EYES ON LONDON: Tickled pink, Eyefull Tower, UFOs

Associated Press
A diver trains at the Aquatics Center at the Olympic Park ahead of the 2012 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 24, 2012, in London. Opening ceremonies for the 2012 London Olympics will be held Friday, July 27. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa De Olza)
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LONDON (AP) — 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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TRAIN-ING TROUBLES:

London is expecting 1 million visitors a day during the games and up to 3 million extra journeys each day on an already beleaguered transit system.

And having spent 6.5 billion pounds ($10 billion) upgrading London's network since it won the bid in 2005, organizers need that investment to pay off or risk spoiling the experience for tourists — and grumpy locals — who could get stuck on trains and in queues when they should be getting stuck into the Olympics.

On Monday night, two train links into the Olympic Park were temporarily down as organizers held their test event for the opening ceremony.

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

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FROM CHINA WITH LOVE

Standing outside Buckingham Palace and peering through the railings are three ladies in bright white t-shirts with 'I love London' emblazoned across the front.

The mother and two daughters from Fuzhou, China, had planned to come for the Olympics but couldn't get any hotel rooms or tickets so they decided to come earlier instead with the intention of absorbing a bit of the pre-Games atmosphere.

"We just came to see how everything looks, from the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament, all the way here," said 25-year-old Yang Pei. She says it feels similar to China shortly before the Beijing Games in 2008.

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

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SOAKING UP THE SUN

Londoners are flocking to St. James' Park to make the most of the sunshine — something you just have to grab when you can. They would usually only have the ducks and pigeons to watch but now they can look across the park's lake at the hustle and bustle of workers preparing the Olympic venues and facilities.

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

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TICKLED PINK

Could romance blossom on the Olympic badminton courts at Wembley Arena? China's coach seems to think so.

China's team is familiar with the courts — it won all five events in the arena at the 2011 badminton world championship — but not the new color scheme.

"The pink color — it's romantic," said coach Lin Dan. "It's like a place where boyfriends and girlfriends meet."

—Mike Corder — Twitter http://twitter.com/mikecorder

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ELUSIVE NORTH KOREANS

The North Korean women's soccer team is eligible to play at the Olympics despite being banned from the next World Cup after five players tested positive for steroids.

Team officials at the time said the players failed the test because they'd been given musk deer gland therapy after getting struck by lightning during training.

It seems they're taking no chances this time. Says coach Sin Ui Gun: "There is a hall with some games machines and table tennis. They love to spend the time inside because in Glasgow, as you know, it rains quite heavily on us."

—Frank Griffiths — Twitter http://twitter.com/frankgriffithsap

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STEPPING ASIDE

The most decorated woman in the history of British gymnastics isn't ready to call it quits, but 27-year-old Beth Tweddle says she won't be around for Rio in 2016.

The three-time world championship gold medalist plans to keep on training after the games because "I wouldn't know what to do with myself," but says she'll cede the stage to "the younger generation" well before Rio.

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

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PRANKSTER ALERT

What do you do to calm the nerves before the biggest meet of your life? If you're the British men's gymnastics team, you play practical jokes on each other.

It was Kristian Thomas' turn on Monday night. The 23-year-old was complaining he couldn't get his air conditioning to work. Teammate Louis Smith fixed it. Sort of. Smith purposely neglected to hook up the exhaust fan. When Smith returned to the room a couple hours later, Thomas was drenched in sweat, then laughter when Smith figured out what happened.

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

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WATER, THE WRONG TYPE

Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink. Sweltering photographers working at the Olympic pool found one crucial thing in short supply Tuesday — water. Sure, the pool was full of the stuff (the average Olympic pool holds 2,500,000 liters or 660,430 gallons of the stuff if the Internet is to be believed) but it's not for drinking. An official at the pool says the venue is not yet officially open and for now there's a drinking fountain outside.

—Mark Baker

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LONDON'S EYEFULL TOWER

A writer at Building Design magazine branded it "a contorted mass of entrails". The BBC said: "a catastrophic collision between two cranes." Others, though, are giving it a thumbs-up.

Will the ruby red steel tower that rises above the Olympic Park — conceived as London's answer to the Eiffel Tower in Paris — win over the public? Remember this: The Eiffel Tower, one of Europe's most loved landmarks, was once loathed. It was built in the 19th Century as a temporary structure for a world fair. And Parisians weren't impressed.

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

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THE O-WORD

Stores and pubs around London are getting in the spirit of the Games — but don't call 'em the Olympics.

With concerns running high about running afoul of Olympics branding rules and confusion over what is or isn't allowed, locals are getting creative in promoting their Olympic offerings. One pub in Camden placed chalkboards on the sidewalk saying "the torch with no name will pass us by" and "can you guess why we'll be open Thursday," highlighting their hours and specials for the torch relay day.

Bartender Georgie Fisher said she'd written the boards for the Lyttelton Arms after hearing she might not be allowed to use the O-word. "My boss said specifically not to use it and instead to try to think of something sassy," she says. http://bit.ly/Qxmo0B

—Cassandra Vinograd — Twitter http://twitter.com/cassvinograd

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NERVOUS CABBIES

Special Olympic road lanes don't open until Wednesday, but some cab drivers are already baffled and fearing the worst. "If I go into a bus lane, I'll get fined 100 pounds ($155). If I go into an Olympic lane I'll get fined 130 pounds ($200). If I turn right where I'm not supposed to, it's 60 pounds ($93)," said Rahmid Mohamed, slamming on his breaks to avoid an angry cabbie who swerved in front of him to avoid white barricades.

—Paisley Dodds — Twitter http://twitter.com/paisleydodds

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WATCHING IN PYONGYANG?

It must be one of the last frontiers for Olympics fever.

The chief of Asia's broadcasting union is in North Korea on Tuesday for talks on providing the country with TV and radio coverage of this year's games.

During the 2010 soccer World Cup in South Africa, North Korean state television aired unprecedented coverage of three matches as well as snippets from the opening ceremony — but not the games played by wartime enemies South Korea and the United States.

—From AP staff in Pyongyang, North Korea

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THE LONDON BUZZ

Standing in front of the official Olympics countdown clock to soak up the atmosphere, Robin Marsh from Bromley in Kent is looking forward to the games.

"There is a real buzz. Everyone is really excited," says the 18-year-old graphic designer.

Marsh is going to the athletics with his whole family. But what about his friend who couldn't get tickets to see anything he wanted?

"I think if you live in the greater London region, there is just a great feeling for something historic," said Danny Vance, 18, a Christian minister, also from Kent. "This is only going to happen once in your lifetime, so there is definitely a sense that we are involved with something very important for our country. And you can feel that."

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

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NICE VIEW AT LEAST

Traffic jams are building up across London — and the skies are pretty clogged, too. An incoming plane from Mexico circled the city repeatedly just now as the pilot waited for an available runway. But it was a stroke of luck. With sunny skies, passengers enjoyed a unique view of London's monuments.

—Luis Ruiz

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AIRLINE SAYS: DON'T FLY

British Airways doesn't want your money — unless you're flying INTO the country. The airline has been calling on the British people to stay home, sing the national anthem and get behind Team GB.

Their ads are on TV and on billboards around London. One broadcast ad shows a plane taxiing through the streets of London, picking up fans to take them to the games.

—Alon Bernstein

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FAMILY REUNION

On Friday in London, sprinter Jeneba Tarmoh will meet her half brother for the first time. It's been in the works since she made the U.S. Olympic team as a member of the relay pool.

Tarmoh says her brother John Mannah was born in Sierra Leone and moved to London with his father when he was 8 years old. Her mother ended up relocating to San Jose, Calif., where Tarmoh grew up.

Although she's never met him, Tarmoh has talked to her sibling on the phone. He's 15 years older than her.

Her plan: to catch up over dinner at his house.

"It's going to be great running and meeting my brother for the first time, having my nieces and nephews watch me in my element," Tarmoh says.

—Pat Graham — Twitter http://twitter.com/Pgraham34

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ODDS — ON ANYTHING!

What are the odds of a UFO sighting during the opening ceremony? Or of the final torch bearer tripping as they ascend to light the flame? Or would you prefer a more traditional wager on who will win gold? London betting houses are offering odds on almost anything and the industry expects to handle a record 100 million pounds ($155 million) in wagers over the next three weeks or so. Will aliens make an appearance on Friday night? You can get odds of 1,000 to 1 on that. Do they know something we don't?

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

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THE OTHER OLYMPIC RINGS

You know something major is happening when you hear this: For the first time since the funeral of King George VI in 1952, Big Ben is temporarily changing its tune to celebrate the start of the Olympics. For three minutes, starting at 8:12 a.m. (0712 GMT) on Friday, the famous bell at the British Parliament will ring more than 40 times.

People across the country are being urged to join in the fun, ringing doorbells and bicycle bells as loudly as possible.

The melody will even stretch to Antarctica, with British researchers ready to ring.

—Ian Phillips — Twitter http://twitter.com/phillipsian

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'I'M MELTING'

How hot is it in London right now?

Seems parts of the pavement outside Olympic Stadium are melting, and crews are out there to repair cracks before the foot traffic arrives en masse.

Warned one worker: If anyone in high heels comes around, there are going to be problems.

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

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TURKISH SENDOFF

In Istanbul, Turkey, the Turkish women's basketball team got a strong sendoff to its first Olympics. With music blaring and 70 members of the hotel staff cheering and waving Turkish flags, the team boarded a bus to the airport. Turkey qualified for its first Olympics by finishing in the top four at the final qualifying tournament.

"That's pretty cool. They might surprise some teams in London. They are pretty talented." says U.S. basketball player Diana Taurasi, who watched the sendoff as she headed to practice.

—Doug Feinberg — Twitter http://twitter.com/dfeinberg

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CHANGING OF THE GUARD

Beach volleyball will be what people flock to see at London's Horse Guards Parade landmark once the Olympics begin, but right now it is very much business as usual.

London is all about tradition, and at 11 a.m. Monday through Saturday is the changing of the guard at Horse Guards Arch.

Wojtek Delik, a 28-year-old restaurant worker from Poland, was watching the ceremony for the very first time with friends Tuesday.

"I think it's quite cool, you can see modern times mixed with old times so it's quite good, in London, in a big city like this," he says.

Household troops, typically dressed in red tunics and bearskins, have been guarding the Sovereign and Royal Palaces since 1660.

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

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I SPY ... THE COMPETITION

It's never too early to get a look at the competition.

At gymnastics training, Russian coach Alexander Alexandrov stood in the doorway watching the US women vault. He got quite a show, too, as the Americans landed one Amanar — one of the toughest vaults you'll see in the women's competition and the Americans' biggest advantage — after another.

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

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CEREMONY OF WONDERS (NO BLABBING)

Danny Boyle has let 60,000 people in on the secrets of his Olympic opening ceremony — and then begged them to keep the information to themselves.

Tens of thousands of spectators who attended a technical rehearsal for Friday's ceremony entered the stadium to be greeted by signs imploring them to "Save the Surprise." Boyle, the Academy Award-winning director of "Slumdog Millionaire," addressed the crowd with a personal plea not to blab, for the sake of future viewers and the 10,000 volunteer performers who have been working on the spectacle for months.

Many details have already leaked out out of the ceremony, titled "Isles of Wonder" and inspired by Shakespeare's "The Tempest" and by two centuries of British history and culture.

And Boyle left some gaps in Monday's run-through where extra-secret segments will appear on Friday.

Most of those who saw the show seem to be keeping mum. Many tweeted enthusiastically, but vaguely, about the contents of the show, which mixes grand spectacle with British humor and irreverence.

Many of the spectators streaming out of the stadium afterward said they had been wowed —even those who had been skeptical at first.

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

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BETTER THAN SYDNEY?

The Aussie team's chief says the Brits might just do a better job than the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Nick Green tells Australian reporters Tuesday that in his opinion London 2012 will be "the best Olympics ever." The predominantly Australian media responded with mock shock.

Australia's games 12 years ago have until now been considered among the best. But, says Green, "London's learned a lot out of Sydney ... my view is it'll be the best ever."

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

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EDINBURGH'S FINEST

Olympic fever hasn't swept through all of Britain — at least not yet.

Most people in Edinburgh, Scotland, are focused on the upcoming Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, an annual festival and demonstration that takes place on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle. But that doesn't mean there wasn't a cheer inside pubs such as Maggie Dickinson's on Grassmarket on Monday when Edinburgh's own cycling star Sir Chris Hoy — already Scotland's most successful Olympian — was chosen to carry the British flag for the Opening Ceremony.

Hoy won his first Olympic gold at the Athens Games, but cemented his legacy in Beijing, where he became the first Brit to win three gold medals in a single Olympics since Henry Taylor in 1908. Hoy was chosen to carry the Union Jack at the Closing Ceremony in 2008, and will now carry it for the Opening Ceremony on Friday after a vote of the 542 members of the British team. Hoy will be trying to defend his gold medals in the keirin and the team sprint when the track cycling program begins.

Just how popular is Hoy in Scotland? The Scottish National Velodrome being built for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow will be named in his honor.

—Dave Skretta — Twitter http://twitter.com/APdaveskretta

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EXTRA TROOPS

The British government has just announced it is deploying an extra 1,200 more troops to protect Olympic venues. There's no indication that the step was taken as a result of any specific threat.

British troops stepped in earlier this month after the private security company hired to protect the games failed to hire the number of guards it promised.

—Danica Kirka — Twitter http://twitter.com/danicakirka

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FROWN FOR THE CAMERA

Only boring, mean people can be a part of the Olympic Games. That goes for athletes, volunteers, journalists — everybody.

Don't believe it? Just look at those bulky credentials around everyone's necks.

The International Olympic Committee requires that mug shots have a completely colorless facial expression. They say it's needed for security purposes, but it sure makes us all look miserable — or worse.

U.S. women's soccer player Sydney Leroux put it best when she tweeted a photo of her credential. She said: "I look like I would burn down your house."

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

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FLAME MYSTERY

So where will the Olympics flame burn? Steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal says the ruby-red sculpture that towers over London's Olympic Stadium is not the cauldron that will hold the ceremonial flame. Mittal had floated the idea, but plans arrived too late for consideration.

The lighting of the cauldron is always a big moment for the Olympics, and organizers usually withhold details to ensure drama. But usually there is some structure — somewhere — that hints where the flame will burn.

Suspicion had long fallen on the ArcelorMittal Orbit Tower, but Mittal says the tower is art, not a fire vessel for the games that start Friday.

—Danica Kirka — Twitter http://twitter.com/danicakirka

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GAMES — WHAT GAMES?

AP's Joseph White reports in from Scotland:

Yes, I'm at the Olympics — but I'm some 400 miles (640 kilometers) from center stage.

Glasgow is hosting some of the soccer matches but the Scottish city doesn't have much of an Olympic vibe. In London, one can hardly walk 20 feet without spotting a special Olympic traffic lane or a billboard or some sort of notice; in Glasgow, there is a lonely sign at the main train station telling fans where to queue to catch the subway to historic Hampden Park, plus some Olympic-themed banners lining the streets.

The action starts with a pair of women's matches Wednesday — two days before the opening ceremony in London — and the locals have given away thousands of tickets to schools and other youth so the 52,000-seat stadium won't feel so empty.

The two cities can't even agree on the weather.

London had a beautiful sunny day Monday, while Glasgow was so wet and dreary that the U.S. women's team had to take their team photo in the stadium's VIP seats instead of on the field to stay dry. Tuesday in Glasgow, however, is sunnier.

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

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OLYMPIC VARNISH

Kati Elliott has got a nail for you.

The 20-year-old manicurist can paint 240 different designs — all versions of national flags — at the P&G Salon in the Olympic media village. The company has similar salons in the athletes village and in central London at the US Olympic family home, where they cater to athletes' moms.

On a recent day, Kati was sporting designs for Great Britain, Sao Tome and Principe, USA, Myanmar and South Africa, all on one hand. The most complicated design? She thinks it's the U.S. Virgin Islands, which packs an eagle, state colors and a shield all into one nail.

—Sheila Norman-Culp — Twitter http://twitter.com/snormanculp

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TORCH INTERLUDE

From AP's Fergus Bell, a Londoner:

At 8:47 a.m. the Olympic Torch passed along the route near my house, and I was able to experience the torch relay as it was meant to be experienced. And what is that, precisely?

Hundreds of excited men, women and children lined the residential suburban streets. Next came the huge police presence: I counted at least six police motorcycles before I caught a glimpse of the procession.

One poor woman innocently reversed out of her driveway at the wrong moment and was promptly surrounded. The police were good-natured; with three days left, they've probably seen it all.

Then you see the runner. Well, not quite.

First you have at least three buses representing various Olympic sponsors adorned with toned promotional staff cheering about the runner behind. When members of the crowd do finally catch a glimpse of the runner decked out in the official white torch relay uniform, they rush in, cameras out, as they cheer and shriek.

And then it's over. In moments, it's all gone. The cheers echo down the street as everyone disperses, each carrying a big grin.

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

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RIVER GOLF

Talk about a water trap.

U.S. PGA Tour players Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson previewed golf's inclusion at the 2016 Olympics by hitting purple balls toward a floating green on London's River Thames in late evening sunshine.

The tee box was on a barge and the floating green bobbed under the giant Olympic rings on the historic bridge. Using lob wedges, Garcia got three of his five shots on the bright green artificial turf island from around 75 yards while Johnson got two — or maybe it was three.

The pair struggled to see where those little magenta balls — the official color of the London Olympics — landed. Curious Londoners peered over the edge of the bridge in bright evening sunshine to see what was going on. Some waved flags.

Golf will be included at the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, returning for the first time since 1904.

Said Garcia just before the stunt on the choppy water: "Courses usually don't move this much, but it's definitely going to be fun."

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

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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.

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