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Bacolod City, PhilippinesSaturday, July 28, 2012
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London launches
greatest sporting show

An expectant London prepared yesterday to launch the greatest sporting show on earth with excitement reaching fever pitch hours ahead of the Olympic Games opening ceremony (4 a.m. Phil. time).

After seven years of intensive planning, the Games will officially begin in a once rundown area of east London where 80,000 spectators will watch a spectacular show devised by "Slumdog Millionaire" director Danny Boyle.

Queen Elizabeth II will declare the Games officially open in the Olympic Stadium after a ceremony which Boyle has promised will showcase Britain's history as well as the nation's quirky sense of humor.

More than 120 world leaders are expected to attend the ceremony, while First Lady Michelle Obama will represent the United States alongside a host of celebrities including Angelina Jolie.

The Olympic flame was rowed up the River Thames in a ceremonial barge as it approached the end o f a 70-day journey around Britain and Ireland, but the person who will light the Olympic cauldron remains a closely guarded secret.

Once the curtain goes up, the stage is set for superstars such as Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and Roger Federer to dazzle, while an army of unsung competitors will also hope to strike gold.

A budget of £9.3 billion ($14.5 billion, 12 billion euros) has been lavished on bringing the Games to London for an unprecedented third time, but the first time since 1948.

There have been last-minute hitches with security after 4,700 additional servicemen had to be drafted in when the Games' private security contractor failed to supply the required number of guards.

International Olympic Committee chief Jacques Rogge declared himself satisfied with London's preparations.

"I can say with pleasure that London is ready and we are eagerly waiting for the opening ceremony," Rogge told journalists.

From the start, the London organisers have been at pains to stress they are not trying to rival the no-expense-spared extravaganza of the Beijing Olympics four years ago.

Instead they have a promised a Games for the athletes and -- against a backdrop of global economic uncertainty -- ensured that many of the venues can be reused or recycled.

Iconic locations such as Wimbledon, Lord's cricket ground and Hyde Park will form the backdrop to the Games while the Olympic Park complex, hosting swimming and athletics, has transformed the Stratford district of east London.

"It has been an extraordinary journey over seven years," said chief organizer Sebastian Coe.

The man widely expected to be the face of the Games, Jamaican track star Bolt, has endured a troubled build-up, but insisted he is "ready to go" as he bids to defend his double sprint titles.

"I'm always ready," said Bolt, who will carry the Jamaican flag at the opening ceremony. "I've had slight problems, but I'm ready to go."

In the pool, Phelps, whose eight golds in Beijing took his overall medal tally to 16, needs three more to surpass the all-time record of 18 set by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina between 1956 and 1964.

His seven-event programme gives him plenty of room to make more Games history and anchor a US team determined to continue its dominance against Australia and China.

Phelps is the two-time defending champion in all four of his individual events -- the 100m and 200m butterfly and 200m and 400m individual medley.

One of his biggest challengers is team-mate Ryan Lochte, who has emerged as a serious threat in both medley events.

Australia is bringing in the big artillery with James "The Missile" Magnussen and James "The Rocket" Roberts, in the prestigious 100m freestyle.

The US have a "Missile" of their own, however, in 17-year-old Missy Franklin, who is set to become the first US woman to swim seven events at one Games.

South Africa's Oscar Pistorius, known as 'Blade Runner' for his carbon fibre prosthetic running blades, will make history as the first double amputee to compete at an Olympics.

At the velodrome, Bradley Wiggins, fresh from his historic Tour de France triumph, will fire up the home crowd.

Federer, having won a record-equalling seventh Wimbledon title, returns to the All England Club in southwest London looking to add singles gold to the doubles he won with Swiss compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka four years ago.

And the United States are clear favorites in the men's basketball with a Dream Team boasting LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.*AFP

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