LONDON, England (AP) — Basking in post-Olympic glory, Britain succumbed to reality today with commuters venturing back to work and Heathrow Airport experiencing one of its busiest days ever.
Some 116,000 people were expected to leave today from Heathrow, London’s busiest hub, an exodus that includes some 6,000 athletes and Prime Minister David Cameron going on his vacation. Heathrow usually handles about 95,000 passengers a day.
“The games were awesome,” Tumua Anae, a 23-year-old Californian who won gold with the US water polo team, said as she waited for a flight. “I have to say to Britain, you guys did a great job.”
Heathrow opened a temporary Olympic terminal with 31 check-in desks to accommodate departing athletes and support staff.
The special terminal, designed like a park, was filled with iconic British items including a red phone booth and double-decker bus. Some Heathrow staff wore bearskin hats, much like the guards at Buckingham Palace. The terminal will go back to being a parking lot in three days.
“This terminal is cool. I was so shocked when we came in — there was grass and it looked like an English garden,” said Lisa Ericson, a member of Sweden’s sailing team.
In the months leading up to the Olympics, the government was criticized for failing to provide enough staff at immigration points, causing massive backlogs.
Some travellers, however, were pleasantly surprised today.
“I didn’t expect just to whizz through like this,” said Sashi Singh, a retired businessman returning to his home in Fiji after coming to London for the games.
Throughout the capital there were signs that the party was over. In central London’s government district, workers using fork-lift trucks, cherry pickers and small cranes began dismantling the temporary Olympic beach volleyball arena on Horseguards Parade.
It will take several weeks to take down the towering bleachers, which are next door to the prime minister’s home at No 10 Downing Street.
Sand cleared away from the venue will be used to construct 36 new beach volleyball courts in southern England, part of efforts to boost the sport’s profile in Britain.
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