London celebrates 2-year countdown to 2012 Games
London marks the two-year countdown to the 2012 Summer Games on Tuesday by throwing open venues to star athletes, issuing a call for 70,000 volunteers and opening the first official Olympic store for sale of mascots and other souvenirs.
A series of activities were planned across the city to celebrate the buildup to the opening ceremony on July 27, 2012, when London will welcome the world to the greatest sports show on earth.
The spotlight will be on the Olympic Park site in east London, where athletes will test out some of the key facilities that are still under construction but well on track to be completed next year.
Michael Johnson, a former Olympic 200- and 400-meter champion from the United States, will race against youngsters on a specially laid track in the 80,000-capacity main stadium. British cyclist Chris Hoy, a four-time gold medalist, will be the first to try out the velodrome. Former NBA player John Amaechi will shoot a few hoops at the basketball arena.
"We're not just the next games," organizing committee president Sebastian Coe said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We're the next big global event. The World Cup is out of the way. That's where the world is coming. There's nothing else between us and the games."
Organizers were launching the Olympic volunteer program and urging people to apply for specialist positions such as doctors, anti-doping personnel and scoreboard operators. The signup for more general volunteer positions will open on Sept. 15.
"Today we enter another new phase of London 2012 - bringing the Great British public on-board," Sports and Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson said. "Volunteers are the heartbeat of every Olympic and Paralympic Games and are crucial to their success. We need skilled and passionate people who have the commitment to make 2012 the best Olympic and Paralympic Games ever."
Mayor Boris Johnson was announcing a separate program to recruit 8,000 "London Ambassadors" who will man key points across the city, such as railway stations and tourist spots, to help guide visitors around the capital.
"In addition to the sporting spectacular, we are planning a feast of entertainment and events with something for everyone," Johnson said. "We need to guarantee our guests the warmest of welcomes and help them navigate around this huge metropolis."
Organizers also urged fans to keep registering their interest in tickets, which will go on sale next year. So far, more than 1.4 million have registered. On sale will be 8 million tickets for the Olympics and 2 million for the Paralympics.
"We are well on track, the venues are nearing completion and our plans are coming together," Coe said. "Now it's the public's turn. How will you spend the summer of 2012? Whether it's buying a ticket, becoming a volunteer, being part of our education or culture programs - there are hundreds of ways you can get involved. Don't wait. To ensure you don't miss out, start planning your Games now."
The London 2012 committee was opening its flagship store at St. Pancras International station in central London where, for the first time, soft toys of the child-friendly on-eyed mascots Wenlock and Manderville will be available for purchase.
It's also from St. Pancras where Olympic organizers, athletes and dignitaries will ride the Javelin bullet train for the 7-minute journey to the Stratford International station at the Olympic Park.
From there, the group will walk acrss the new main bridge or "front door" to the Olympic Park and get a firsthand look at the progress on the 2.5-square-kilometer (1-square-mile) site. A once-deprived industrial area of the capital is being transformed into a new complex of venues and parkland that will be turned over to the public after the ames.
Still to be determined is the future tenant of the Olympic Stadium. West Ham football club claimed Monday that it expected to be granted first option to move into the stadium after 2012, but no final decision is expected until later this year.
While the Olympic project is on track and on budget, rganizers are under scrutiny as the coalition government carries out 40 billion pounds ($61 billion) in public spending cuts to trim the record budget deficit.
The government recently ordered relatively modest cuts of 27 million pounds ($41 million) in the budget of the Olympic Delivery Authority, the bo responsible for building the venues. The overall construction and infrastructure budget stands at 9.325 billion pounds ($14.3 billion).
Coe's separate privately financed organizing committee budget is 2 billion pounds ($3 billion), raised from sponsorships, television fees, ticket sales and merchandising
"We wake up every morning trying to figure out how we can deliver this in a more cost effective and efficient way," Coe said. "We have to recognize that the world has changed. We are in an economic climate where we have to continue to make very strong arguments for why this is a project of national and natural interest."
Coe said organizers have raised more than 600 million pounds ($925 million) toward their target of 700 million pounds ($1 billion) in domestic sponsorships - a figure that organizing committee chief executive Paul Deighton has called "gravity defying."
"The first thing that goes in any economy is discretionary spending, and yet we've punched through," Coe said.
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