LONDON: Bells rang out across Britain on Friday to signal the final countdown to the Olympic Games, which open with an exuberant and eccentric ceremony celebrating the nation in an explosion of dance, music and fireworks inspired by Shakespeare's "Tempest".
The three-hour showcase created by Oscar-winning "Slumdog Millionaire" director Danny Boyle takes spectators on a journey from Britain's idyllic countryside through the grime of the
Industrial Revolution and ending in an explosion of pop culture.
Watched by 60,000 people at the main Olympic stadium built in a run-down part of east London and a global audience of more than a billion, the event will have passages described by
British Prime Minister David Cameron as "spine-tingling".
The spectators will be urged to join in sing-a-longs and help create spectacular visual scenes at an event that sets the tone for the sporting extravaganza, when 16,000 athletes from
204 countries share the thrill of victory and despair of defeat with 11 million visitors.
The Games will also answer the question on Britons' lips -- were seven years of planning, construction and disruptions, and a price tag of $14 billion during one of the country's worst
recessions, actually worth it?
"There is a huge sense of excitement and anticipation because Britain is ready to welcome the greatest show on Earth," said Cameron. "This is a great moment for our country so we must
There have, however, been bumps along the way.
Media coverage was until recently dominated by security firm G4S's admission that it could not provide enough guards for Olympic venues. Thousands of extra soldiers had to be deployed
at the last minute, despite the company's multi-million-dollar contract from the government.
Counter-terrorism chiefs have played down fears of a major attack on the Games, and Cameron said that a safe and secure Olympics was his priority.
"This is the biggest security operation in our peacetime history, bar none, and we are leaving nothing to chance."
Suicide attacks on London in July, 2005, killed 52 people. This year the Games coincide with the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Munich massacre when 11 Israeli Olympic team members were killed by Palestinian militants.
Calls for an official commemoration of the tragedy at the opening ceremony have so far been refused.
Heavy traffic in central London and severe delays on Britain's creaking train system have added to the grumbling.
A series of doping scandals have tarnished the Games' image in the buildup, with at least 11 athletes banned so far, and Greek triple jumper Paraskevi Papachristou became the Olympics'
first "twitter victim" when she was withdrawn from the team over tweeted comments deemed racist.
An early diplomatic faux pas, when the flag of South Korea appeared at a women's soccer match between North Korea and Colombia, prompted fuming North Korean players to walk off the
pitch and delayed kick-off by more than an hour. AGENCIES