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London Olympics bursts into life

28 July, 2012

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LONDON: The London Olympics burst into life on Friday with a humour-filled opening ceremony watched by 80,000 spectators and more than one billion TV viewers.

Queen Elizabeth II and James Bond, alias actor Daniel Craig, were shown in a spoof film parachuting from a helicopter into the Olympic Stadium in east London before the real monarch took her seat to loud applause.

After seven years of planning, the Games officially began in the gleaming new stadium in a once rundown area of the British capital with a colourful show devised by "Slumdog Millionaire" director Danny Boyle.

The ceremony kept Boyle's promise to showcase British history with a dash of quirky humour, tracing time from a bucolic past through the Industrial Revolution before fast-forwarding to the present day.

The show even included a tribute to Britain's state-run National Health Service while actor Kenneth Branagh, "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling and "Mr Bean" Rowan Atkinson all had roles.

More than 80 world leaders and royals attended the ceremony while First Lady Michelle Obama represented the United States alongside a host of celebrities including Angelina Jolie.

Earlier the Olympic flame was rowed up the River Thames in the royal barge as it approached the end of a 70-day relay around Britain and Ireland and made its way to the stadium.

The queen told dignitaries earlier that people in Britain had watched the progress of the flame with "growing excitement" as the Games approached.

Once the curtain goes up, the stage is set for superstars Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and Roger Federer to dazzle in competition, while an army of unsung competitors are also aiming for gold.

A budget of £9.3 billion ($14.5 billion, 12 billion euros) has been spent on bringing the Games to London for an unprecedented third time, and the first since 1948. There have been last-minute hitches with Britain's biggest peacetime security operation after 4,700 additional servicemen had to be drafted in when a private security contractor failed to supply thousands of guards.

But International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Jacques Rogge declared himself satisfied with the preparations.

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

The London organisers have stressed they are not trying to rival the no-expense-spared extravaganza of Beijing four years ago.

Instead they have promised a Games for the athletes and ensured many of the venues can be reused or recycled. Iconic locations such as Wimbledon, Lord's cricket ground and Hyde Park will host events while the Olympic Park complex in Stratford is home to events including athletics, swimming and track cycling.

Before the official opening, visually impaired archer Im Dong-Hyun set the first world record of the Games in Friday's ranking round and added another as South Korea broke the team record.

The man widely expected to be the face of the Games, Jamaican track star Bolt, has endured a troubled build-up, but the fastest man in the world insisted he was ready to defend both sprint titles. "I've had slight problems, but I'm ready to go," said Bolt, who will carry the Jamaican flag at the opening ceremony.

End.

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