Mitt Romney backpedaled Friday from his controversial critique of the London Olympic Games, saying that he was “absolutely convinced that the people here are ready for the Games.”
The turnabout came a day after the presumptive Republican suggested London wasn’t ready for the Olympics. On Wednesday — the first day of his highly touted foreign tour — Romney mentioned "disconcerting things" about London's readiness to host the Games.
The comments drew sharp criticism in the British press, and Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson both knocked Romney over the remarks.
On Friday, the likely Republican nominee sought to undertake damage control, effusively praising the efforts of the host committee.
"I read the same reports I think a lot of people did about the challenges being faced by the organizing committee, but after being here a couple days, it looks to me like London is ready, and of course it is hard to put on Games in a major metropolitan area, and what they've done, which I find so impressive, is put the venues right in the city," Romney said on NBC's "The Today Show."
Pressed by host Matt Lauer about whether he had bungled the start of what was intended to be a goodwill tour, Romney predicted the controversy would soon be forgotten.
"I'm absolutely convinced the people here are ready for the Games, and in just a few moments, all the things politicians say will get swept away because the athletes finally take the stage," Romney said. "The Games are all about the athletes. "
Romney was joined for the interview by his wife, Ann, and the pair discussed their personal ties to the Games — Ann's horse, Rafalca. Ann Romney said that she was both excited and nervous to see the horse perform in the Olympic dressage competition, and compared it to the anxiety of watching her husband compete in the Republican presidential debates.
"It is nerve-racking," Ann said. "I will tell you that watching debates are also nerve-racking. There was a point in the 20th debate where I finally said, 'I've had enough. You sit in the audience, I'll stand on the stage, see how it feels.' "
Mitt Romney again downplayed how invested he would be in the horse's competition.
"It's Ann's horse," Romney said. "I'd love to be there, but it's kind of a busy time for me."
The candidate could be looking for some political cover on the issue; the horse, which cost millions to buy and maintain, is seen by some as a political liability for the governor, who has been hesitant to broadcast his personal wealth. But Ann Romney said she gave her husband a "total pass" on the dressage competition.
"He's so, so supportive of me; when it comes to the show part, I give him a total pass," she said.
Mitt Romney then joked that his sons had once given him a "rubber horse mask" for Christmas to earn more affection from Ann.
The pair, who will not see each other again until the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., late next month, went on to say they were looking forward to their formal introduction to the American people.
"It'll be a great moment to talk about who we are," Ann Romney said.
The presumptive nominee said though he has "not begun my speech yet," he was excited for the chance to "lay out a vision for America."
"I know the themes, because they're the themes I've been speaking about the last couple of years, but word to paper — that hasn't happened yet," Romney said.
The candidate also offered an early prediction for the swimming competition, saying he favored American Michael Phelps over his rival and teammate Ryan Lochte.
"I think it's more likely to be Phelps, but I don't know," Romney said.