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On your marks: London set to celebrate 1-year countdown to 2012 Olympic Games
LONDON (AP) ' With most of the venues already completed, tickets nearly sold out and a massive security operation in the works, London is preparing to mark the one-year countdown to the biggest sports show on earth.
Exactly one year from Wednesday, London will be staging the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. Using the backdrop of one of the world's most popular capitals, it will become the first city to host the event for a third time after previous games in 1908 and 1948.
"London is on time and on budget, with a great quality in the preparations," International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge told The Associated Press. "I'm very happy it's going well."
London will be welcoming 10,500 athletes from more than 200 countries, 5,000 coaches and team officials, 20,000 media personnel and hundreds of thousands of visitors. The 17-day festival will feature athletes competing in 26 sports in more than 300 medal events in 32 venues.
Picture the scene on July 27, 2012: A capacity crowd of 80,000 people packed into the new Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremony directed by Danny Boyle; the Olympic cauldron lit; fireworks bursting over the London skyline.
And then, for two weeks, the world's best athletes competing in iconic venues across the city including Horse Guards Parade (beach volleyball), Hyde Park (triathlon and opening water swimming), Lord's cricket ground (archery), Greenwich Park (equestrian) and Wembley Stadium (football).
"I'm proud to say this is an extraordinary British achievement," organizing committee chairman Sebastian Coe said Tuesday. "It's the greatest city on the planet. I'm probably allowed to say that ' I'm a Londoner."
Usain Bolt will be defending his Olympic titles in the 100 and 200 meters; Michael Phelps will be back in the pool after his record eight gold medals in Beijing; the United States, Russia and China will be battling to top the medals count.
London will mark the year-to-go countdown with a televised ceremony from Trafalgar Square, with Rogge on hand to formally invite the world's athletes to the games. British medal hopeful Tom Daley will perform the first dive into the Olympic pool.
The aquatics center will be officially opened on Wednesday, the last of the six main permanent venues in the Olympic Park to be completed. The main stadium, the velodrome, handball arena, basketball venue and international broadcast center were all finished earlier this year.
"We've got 90 percent done in construction terms, and this is great a year out," Coe said in an interview with the AP. "That's not remotely to say that we could stage the games tomorrow."
Venues still need to be fitted out and dressed up, the running track laid in the stadium, the broadcast technology installed, many sports test events held.
By next summer, London promises to offer a festival atmosphere to welcome the world.
"It is a city I know from experience knows how to party," Coe said. "I want the party atmosphere of Sydney. I want the spirit and humanity of Barcelona. I want the way a city embraced the games like Vancouver, and the forensic eye for detail that we witnessed in Beijing."
While Athens struggled to the last minute to finish venues for the 2004 Olympics, and Beijing was battered for its record on Tibet and human rights ahead of the 2008 Games, London has enjoyed a comparatively smooth and crisis-free ride so far.
"Obviously there are things to do in the remaining year, but if we compare with previous games, we are well advanced and this is a very comfortable position to be in," Denis Oswald, the IOC executive board member who heads the coordination commission for London, said in an interview.
The London Games also will have the most rigorous anti-doping program in history.
Rogge said more than 5,500 drug tests will be conducted, in and out of competition, with many carried out ahead of the games to weed out any cheats before they get to London. Samples will be frozen for eight years. Intelligence and law-enforcement agencies will help bust any doping networks.
"We are making steady progress," Rogge said.
In addition, the IOC will continue to monitor betting patterns to crack down on any gambling or match-fixing schemes, which Rogge calls as serious a threat to the games as doping.
In the six years since Britain was awarded the games, the most dramatic change has been the development of the Olympic Park in east London, a 560-acre former industrial wasteland that is the centerpiece of a massive regeneration project. The urban park should stand as the main legacy of the games.
"I've seen so many things that have happened, so much transformation, so many things that have changed," Coe said. "I don't believe that east London would have changed in that way in my lifetime."
Security and transportation remain the biggest challenges.
The British government has been planning for the national terror threat to be classified as "severe" during the Olympics, meaning an attempted attack is highly likely. A day after London was awarded the games in 2005, homegrown suicide bombers attacked London's transportation network, killing 52 people.
"London was awakened to the security issues long before the games were awarded ' the issue of Northern Ireland and so forth," Rogge said. "This is a country where security forces are very well trained and well prepared."
Rogge and British Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson said U.K. security officials will have taken into account the type of attacks that shook Norway, where a man set off a car bomb in Oslo on Friday and opened fire at a youth camp, killing at least 76 people.
"It's not just the physical security of the athlete in the Olympic village," Rogge said. "It's not just sweeping a bus with mirrors under the floor. There's also the surveillance on the Internet, and the collaboration between different agencies of different countries. There is a lot of intelligence going on."
Billions of dollars have been invested in upgrading the city's public transportation network ahead of the games. But the system is already stretched, underground strikes are not ruled out and London's roads are often clogged with traffic at the best of times.
A new survey, commissioned by the BBC and carried out by the Ipsos Mori polling group, found that while 73 percent of Londoners support the Olympics, 52 percent feel the transport system won't be able to cope.
"People cannot just go to the games and say we are going to a normal football match on a Saturday afternoon," Rogge said. "It will be a bit more tense."
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