The ringing of an Olympic Bell and scenes from
rural Britain started off the opening ceremony for the London Games
on Friday night in front of dignitaries from around the world in a
packed Olympic stadium and a television audience estimated at one
Various scenes from British history and heritage were to follow - from the industrial revolution to the National Health Service, Winnie-the-Pooh, Harry Potter and Mary Poppins, Sir Kenneth Branagh, Sir Paul McCartney and the Arctic Monkeys.
British Queen Elizabeth II was to formerly open the Games later in the three-hour 42-million dollar extravaganza directed by award-winning Danny Boyle.
The second highlight was to be the lighting of the Olympic cauldron, with the final bearer of the torch originally lit in ancient Olympia, Greece, the best-kept secret of the Games.
Many of the 10,500 athletes from 204 countries were to join the traditional Parade of Nations for the Games in which 302 gold medals are on offer in 26 sports until August 12.
US First Lady Michelle Obama, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, German President Joachim Gauck, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, were in attendance along with the British Royal Family and other dignitaries after an afternoon reception at Buckingham Palace.
Enthusiasm in London, which already hosted the Olympics in 1908 and 1948, reached new heights once the torch relay reached the British capital a week ago, and Saturday's cycling road race sees local hero Mark Cavendish as top favourite.
That race will also provide a major test of London's transport system, with getting athletes and millions of visitors around a top priority at any Games along with the sensitive security issue.
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