CARDIFF (Reuters) - From the giant set of Olympic rings outside the City Hall to the Olympic flags flying high in glorious sunshine on the ramparts of Cardiff Castle, the capital of Wales was ready for its moment in the Olympic spotlight on Wednesday.
The first competitive action of the London 2012 Games begins at 4:00 p.m. at the Millennium Stadium when the women’s teams of Britain and New Zealand play their opening group match, the first of six games taking place on Wednesday, two days before the opening ceremony.
“I can’t believe it, I am actually selling Union Jacks at a sporting festival in Cardiff,” said Skip, whose temporary stall was doing a lively trade in the shadow of the statue of one of Wales’ great heroes: Aneurin Bevan, the founder of Britain’s National Health Service.
Megan Phillips, a sprightly 88-year-old grandmother from Swansea, decked almost entirely in red, white and blue and drinking a can of Red Bull, said she remembered Cardiff hosting the Empire Games in 1958, but, she said, “I think that these Olympics are a little bit bigger than that aren’t they ?”
Shop Rugby, which sells all kinds of rugby shirts in what is still a country more in love with the oval ball game than the round one, had a display of New Zealand rugby shirts in its window.
Ed McDonaugh, a shopper from London looking at the display, was unlikely to buy one.
Bizarrely sporting a T-Shirt with the slogan: “England: 1966 Heroes Forever” he said he had come to the game for its historic value.
“Seeing a Britain team play in the Olympics is just so remarkable,” he said. “I’ll be in Manchester tomorrow to see the men play too.”
Unlike days when the Millennium Stadium is hosting Wales rugby internationals, or when it hosted the English FA Cup final while Wembley was being rebuilt, Cardiff was not exactly heaving with fans but had a rather genteel feel to it.
That did not stop one ticket-holder thoroughly enjoying the occasion. “I just bought the official Olympic book for 4.99 pounds in that bookshop round the corner,” he said.
“Its normally on sale for 12.99 -- I‘m not sure the bloke who sold it to me knew the Games were on.”
Among those who do know the Games are on are FIFA president Sepp Blatter and Seb Coe, chairman of the London organising committee, who arrived by helicopter in the morning.
Reporting by Mike Collett; editing by Toby Davis