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London Olympic countdown begins

LONDON, England, July 27 – The one-year countdown to the 2012 Olympics got under way on Wednesday with officials predicting London was on course to deliver the best ever games with 12 months to go.

International Olympic Committee chief Jacques Rogge was set to extend a formal invitation to the world’s athletes during a 7:00pm ceremony at Trafalgar Square in the culmination of day-long events to mark the one-year milestone.

British diver Tom Daley was due to plunge into the waters of the gleaming new Aquatics Centre, one of an array of new venues which have been built at the 2.5 square kilometre (one square mile) Olympic Park site in east London.

The British capital is also showcasing some of the venues being incorporated into the city’s most famous landmarks, including a beach volleyball arena at Horseguard’s Parade where tonnes of sand have been deposited.

London 2012 organising committee (LOCOG) chairman Sebastian Coe said preparations for the Games were on schedule with 90 percent of venues complete.

“We are fully on track, we are on schedule, and we are within budget with one year to go and I take particular pride in that,” Coe told journalists.

Some of Britain’s most famous athletes toured the 17,500-seater Aquatics Centre early Wednesday, with former distance runner Steve Cram giving the venue a glowing review.

“It is stunning. It’s absolutely stunning,” the former Olympic silver medallist told the BBC.

“A lot of people talked about the venues in Beijing, talking about how good they were – the Bird’s Nest, the Cube. This is better than the Cube. It’s not because I’m British, it genuinely is.”

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Mayor of London Boris Johnson also ratcheted up the hyperbole, saying the city was 12 months away from hosting the “greatest party the planet has ever seen.” “We are set to welcome the world for the best Games in history,” Johnson enthused.

London organisers also received a vote of confidence from Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates, who said the London Games may surpass the 2000 Sydney Olympics — widely regarded as the best ever.

“I think we’re all pretty proud of Sydney (2000) and many people say that Sydney remains the benchmark,” Coates said.

“But from where I’ve been sitting London has been six months to a year ahead of us in their preparations all the way through since they were awarded the Games six years ago.”

” … these Games now have the very British stamp to them and I think there’s every prospect of them surpassing our Games.”

Rogge meanwhile has described London’s preparations as “excellent.”

“They are on time, on budget. Quality-wise we have not the slightest concern,” Rogge told The Guardian.

“There is no doubt about that. London is very well organised, the team is very strong. We are very optimistic.”

While construction work for the Games has progressed smoothly, organisers have come under fire over the distribution for tickets to the Games, which saw hundreds of thousands of applicants end up empty-handed.

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Coe insists however that the disappointment was unavoidable given the “unprecedented” demand, with around 23 million applications for tickets made by some two million people.

Coe said the security plan for the Games was “permanently under review” when asked if last Friday’s massacre in Norway had prompted a rethink.

“Security is permanently under review,” Coe said. “We never maintain a running commentary but we do have the right teams in the right places.

“We’ll do whatever we need to do to make sure the Games are as safe and secure as possible.”

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