- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 15, 2011

LONDON | With 6.6 million tickets up for sale and a giant clock ticking down the 500 days until the opening ceremony, two Olympic superstars came to London on Tuesday to help celebrate the countdown to the 2012 Summer Games.

Nine-time track and field gold medalist Carl Lewis and five-time gymnastics champion Nadia Comaneci joined London Olympic organizing committee leader Sebastian Coe — a former Olympian — for a series of events across the capital.

“It’s happening,” said Lewis, the American sprinter and long jumper who competed in four Olympics. “It’s wonderful to get the bid. It’s wonderful to know what’s coming. But today you can actually start your opportunity to be a part of it.”

Tuesday marked the first chance for fans to apply for tickets to the 645 competition sessions across 26 sports, with prices ranging from $32 for some events to $1,200 for the men’s 100-meter final.

Comaneci, the Romanian who scored the first perfect 10.0 in modern Olympic history when she won three golds at the 1976 Montreal Games at age 14, said she looks forward to coming back next year to watch the gymnastics and soak up the atmosphere.

“I always say when the Olympics are happening, you shouldn’t be in any other place in the planet — you should be here,” Comaneci said.

The buildup to the opening ceremony on July 27, 2012, comes with Olympic venues being completed on time and on budget. Britain is spending $15 billion to build new venues and turn an industrial wasteland in east London into a vast Olympic Park.

“This isn’t the finishing straight, but we’re in the back straight of the 800,” said Coe, a former 800-meter record holder who also won two Olympic gold medals in the 1,500 meters.

The top seats for the opening ceremony go for $3,215. Organizers braced for a crush of demand on the online site, even though the tickets are not being sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

Customers can apply for tickets over a six-week period ending April 26, with no advantage to signing up early. Any oversubscribed tickets will be distributed via a ballot, or lottery, system. Tickets will be allocated by June 24.

The first glitch arose a few hours into the ticket launch, when fans with Visa credit cards that expire before the end of August found they were unable to process their orders. Visa is an Olympic sponsor and the only card that can be used to purchase tickets.

“It is an issue with Visa rather than the website or our systems,” officials of London 2012 said.

While demand will be huge for the 100-meter final, Lewis urged fans to consider buying tickets to some of the lower-profile events.

“I’ve been to four Olympic Games since I retired,” he said. “Every time I’ve gone to two new sports that I’ve never seen before. I think it’s a unique opportunity to go see team handball or badminton or volleyball. It gives you the opportunity to experience something else. You may end up watching badminton so much you may end up taking up the sport yourself.”

Organizers are promising packed venues and enthusiastic crowds.

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