EYES ON LONDON: Talking like the locals, gibberish in a mall - and Twitter's down

Associated Press

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

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WHEN IN LONDON ...

U.S. gymnast Gabby Douglas joked after making the Olympic team she hoped to "catch an accent" when she arrived in London.

Douglas doesn't quite have the hang of it yet, but her teammates are picking it up quickly.

Aly Raisman put on a show for reporters shortly after the U.S. completed podium training on Thursday, putting the proper lilt on "absolutely brilliant" and "Introducing the gymnasts" (with the emphasis on the second syllable of gymnast).

How good was it? Even a member of the Olympic Broadcast System (a Brit) applauded.

—Will Graves — Twitter http://twitter.com/WillGravesAP

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WELCOME TO NODNOL?

Call that a welcome? A sprawling shopping mall next to London's Olympic Park has been forced to alter signs greeting Arabic-speaking visitors, after a campaign group pointed out that the message was almost unreadable.

Westfield Stratford, which has more than 260 stores and is located right next to the main Olympic venues, has confirmed it is replacing banners put in place to welcome Olympic visitors after it was contacted by the Council for Arab-British understanding.

The council said signs that were supposed to say "Welcome to London" in Arabic were instead written backwards and did not have the letters joined up, leaving the message virtually indecipherable.

Chris Doyle, the council's director, says the banner has taken a simple message and "jumbled it up and separated the letters — what you got was a load of gibberish."

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

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OLDER MEDALS

The British Museum is a huge draw for tourists, and the medal display is very timely.

The exhibit features actual medals awarded, including one for the pentathlon in the 1873 Wenlock Olympian Games, and artist renderings of this year's medals.

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

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MAJOR DONATION

Nearly 2,000 Moroccan kids are benefitting from a decision by British rower Mohamed Sbihi not to fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in order to pursue his Olympic dream.

Sbihi, who is part of the men's eight at the London Games, felt he wouldn't be able to maintain his competitive edge if he abstained from food and drink from dawn to dusk during Ramadan, which began last Friday.

So, as a compromise, he is instead digging deep into his pocket and paying to feed 1,800 people via an English-based charity — Walou 4 Us — that works with kids in Morocco.

"It's written in the Qur’an that those unable to fast have to feed 60 people or fast for 30 days for every day they miss intentionally," Sbihi said.

"So, it worked out 1,800 people or 5 years' fasting. I'm very fortunate that I have funds to pay and make the donation. I made the donation about a month and a half ago."

—Steve Douglas — Twitter http://twitter.com/sdouglas80

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TWITTER OVERLOAD?

People in Britain, the United States and elsewhere appear to be having difficulty accessing Twitter, a day before the 2012 Olympic Games are due to officially launch and spike activity on the site. The social network's main website is unreachable from New York, London and Johannesburg.

Twitter spokeswoman Rachel Bremmer says they're aware of the issue and are looking into it.

She didn't immediately elaborate on the nature of the problem.

The Olympics are expected to bring an unprecedented surge of activity by sports fans on social networking sites.

At the recent European Championship final, users fired off more than 15,000 tweets-per-second, setting a sports-related record for the site.

—Raphael Satter — Twitter http://raphae.li/twitter

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NOT INTIMIDATED

With two of the fastest sprinters on the planet, Jamaica is everyone's bet to come home from London with another major haul of gold. But Tyson Gay says he likes the chances of the Americans in the 400-meter relay.

"I do think we have a hell of a team as well," he says. "I do believe if we get the sticks around good, we're going to be hard to beat."

—Pat Graham — Twitter http://twitter.com/pgraham34

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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.'

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

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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 medallist 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 per cent 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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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

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