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OLYMPICS

Olympic Daily News - Friday, July 27

London kicked off its record-setting third Summer Games with a rollicking opening ceremony Friday night at the Olympic Stadium.

The festivities culminated in the lighting of the Olympic cauldron by seven young torchbearers and Paul McCartney leading the crowd in a singalong to the Beatles classic "Hey Jude."

Indeed, any worries that London would have a hard time throwing an opening ceremony on the heels of Beijing's instant-classic four years ago fizzled quickly in front of tens of thousands of athletes and spectators and a projected 4 billion TV viewers around the world.

If the din of nearly 1,000 drums and notes from some of the greatest British rock songs of all time didn't take care of it, surely the sight of a stunt diver playing Queen Elizabeth II leaping from a helicopter did.

These guys are known for their humor, after all, and man can they put on a good show.

Seven people, not one, lit the cauldron -- ending months of speculation about how the iconic moment would play out.

David Beckham arrived on a boat outside and passed the flame to five-time Olympic champion rower Steve Redgrave, who carried it into the stadium.

The flame, lit more than two months ago, was passed off as it moved around the track inside before seven young athletes triggered the ignition of more than 200 petals that rose to form the cauldron in the middle of the stadium.

Soon after, the crowd joined in with McCartney to sing the lengthy "Na na na, na-na na na ..." chorus at the end of "Hey Jude."

Earlier, the queen entered the stadium with Jacques Rogge, the outgoing IOC president presiding over his last games. But not before a tongue-in-cheek taped segment that showed Daniel Craig, the latest James Bond, escorting the British monarch into a helicopter that passed famous landmarks on its way to the Olympic Stadium.

Stunt divers, supposed to be the queen and Bond, leapt from a helicopter above in real time, parachuting down outside the stadium. The queen showed up in the stands, wearing pink, as the crowd stood.

Later, she officially declared the games open.

"I have never been so proud to be British and to be a part of the Olympic movement as I am on this day," said the chair of the London organizing committee, Sebastian Coe.

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama also attended, as did dignitaries from all over the world. Muhammad Ali, who lit the flame at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, was one of the bearers of the Olympic flag.

Gray clouds appeared overhead in the early evening, a breeze picked up and the temperature cooled but the rain stayed away until minutes before the start of the ceremony.

It began to fall lightly, causing reporters near the floor to throw tarps over their workstations while the crowd embraced the weather. It drizzled a little later, too, but not enough to dampen the celebration and it was dry the rest of the way.

The ceremony was overseen by Academy Award-winning film director Danny Boyle and was studded with stars.

Beckham, the longtime England captain, had his role. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling read the opening paragraph of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan and Rowan Atkinson -- yes, Mr. Bean -- feigned tickling the piano keys as the London Symphony Orchestra played "Chariots of Fire" in one of the guest appearances organizers wanted to keep most secret.

British music played a big part. Not since Turin in 2006, in fact, was the soundtrack so good.

Longer portions of songs -- including The Beatles' "She Loves You," The Who's "My Generation," the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," David Bowie's "Starman" and "Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight" -- played near the beginning of a segment highlighting music from the 1960s to today.

Tunes by Adele, Bee Gees, Pet Shop Boys, Electric Light Orchestra, U2 and Bowie (again) played during the parade of athletes. Arctic Monkeys played their single "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" and covered the John Lennon-penned "Come Together."

There's no doubt London had big shoes to fill. Beijing's grand spectacle four years ago is generally considered to have set a new standard for Olympic ceremonies.

Even Rogge said earlier in the day that London would do well not to try to emulate the 2008 ceremony.

The theme Friday was "This is for everyone." Based on what computer scientist and Londoner Tim Berners-Lee -- who made an appearance -- said after inventing the World Wide Web, it was meant to celebrate the achievements of key British figures and the British people.

The stadium's first centerpiece was a replica of a British meadow, complete with a water wheel and cottage and almost 80,000 square feet of real turf.

Actors wearing pastoral costumes played soccer on the field before it was transformed into a set piece to celebrate Britain's role in the Industrial Revolution. Smoke stacks rose out of the floor, spilling smoke into the air, and 965 drummers kept a pounding beat reminiscent of the start of Beijing's ceremony.

The stacks went down and glowing rings emerged, floating into the center of the stadium to form the Olympic logo as sparks fell.

U.S. athletes, wearing the controversial ceremony gear made in China, were led into the stadium by flag bearer Mariel Zagunis, a fencer.

An usher waved his arms trying to get part of the long procession -- including some of the men's basketball team -- to hurry up.

As usual, many athletes skipped the ceremony to rest. Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte were back at the village. They will swim in the most anticipated race here Saturday, the 400-meter individual medley. Fellow U.S. swimmer Natalie Coughlin tweeted that she would have to watch a replay; she was off to bed long before the ceremony was over.

Canada, wearing red tops and khaki pants and holding mini flags, were led into the stadium by Simon Whitfield, who won the first-ever Olympic triathlon gold medal in 2000.

Taking host Great Britain into the parade was multiple gold medalist Chris Hoy, who was the first cyclist to ever carry a country's flag in an opening ceremony.

"WOW!" Hoy tweeted. "So lucky to have experienced that, what a privilege. A moment I will remember forever."

Athletes entered in alphabetical order by country, as usual -- except for Greece, which traditionally leads the procession as founder of the Olympics, and Great Britain, which went last as the host nation.

Seven billion pieces of paper fell, a storm of confetti meant to represent each person on the planet.

"It has taken a lot of hard work to get us to this moment," Rogge said in his address.

It's the first time all participating countries at the Olympics are represented by female athletes.

Rogge mentioned Saudi Arabia's inclusion of female athletes on its team for the first time, calling it a great moment for gender equality.

The ceremony did not include a moment of silence to mark 40 years since the killing of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian guerrillas at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

The London Games will conclude in 16 days with the closing ceremony on Sunday, Aug. 12.

KOREAN ARCHER, LEGALLY BLIND IN 1 EYE, SETS WR

London, England (Sports Network) - South Korea's Im Dong-Hyun, who is legally blind in one eye, broke his own archery world record Friday during the men's ranking round at the London Olympics.

Im's score of 699 broke the previous 72-arrow record of 696 he set in May of this year.

The 26-year-old archer has bad vision in his right eye and is legally blind in his left. He said he wouldn't get too excited about the result because it's only the first round.

The Koreans broke their 216-arrow world record with 2,087 points as Kim Bubmin and Oh Jin-Hyek placed second and third -- Kim also broke Im's old individual mark.

France, China, the United States and Japan finished second through fifth in that order. Canada's Crispin Duenas placed eighth in the individual ranking round.

The last country other than South Korea to win a gold medal in the men's team competition was the U.S. in 1996.

ITALY'S DI MARTINO WITHDRAWS FROM LONDON GAMES

London, England (Sports Network) - Italian high jumper Antonietta Di Martino has withdrawn from the Summer Olympics after undergoing surgery on her left knee.

Di Martino, who holds the Italian record in the high jump, sustained the injury while training in April, but had hopes of competing in London until having the operation Wednesday in Rome. The Italian Athletics Federation (FIDAL) said the surgery was successful, but Di Martino will need 3-to-4 months of rehabilitation.

The 34-year-old won a silver medal at the 2012 World Indoor Championships and finished 10th at the Beijing Olympics. Di Martino also has placed twice at the World Championships, finishing second in 2007 and third in 2011.

MARTIC WITHDRAWS FROM OLYMPICS

London, England (Sports Network) - Croatia's Petra Martic has withdrawn from the Olympic women's tennis tournament because of an undisclosed injury.

Martic was scheduled to face Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic in the first round of the women's singles and will instead be replaced by Great Britain's Laura Robson.

BRITISH TENNIS TEAM SKIPPING OLYMPIC OPENING CEREMONY

London, England (Sports Network) - The British tennis team has been told not to attend Friday's opening ceremony at the London Olympics.

All eight players, including Wimbledon runner-up Andy Murray, have matches scheduled for Saturday. Great Britain's tennis team leader, Paul Hutchins, told them they will not be in attendance at the opening ceremony, which starts at 9 p.m. London time.

Great Britain will be the last to walk into the stadium, creating a potential conflict with competition.

But the eight are not the only British athletes to miss the event. Andy Hunt, chef de mission for Great Britain, said last week that he expects about half of the country's delegation to attend the ceremony.

USA MEN'S GYMNASTICS LINEUP SET FOR QUALIFICATION

London, England (Sports Network) - The United States lineup for men's gymnastics qualification on Saturday is set, with John Orozco and Danell Leyva competing in all six disciplines.

The U.S. will have four athletes competing on each apparatus during the qualification round, which will determine which countries and individuals advance to the medal competitions.

Joining Orozco and Leyva in the pommel horse, parallel bars and horizontal bar will be Jonathan Horton and Sam Mikulak.

Mikulak and Jake Dalton round out the vault and floor exercise lineups, while Dalton and Horton will also compete in the still rings.

The men's team medal competition will take place on Monday, July 30, and the individual all-around title will be decided two days later. Individual apparatus events take place from August 5-7.

Qualification for women's gymnastics takes place on Sunday.

ROYAL HORSE AMONG THOSE ACCEPTED FOR EVENTING COMPETITION

London, England (Sports Network) - High Kingdom, the horse ridden by the granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth II, was one of 74 horses inspected and cleared for the Olympic equestrian eventing competition.

Zara Phillips, daughter of Princess Anne, and four other British equestrians saw their horses pass inspection on Friday. The 31-year-old Phillips, who is a native of London, is 14th in line to the throne and is competing in her first Olympic Games. Phillips won eventing individual gold at the 2006 World Equestrian Games.

All five American riders also had their horses cleared for competition. In fact, every horse that was inspected eventually passed inspection and only four went to the holding box before being cleared upon re-inspection.

Eventing is sometimes referred to as the "three-day event" because it combines dressage, cross-country and a two-round jumping finale. The individual and team competition run concurrently and medals are awarded for both.

ROGGE OPTIMISTIC, READY FOR LONDON OLYMPICS TO BEGIN

London, England (Sports Network) - Less than 12 hours before the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said he is optimistic and trustful for the games.

The games have already begun, but the symbolic start takes place Friday night at the opening ceremony. Planned by movie director Danny Boyle, the ceremony has been highly anticipated, though Rogge admitted he doesn't know details of it.

"I was not privy to the script of the opening ceremony because there's always a certain secrecy to be respected," Rogge said. "But my teams have been discussing with Danny Boyle and with all the organizers and they are happy there is a good balance between international and national."

At the same time, the ceremony has been expected to have a distinctly British feel, down to Boyle saying he would supply rain if need be.

Rogge said it would be wise for Boyle and the London Olympics not to emulate the much-lauded opening ceremony from four years ago in Beijing. Those watching it, he said, will see a display of British culture.

"You will see something about the history, about the way of life, about what I would call the Britishness," Rogge said. "The same way you had the same situation in Beijing.

"There's also something that London can bring and that no other country in the world can bring, is that Great Britain was the cradle of modern sport because you have invented modern sport in the second half of the 19th century."

London is the first city to host the Olympic Games three times.

Rogge, however, did not provide any clues as to who will light the Olympic cauldron Friday night. He said he didn't know who will get that honor.

"This is one of the best kept secrets and we have an arrangement with the organizing committees always to say, 'It is your responsibility,'" Rogge said. "And we need not to know because the more people know, the bigger the danger of a leak."

He said it would be nice for the person to be an Olympic champion -- Roger Bannister and Steve Redgrave have been betting favorites recently -- but "it is not a prerequisite."

One thing the opening ceremony won't have is a commemoration of the tragedy at the 1972 Munich Olympics, when a group of Palestinians killed 11 Israeli team members. This year will be the 40th anniversary of those attacks.

Rogge said the IOC has faced no pressure "whatsoever" from any nation to commemorate the tragedy at this summer's games, but argued that his organization has always remembered those who were killed.

He cited the memorial service that occurred the day after the killings, and the memorial built next to the Olympic stadium in Munich, as evidence of this. Rogge added that he has participated in a number of other memorial services, and will participate in another September 5 -- the actual day of the tragedy.

"So we have always commemorated and we will continue to commemorate the memory of the killed athletes," he said.

As for the rest of games, Rogge said he thinks the preparation for them has been "exemplary." To him, the key ingredients are security, a good Olympic village, athletic spirit, and a well functioning transport system.

Rogge said, in terms of readiness, the London Olympics equal those of Sydney and Beijing -- both regarded as successful games during his tenure as the head of the IOC.

"But again, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so maybe ask me the same question at the press conference at the closing ceremony," Rogge said.

Rogge recognized that a games can only be successful once they're over. One incident can brand an Olympics, including a doping scandal.

He said that the number of athletes caught before the games is proof that the system works.

"This is a good sign for the fight against doping," Rogge said. "In total, 107 athletes were caught positive in the two months preceding the Olympic Games. We are continuing to test and test and test again before the competition."