- Associated Press - Monday, August 13, 2012

LONDON (AP) — Basking in post-Olympic glory, Britain succumbed to reality Monday with commuters venturing back to work and Heathrow Airport experiencing one of its busiest days ever.

Some 116,000 people were expected to leave Monday from Heathrow, London’s busiest airport, in 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 U.S. 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 travelers, however, were pleasantly surprised Monday.

“I didn’t expect just to whiz through like this,” said Sashi Singh, a retired businessman returning home to 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 forklift 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 residence 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.

Despite fears the games would lead to traffic gridlock, many commuters steered clear after a campaign encouraging people to use public transport. Traffic remained lighter than normal in London on Monday.

London Mayor Boris Johnson said the city’s public transport system had coped well. Ridership on London Underground — also known as the Tube — was up 30 percent, numbers doubled on the overground Docklands Light Railway, and a citywide bike-hire scheme broke a record with 46,000 bikes rented on a single day.

Commuters reported few problems Monday morning.

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