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Clock ticks as London marks 200 days till Olympics

LONDON, England, January 9 – London marks 200 days to go until the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games on Monday with several setbacks in the ticketing system failing to affect the organisers’ upbeat mood.

The British government will hold a special cabinet meeting in the Olympic Park in east London to mark the day, while from Tuesday the gymnastics facilities will be the latest to be tested.

As London prepares to become the first city to host the Olympics for the third time, most of the venues are completed and tickets for all events — except the hundreds of thousands available for the football competition — are sold out.

Organisers can take pride in the remarkable transformation of a once rundown area of scrapyards and workshops into a collection of high-tech sporting venues, virtually a new city of housing and, eventually, a green park.

Yet amid the excitement, many Britons failed to secure tickets after a lottery left the majority of applicants disappointed amid massive demand.

There were red faces last week when organisers LOCOG admitted they had mistakenly oversold tickets for synchronised swimming sessions and were forced to offer thousands of people tickets to other events.

Some 10,000 tickets were meant to go on offer in the second round of sales but 20,000 were mistakenly made available.

Those who missed out on synchronised swimming tickets now have the consolation of a chance of receiving tickets to the men’s 100 metres final, the blue riband event of the Games which is likely to feature Usain Bolt.

Adding to the organisers’ blushes, the website for recipients to resell tickets they do not want has been suspended because of technical problems.

An additional one million non-football tickets are due to go on sale in April once the final configuration of the stadiums has been worked out, and they are certain to be snapped up.

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David Beckham’s likely inclusion in the British squad should help to sell tickets for the men’s football competition being held at Wembley, Old Trafford and other major stadiums.

As the clock ticks down to the July 27 opening ceremony, chief organiser Sebastian Coe said the acid test of his organisation would be whether athletes could be delivered to their event on time, and ready to compete.

“I never want an athlete telling me he did not make a final because the Olympic Village did not create the right atmosphere, or he did not get the right service or the transport did not work,” Coe told the Evening Standard newspaper.

“The Games have to work for the most important client group, the athletes. I can’t screw it up for them. That would be a cardinal sin.”

In an already congested city like London, few doubt that transport is one of the biggest issues the Games face.

Specially reserved Olympic road lanes, reserved for athletes, officials and the media are designed to ensure competitors are not delayed but their effect is likely to be traffic snarl-ups elsewhere in the capital.

India is now expected to send a team after its Olympic authorities threatened to boycott the Games over plans to have the branding of sponsor Dow Chemical on the fabric ‘wrap’ around the Olympic Stadium.

India is opposed to the company’s involvement because of its links to the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster which killed tens of thousands of people.

The row was defused when LOCOG said Dow’s name will not appear on the wrap.

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There was also criticism when Prime Minister David Cameron ordered an additional £41 million ($63 million, 50 million euros) to be spent on the opening and closing ceremonies — seen by some as frivolous at a time of austerity in Britain.

“Slumdog Millionaire” director Danny Boyle has the difficult task of ensuring that London’s opening ceremony can compete with the spectacular show staged by Beijing four years ago.

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