offers hot drinks amid the crisp, wintry weather.

London's construction workers had better get used to the scrutiny. With the Vancouver Winter Games now concluded, attention will switch to the British capital — which was awarded the 2012 Summer Games five years ago — as it races to get ready. Learning from the last host city will be vital. While the sports on show in London will be different from those in Vancouver, the Canadian city's experience "gives us real food for thought," Sebastian Coe, chairman of London's organizing committee, told reporters ahead of the closing ceremony on Feb. 28. London, he said, would "use this information to ensure we stage a Games for everyone."

Coe, part of a 50-strong London delegation that studied the Winter Games firsthand, divides the lessons he and his colleagues learned into "four Ss" — sport, service, stadiums and sites. The team is set for a full debrief in the next few weeks. Ahead of that, here's a quick TIME guide for London:

Get the atmosphere right, and you're golden. Canadians bought into the Vancouver Games in a big way, and that played a key part in their success. London's organizers applauded Vancouver's party atmosphere, while International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge reckoned that locals had "embraced the Olympic Games like no other city in the world before."

Building such an atmosphere in London will be crucial. Plans are in place to put up dozens of big screens throughout the U.K. by 2012, mimicking the sites in and around Vancouver that offered people without tickets the chance to feel part of the action.

Locating about a quarter of the 2012 venues outside of London should also help stoke Britons' interest. Within the sprawling, densely populated capital, though, organizers "need to carefully plan how they're going to control, handle and manage the crowds to make sure everyone's safe and not gridlocked," says Ed Hula, editor of Around the Rings, a publication on the Olympics.

Give locals something to cheer about — but don't overdo it. Sports fans will doff their cap to a great performance by any competitor. In Vancouver, it was hard to see past American skier Lindsey Vonn or South Korean figure skater Kim Yu-na. But the sporting success of the home nation helps set the tone for an Olympics. Just ask Canada's rabid ice hockey fans. Canada topped the gold-medal count this winter, and the U.K. will be under pressure to deliver in 2012. Recent history is encouraging: Britain finished fourth in the medals table in Beijing and landed its biggest gold-medal haul in a century.

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