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Excitement builds as London prepares to start party

ESPN staff
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The start of London 2012 is just hours away © PA Photos
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Expectation and anticipation for London 2012 is continuing to grow, with the opening ceremony just hours away.

Seven years after England's capital was awarded the Olympic Games for the third time in its history, the opening ceremony will officially get underway at 8.12pm (20.12) on Friday - with the formalities, including the athletes' parade, beginning at 9pm.

Over 10,000 athletes from 204 national Olympic committees will compete in 26 sports over the 19-day duration of the Games, which conclude in just over two weeks on Sunday August 12.

Thirty-four venues will be used for the biggest sporting event in the world, many of them constructed especially for the Games at the 500-acre Olympic Park in Stratford.

"It has been an extraordinary journey these seven years," said Lord Sebastian Coe, two-time Olympic gold medallist and chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), on Thursday. "We put a lot of effort into this.

"We made sure venues are within walking distance of the athletes village. As of today we have 9,047 athletes and officials there. The village is a sanctuary, it is a home.

He added: "We have build a new city inside an old city. Always with an eye for value for money.

"We are now focused like the athletes. We have made our journey from training track to warm-up track, [and now] to the stadium."

While many eyes will remain focused on the organisers' ability to successfully deliver the Games - fears over transport options and security provisions (after private firm G4S admitted just weeks before the Games began that they would be unable to fulfil their duties) have dogged the build-up - the majority of the attention now turns to the athletes.

It is hoped that Team GB will be successful in their events, with UK Sport conservatively predicting a minimum haul of 48 medals but other estimates indicating as many as 75 could be won. On Thursday, London mayor Boris Johnson joked at a torch relay event in Hyde Park that the hosts would "win enough gold medals to bail out Greece and Spain combined!"

Speculation remains rife over who will be given the honour of lighting the Olympic cauldron inside the stadium on Friday, with some bookies closing the market after a flurry of bets on Sir Roger Bannister, the first man to run the four-minute mile. Five-time Olympic gold medallist Sir Steve Redgrave and double-gold medal winning decathlete Daley Thompson have also been strongly tipped for the job - although it is not impossible that a lesser-known name may be given the final duty.

Less than half of Team GB's 541 athletes will attend the opening ceremony, however, due in part to fears that the time spent standing around for the athletes' parade could affect the performance of some participants, particularly those whose events come earlier in the Games.

Other countries do not share the same fears, however - sprinter Usain Bolt will carry the flag for Jamaica in the ceremony, for example. Cyclist Sir Chris Hoy was awarded the honour for the hosts.

"I can tell you that our flag bearer will be the honourable doctor Usain Bolt," Jamaica Olympic Association president Mike Fennell revealed.

Bolt later added: "For my country, I would do anything. I love Jamaica. And to be on TV, to be singled out, it's kind of great."

The opening ceremony, curated by film director Danny Boyle and entitled 'Isles of Wonder' after a speech in William Shakespeare's The Tempest, will reportedly celebrate the lush cultural history of Great Britain.

Tickets, priced between £1600 and £2012, are still available for the ceremony.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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