- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 27, 2011

LONDON — With one year to go until the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, swimmers took the first plunge Wednesday in the new aquatics center hailed as a “masterpiece” by IOC President Jacques Rogge.

The wave-shaped venue is the last permanent building to be completed in London’s Olympic Park, a former industrial wasteland that’s been transformed in one of Britain’s biggest building projects.

Rogge watched local swimmers test London’s first Olympic-length pool, while a women’s synchronized swimming team performed to the strains of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” in the $442 million facility.

“I have seen so many venues in my life that I had a visual shock when I came in,” Rogge said. “I came in from the top — everything stands out; the harmony, the quality, the innovation. It’s a masterpiece.”

The International Olympic Committee president was in London to formally invite the world’s athletes to the games at a ceremony on Wednesday night in Trafalgar Square.

“I am very optimistic for the remaining year to come, and I think we will have a great games,” Rogge said.

In central London, British Prime Minister David Cameron marked the milestone by inspecting preparations for a beach volleyball test event at Horse Guards Parade next to his Downing Street home.

Later in the evening celebrations, 17-year-old Tom Daley will take the first dive at Olympic Park three days after qualifying for his second games.

“Only a few years ago, this was a distant dream,” the 2009 world champion said. “The fact that I qualified at the weekend and am taking the first dive is a complete privilege. I can’t wait for next year and the honor of representing Team GB.”

The 17,500-capacity aquatics center, which will also be used for swimming, synchronized swimming and water polo events, had been expected to be among the first major projects to be finished and one of the boldest architectural statements on the 560-acre east London site.

Instead, it was completed after the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium, the velodrome, handball arena, basketball arena and the International Broadcast Center.

The aquatics center design was scaled back in an effort to cut spiraling costs even before Britain slumped into recession.

While retaining the sweeping, wave-shaped roof, the size of the venue was reduced to help prevent it from becoming a white elephant after the games. Two giant wings of temporary seating have been added to accommodate fans, but will be dismantled after the Olympics to leave a 2,500-seat venue.

“The extraordinary regeneration in east London, all the opportunities, the nation’s and region’s engagement — I can’t look at that Olympic Park without taking pride,” organizing committee chairman Sebastian Coe said.

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