Friday 23 February 2018

Full house at opening ceremony as Olympic organisers give tickets away

Nick Frost

TONIGHT'S spectacular opening ceremony of the London Olympics will be performed in front of a full house in the Olympic Stadium. A number of the most expensive tickets for the four-hour-long ceremony remain on sale but organisers will look to ensure any seats not sold will be occupied.

The 80,000-seat stadium in Stratford has top-end tickets worth €2,500 and €2,000 still available but should they not be sold today it is likely the seats will be distributed either through the Ticketshare scheme to young people or filled by off-duty members of the armed services. The seats will not be sold off at reduced prices despite speculation to the contrary yesterday.

A spokesperson for Locog, the London organisers, said last night: "We are confident there will not be any empty seats tomorrow. Sebastian Coe did not say there would be price cuts. He said that we will always look at ways that we can get young people to the Games."

The top-end prices have been criticised and the take-up of hospitality packages has been slow despite growing excitement over both the Games and the ceremony, which starts at 12 minutes past eight tonight. Two dress rehearsals for Danny Boyle's extravaganza have been held this week in front of crowds of 60,000. Boyle himself spoke on both nights to ask the audience to "keep the surprise" and not disclose details of the €35m ceremony. Feedback to the organisers in the wake of the rehearsals has been overwhelmingly positive. The show seems certain to be well received.

One detail is yet to be revealed to anyone beyond Boyle's team, the organisers and a member of the British Olympic Association – notably the identity of the person who will light the cauldron in the stadium. A number of Britain's great Olympians of old, including Steve Redgrave, will be involved.

Britain, as is traditional for the hosts, will be the last of the teams to enter the stadium for the athletes' march-past. Around 260 of the 541-strong team will take part, with an extra 40 officials. The proximity to competition and the fact that some of the teams, such as track and field and cycling, are yet to enter the Olympic village will keep the numbers down.

Flag-bearers: Who to see

Ireland: Katie Taylor (Boxing)

The current Irish, European, and world women's lightweight champion, and also a member of the Irish women's football team, Taylor will be the first female boxer to carry the Irish flag.

Italy: Valentina Vezzali (Fencing)

She is the most decorated Italian female athlete of all time, who has won five Olympic golds in various fencing events.

Malaysia: Pandelela Rinong (Diving)

The 19-year-old won bronze in the 10m synchro platform dive at the 2009 World Championships and will serve as her country's first female flag-bearer.

Nicaragua: Michelle Richardson (Chef de Mission)

The Nicaraguan-born swimmer won silver for the United States at the 1984 Games after the Sandinista Government rejected her request to swim for her native country.

Russia: Maria Sharapova (Tennis)

Carrying the Russian flag on her Olympic debut, Sharapova has won each of tennis's four Grand Slam tournaments.

Serbia: Novak Djokovic (Tennis)

Until recently the world No 1, he has won five Grand Slams, is a three-time Australian Open champion, and won the men's bronze at the 2008 Olympics.

Singapore: Feng Tianwei (Table Tennis)

Currently ranked eighth in the world among women, she helped Singapore win their first Olympic medal as an independent nation in 2008: silver in the team competition.

South Africa: Caster Semenya (Athletics)

Following her women's 800m win at the 2009 World Championships, Semenya's gender was subject to scrutiny and testing from the IAAF. She was cleared to run in 2010 and won silver in the women's 800m at the 2011 Worlds.

Spain: Pau Gasol (Basketball)

The Los Angeles Lakers star was chosen to replace Rafael Nadal, who pulled out of the Games with an injury. Gasol has won two NBA championships, Olympic silver in 2008, and is considered a basketball hero in his home country.

US: Mariel Zagunis (Fencing)

Chosen over many other high-profile American athletes, she is a chasing a third gold medal in women's individual sabre, having won at both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.

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