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EYES ON LONDON: Royal cool, heavy medal

Around the 2012 Olympics and its host city with journalists from The Associated Press bringing the flavor and details of the games to you:

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ALL IN THE FAMILY

It's not extra pressure doing your best in front of royalty if you already know them very well.

"They're my family. It's not weird," British eventing team member Zara Phillips says about riding in front of her first cousins Princes William and Henry and William's wife Kate, who are due to watch the Olympic equestrian competition at Greenwich Park starting Saturday.

Nor would Phillips divulge if she got riding advice from her grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, an equestrian enthusiast.

"Do you think I would tell you that?" she says, laughing.

Phillips is the daughter of Britain's Princess Anne, who also competed in eventing at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games.

— Margaret Freeman

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WEST END FINAL!

London's only evening paper, the London Evening Standard, this afternoon devotes its front page to the opening ceremony rehearsal from last night, its headline reading "This epic time for London" with a photo of the fireworks set off over the stadium.

The Evening Standard was launched in 1859 and cost one penny. These days it is a free paper handed out at rail stations and key London hotspots. More than 600,000 are distributed in the London area every day. The paper can be tweaked slightly with each run, the edition one of the day being call the 'West End Final.'

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TORRES ON PHELPS

The first U.S. swimmer to compete at five Olympics has some advice for Ryan Lochte and anyone else who wants to beat Michael Phelps: Keep quiet.

"If I was his competitor, I wouldn't say a word," Dara Torres says.

Phelps' duel with U.S. teammate Lochte will be the main event in swimming at the Olympics. Torres says any kind of trash talking would only help 14-time gold medalist Phelps.

"(It) works to Michael's advantage because he takes that very seriously and he uses that against his competitor," she says.

Torres adds that "people like showdowns," but the teammates need to remember that their battle "stays in the water."

Torres competed at five Olympics, winning 12 medals overall. She also weighed in on whether Phelps could reconsider his decision to retire after London and end the most successful Olympic swimming career ever.

"You never know. It's not going to change immediately. He's probably like 'Good, I'm done and I can do other things with my life.' But you know you miss it. You have to remember we spend so many hours doing this and you have that sadness and something missing inside of you."

— Gerald Imray — Twitter http://twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP

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10 POUNDS, PLEASE

Driving through any busy city can be daunting, slow and frustrating. In London you have to pay for the privilege.

Most people wanting to drive through the central Congestion Zone must pay 10 pounds ($15) between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Cameras read the license plates to check that you have pre-paid. If you forget and don't pay, expect a letter in the mail with a fine of up to 120 pounds ($180).

— Fergus Bell — Twitter http://twitter.com/fergb

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DEHYDRATED

It's been a long wait for doping officials in Scotland — because it's Ramadan.

Morocco coach Pim Verbeek says two of his players found it "more or less impossible" to provide a urine sample after the team's 2-2 draw with Honduras in Glasgow on Thursday. The game was at noon — and the players hadn't had anything to eat or drink since 2:30 a.m.

The coach says the players asked if a bed could be arranged so they could sleep at the stadium, possibly until sunset when their daily fast ends.

Nine of the team's players are observing the Muslim fasting month. Because the days are long in Scotland, that means they are eating from 9:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.

— Joseph White — Twitter http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP

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HEAVY MEDAL

They're big, and they're a heavy handful. Not that most of us will ever get to hold one.

This year's Olympic medals are the largest and heaviest of any summer games in Olympic history. Weighing in at 400 grams (about 14 ounces), the 2012 gold medal is twice as heavy as its counterpart at the 2008 Beijing games. Measuring 85 millimeters (about 3.3 inches) across, this year's medals are the largest-ever in diameter as well.

British artist David Watkins designed the medals, which include, like all previous summer games medals, the iconic Greek goddess of victory, Nike (probably not the first image you associate with the word).

The British company Rio Tinto mined the gold, silver and copper used in the medals from its mines in Mongolia and Salt Lake City, Utah. The gold medals in this year's Olympics are actually mostly silver, with gold making up only 1.34 percent of the medal. The Royal Mint produced the finished products in Wales.

While they await their victors, the medals are being securely stored in the Tower of London, known for hundreds of years as a pretty serviceable place to lock things up.

— Nick Twomey

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ROOM WITHOUT A VIEW

He can hear the spikes and serves, but however much he tries to take a peek, British Prime Minister David Cameron won't catch a glimpse of the beach volleyball contests due to be staged right next to his home at London's famous No. 10 Downing Street.

Ex-leader Tony Blair once joked it was a "masterstroke" to hold the competition at Horse Guards Parade, a storied square in the heart of central London, which sits right next to the British leader's residence.

But Cameron says Thursday that a temporary 15,000-seat arena built for the matches has completely obscured his view.

"There's no direct line of sight," says Cameron.

— David Stringer — Twitter http://twitter.com/david_stringer

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BEING VEGAN

A woman dressed as a parrot is passing out literature on being vegan. Did you know that Carl Lewis and gold medal swimmer Murray Rose are vegans?

— Jenna Fryer — Twitter http://twitter.com/jennafryer

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ROMNEY REMARKS

Is London prepared to pull off the Olympic Games smoothly? Is that what Mitt Romney's asking?

The Republican presidential candidate is causing a stir in Britain by raising the question. The former Massachusetts governor is visiting British political leaders Thursday while trying to show he has what it takes to represent America on the world stage.

But instead of highlighting ties with America's staunchest ally, Romney may have embarrassed the Brits instead. Romney said in an interview that it's unclear whether Britain can overcome the issues that have dogged its final preparations for the Games.

Leaving a meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Romney said he expects the games will be successful.

Cameron says Romney and others will "see beyond doubt that Britain can deliver."

— David Stringer — Twitter http://twitter.com/david_stringer

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COOL IT

Do Brits simply not believe in air conditioning? Or is it just never needed?

"Man, it's hot in here," said U.S. boxer Claressa "T-Rex" Shields at training near the Olympic village. It was a seasonable 80 F (26.5 Celsius) on the street, but far, far hotter inside the sweltering gymnasium.

Will it be this hot for boxing's main event? Shields, a 17-year-old from Flint, Michigan, was asked.

"I sure hope not," she smiled.

— Paul Haven — Twitter http:/twitter.com/paulhaven

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JUST DESSERTS

"The cherry on top of a pile of cherries." — U.S. fencer and gold medalist Mariel Zagunis, on being the flag bearer for opening ceremony.

She says she's bursting with pride that a. she got the job and b. women have outnumbered men on the team for the first time.

— Mark Colson, Tim Reynolds — Twitter http://twitter.com/ByTimReynolds.

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DON'T MESS WITH HER

Talking of doping, AP's Jenna Fryer just had a close encounter with an ad that's arguably a little wide of the mark. It's from Transport for London. Check out the arms. http://img.ly/lfJ6

— Jenna Fryer — Twitter http://twitter.com/jennafryer

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TORCH RELAY CONCERT

To celebrate the torch's arrival in London a concert is being held in Hyde Park on Thursday — the same place where the plug was pulled on Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen a few weeks ago after they violated a curfew.

Rees Ianson, 32, was a torch bearer in the north of England and so was given the opportunity to get tickets.

"I jumped at the chance, I'm looking forward to it," says the sales manager from Lincolnshire who was nominated as a torch runner for his charity work.

He's not just down for the concert. Rees also has tickets for basketball and hockey. "I can't wait," he said on his way to the gig featuring the likes of Mark Ronson and Dizzie Rascal.

— Fergus Bell — Twitter http://twitter.com/fergb

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WHERE YOU FROM AGAIN?

Kazakhstan is trying to replace two of its male Olympic weightlifters at the 11th hour, possibly because of citizenship issues.

The two are Arli Chontei, in the 56-kilogram category, and Farkhad Kharki, in the 62-kilogram category.

International Weightlifting Federation spokeswoman Aniko Nemeth-Mora says Kazakhstan is citing medical reasons. However, Kazakh weightlifting official Mendikhan Tapsiruly tells AP that "this is most likely to do with the fact they were granted citizenship recently."

Both lifters are originally from China. Two other lifters in Kazakhstan's team were recruited from China, while one switched nationalities from Russia.

— Karl Ritter — Twitter http://twitter.com/Karl-Ritter

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HANDS OFF!

Russia's Olympic committee is laying claim to Ukrainian territory and sovereignty — at least on paper. And it's sparked an outcry in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.

Some Russian athletes who were born in then-Soviet Ukraine are listed as born in the "Ukraine region" of Russia, while others are listed as coming from the Ukrainian cities of Lutsk and Lviv, which were described as Russian. Similar mistakes were made for Georgia-born athletes.

Russia's Olympic Committee is now working to correct the data. But it's done little to appease widespread resentment as a result of centuries of Russian dominance which ended when Ukraine gained its independence in 1991.

— Vladimir Isachenkov - Twitter http://twitter.com/visachenkov

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POSITIVE DRUG TEST

A Greek athlete has failed a doping test and is out of the Olympics. High jump champion Dimitris Chondrokoukis has tested positive for the steroid stanozolol.

His father — and coach — says the news is "surreal" and is asking for a follow-up test.

— Graham Dunbar — Twitter http://twitter.com/gdunbarap

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NO HIJAB

The ruling has come down: Saudi Arabia's female judo competitor will not be allowed to wear a hijab during her matches.

Asian judo federations allow them, but in London the veil has been deemed dangerous. Judo includes strangleholds and chokeholds — and judo officials think that could prove even more painful if there's something to tug.

They also think judo should be free of religion and politics.

Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani is one of two female Saudi athletes here. The kingdom is allowing them to compete after the International Olympic Committee and human rights groups exerted intense pressure for an end to its practice of sending all-male teams to the games.

— Maria Cheng — Twitter http://twitter.com/mylcheng

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MORE ON THAT ALERT

People are being let back into the mall. No word yet on what triggered the alarm or what led authorities to declare the area safe again.

— Diana Ingram

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SECURITY ALERT

AP staff at Westfield Mall, just outside Olympic Park and its security perimeter, say everyone has been told to vacate the mall. An alarm is sounding.

People are gathering outside and being forbidden to go back in.

— Diana Ingram

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TICKETS, ANYONE?

The line to pick up event tickets at the City of Westminster College will-call is snaking through the campus Thursday with fans anxious to get their hands on the prized item. Among them: Michael Perkowski, a contractor for the U.S. military who drove directly to get his tickets after his plane touched down from Afghanistan.

Perkowski says his ticket-buying odyssey began 18 months ago when he was working for the Army in Iraq. He went through the early bidding process and finally scored tickets to three of his 24 choices within the last few months.

Now in Afghanistan working with the U.S. Marine Corps, he says he was coming to the Games regardless of what tickets he landed.

"I don't take too many vacations, so I was doing this no matter what," he says. "We took that long flight, drove forever to come straight here but I don't care. It's all worth it."

Get a glimpse here. http://img.ly/lfxS

— Jenna Fryer — Twitter http://twitter.com/jennafryer

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BRANDED LONDON

London looks different.

You can't walk for more than five minutes through central London without seeing some sign of the Olympics. The words "Camden" or "Kensington and Chelsea" on Olympic banners hang from lampposts at regular intervals in those London boroughs. Take a turn down a side street and you can find a park railing with a new poster depicting cycling imagery running the length of it.

The main action might be in the Olympic Park, but the Olympics is evident everywhere.

— Fergus Bell — Twitter http://twitter.com/fergb

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ON ACCESS

AP's Tom Withers reports in from the basketball venue:

Act as if you own the place. That mantra has always served me well, and with those words in mind, I strolled inside the Olympic basketball venue, which wasn't fully open on Wednesday.

As technicians busily dragged cables around the outside of the temporary 12,000-seat structure, where the preliminary rounds are being played, I coolly walked in and watched a few minutes of the Angola women's team practice.

The unique building, erected in just three months, is covered in a white stretch material that will be used for light projections during the games. Its architectural style is similar to the Water Cube swimming complex in Beijing.

Feeling a bit guilty after my self-guided mini tour, I confessed to one of the media leaders that I had already been inside. He didn't seem to mind. "Cheers," he said.

— Tom Withers — Twitter http://twitter.com/twithersAP

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OLYMPIC LOVE

Captain Mark Phillips, Princess Anne's former husband, has spoken of his new relationship with a woman almost 30 years his junior.

The 63-year-old, a top coach for the U.S. equestrian team, separated from his second wife, Sandy, and began divorce proceedings earlier this year after falling for fellow equestrian Lauren Hough, 35.

Phillips, whose daughter Zara is competing in Team GB's equestrian events, has faced criticism and calls for his resignation over his affair with Hough, who is also a member of the American team's coaching staff.

After the Olympics, he will leave his job. But he says it's not because of criticism in the United States.

He told Country Life magazine: "I don't read chatrooms and all that rubbish as it's mostly uninformed and unidentified opinion, which won't change my life.

He's clear about one thing: "I'm not out to win a popularity contest."

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CAMERON ON THE FLAG FLAP

"This was an honest mistake, honestly made, an apology has been made and I'm sure every step will be taken to make sure these things don't happen again. We shouldn't overinflate this episode. It was unfortunate, it shouldn't have happened and I think we can leave it at that." — British Prime Minister David Cameron, on the mistake made Wednesday night when a South Korean flag was displayed alongside a North Korean player's picture on a scoreboard before a soccer game.

— Rob Harris — Twitter http://twitter.com/robharris

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COOL CUSTOMER

"We have no air conditioning, but it's OK, because in France we are used to having no air conditioning. So we are not lost." — French swimmer Hughes Dubosc, at an appearance with his sponsor.

— Andrew Dampf — Twitter http://twitter.com/andrewdampfap

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GRIDLOCK — LESSON LEARNED

AP's Fergus Bell, a Londoner, reports in from the crowded streets of his city:

I took a taxi journey into central London. I usually take the train or Tube because I think they are faster when there are no known problems on the line. Today, with a couple of bags in tow, I had no choice.

It should have taken me 32 minutes, according to a quick online route search.

It didn't.

OK, I knew that figure was a bit optimistic. But I wasn't expecting the driver — who knows the roads very well — to get confused by all the new Olympic lanes, end up going a very different route from the one he was expecting. I ended up in the back seat acting as navigator with maps pulled up on my tablet checking which roads were clear.

The result: after 1 1/2 hours in the car and still the wrong side of central London I abandoned the driver to his fate. Bags and all, I jumped out at an underground station and took a delightfully smooth 12-minute journey to my destination and learned a lesson: Stick to what you know and trust your instincts.

— Fergus Bell — Twitter http://twitter.com/fergb

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PICTURE PERFECT

With one day to go before the opening ceremony, no detail is being left untouched. Or unpainted.

A board was put up Wednesday to hide some unsightly gray scaffolding in front of the press seats at the gymnastics venue. On Thursday, a worker was painting the board purple so it would blend in with the rest of the signage.

— Nancy Armour — Twitter http://twitter.com/nrarmour

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CAMERON ON THE OPENING CEREMONY

"I'd have thought the difficulty is, how do you cram in all that's great about our country?"

He says viewers will find moments of it "spine-tingling" and said he's been moved by the parts he's seen.

The ceremony, directed by Danny Boyle, is expected to take a global audience on an intensely visual, occasionally whimsical tour through Britain's history.

— Rob Harris — Twitter http://twitter.com/robharris

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ONE FOR THE BOOKS

— "This is the biggest security operation in a peacetime history, bar none." — British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking at Olympic Park.

— Rob Harris — Twitter http://twitter.com/robharris

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FROM THE PRIME MINISTER

— "Our absolute top priority must be to keep people safe." — British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has just spoken at Olympic Park about the upcoming games. Here are a few more quick bites of what he had to say:

— "We are delivering a world-class games, a well-connected games."

— "Our intelligence services are working around the clock."

— "We want these to be the games that lift up the city, lift up the country."

— Rob Harris — Twitter http://twitter.com/robharris

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GELDOF'S GRUMBLINGS

Not everyone in London is looking forward to the Olympics.

Bob Geldof, the former Boomtown Rats frontman and "Live Aid" charity fund-raiser, confirmed his contrarian reputation when asked at a reception for boxing legend Muhammad Ali if he was excited about the games.

"Nope."

No sport he was excited about?

"The egg and spoon race."

But, Geldof conceded, the games have at least brought much-needed regeneration to a post-industrial swath of east London — transformed from gritty to green by the 500-acre (200-hectare) Olympic Park.

"That was a pretty crap part of town, no matter what anyone says," Geldof said. "Now it's nice."

— Jill Lawless — Twitter http://twitter.com/JillLawless

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A SPANISH OLYMPICS?

As the debt-ridden Spanish government hovers on the brink of needing a sovereign bailout, the country is continuing to pursue a bid for the 2020 Olympics. Spanish sports secretary Miguel Cardenal maintains that Madrid winning the Olympics after two failed bids would help the country's economic recovery.

"The Spanish state is calling for its citizens to tighten its belts to accept the need for a degree of sacrifice and the measures are certainly painful," Cardenal said in London. "But we would nevertheless pursue this project," he said, saying that "this is something that will boost our aspirations to have a sustainable economy."

Bidding again, Cardenal insists Madrid will only spend where "absolutely necessary," but pointed out that much of the infrastructure is already in place.

"All of us will have to be very careful indeed in the way we use public funds," Madrid mayor Ana Botella added.

Missing out on the London Games, which start on Friday, appears to have been good fortune for a Spanish government struggling to keep a handle on its debts. Now there's time for a recovery in the Spanish economy long before 2020.

Madrid is competing against Istanbul and Tokyo. The host of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympic Games will be announced on Sept. 7, 2013 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

— Rob Harris — Twitter http://twitter.com/robharris

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EDITOR'S NOTE — "Eyes on London" shows you the Olympics through the eyes of Associated Press journalists across the 2012 Olympic city and around the world. Follow them on Twitter where available with the handles listed after each item, and get even more AP updates from the Games here: http://twitter.com/AP_Sports