Games open with soccer, Bolt says "this is my time"
CARDIFF/LONDON (Reuters) - The British women's soccer team kicked off the Olympics on Wednesday with victory for the home team over New Zealand, and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, hero of the 2008 Games and the fastest man on earth, vowed to win again, declaring: "This is my time".
The whiff of scandal hung over London's Olympic Park, where thousands of journalists and athletes were limbering up for the July 27-August 12 showcase, after Greek triple jumper Paraskevi Papachristou was withdrawn from the Games for a racist tweet.
Her subsequent apology fell on deaf ears, with the head of the Greek Olympic mission, Isidoros Kouvelos, saying: "She made a mistake and in life we pay for our mistakes."
With doping concerns at centre stage, nine track and field athletes have been banned for violations in a crackdown on the use of prohibited substances at the London Olympics.
The athletes, including leading Moroccan marathon runner Abderrahim Goumri, were all caught with the aid of the Athlete Biological Passport program, which will be used at an Olympics for the first time in London.
Separately, fellow Moroccan 1,500 meters runner Mariem Alaoui Selsouli, a silver medalist at the world indoor championships this year, tested positive for a banned diuretic and will also miss the London Games.
The soccer match in the Welsh capital, which Britain won 1-0, came two days before Friday's opening ceremony at the main London stadium, the culmination of seven years of preparations for an event that draws billions of viewers around the world.
In host city London, basking in sunshine after a rainy summer, authorities went ahead with unpopular lane closures to keep the roads, and hundreds of thousands of extra visitors, moving, and security has been beefed up to protect the Games.
Counter-terrorism chiefs have played down the possibility of a major attack, although in a possible sign of pre-Games jitters, a Typhoon fighter jet was scrambled to intercept an aircraft that had flown into restricted air space.
Communications with the plane were restored, however, and the fighter told to stand down, the defense ministry said.
More than 16,000 athletes are warming up for their big day at venues across Britain, and 11 million visitors will follow every twist and turn of intense battles for the ultimate prize - Olympic gold.
Bolt, Jamaican winner of the 100 meters and 200m Olympic titles in Beijing in 2008, fired the opening salvo in what promises to be an explosive 100m sprint final on August 5, arguably the blue riband event of the Games.
"This is my time," said the 6ft-5in (1.95m) athlete, as attention turns from a security scandal and transport chaos in the run-in to the Olympics to what really counts - sport.
"This will be the moment, and this will be the year, when I set myself apart from other athletes in the world," 25-year-old Bolt told the Guardian newspaper.
Bolt, who holds the world record for the 100m race, is aiming to achieve what no other man has ever done before - successfully defend the 100m and 200m finals.
While the British government and Olympic officials will be delighted that sport is now in focus, the threat of transport disruption and security worries lingered with just two days to go before the eagerly-awaited opening ceremony.
One target of anger among notoriously grumpy taxi drivers and many ordinary Londoners are the so-called "Games lanes" which came into operation on Wednesday.
Scathingly dubbed "Zil" lanes after Soviet roads reserved for black limousines carrying senior Communist party members, the roads are reserved exclusively for Olympic officials, the media, athletes and sponsors.
Anyone caught straying into the lanes without permission faces an automatic 130-pound fine, and there has been confusion and heavy traffic in several parts of the capital as a direct result of the system.
"They've closed off the Games lane, but nobody (from the Olympic community) was using it," said Ross Keeling, a call-out engineer, speaking after he travelled from east London to the city centre.
"My journey usually takes me 40 minutes, but it took two hours with the change. It was a pain the neck. We just have to sit and watch the empty lane."
The threat of delays at Heathrow and other airports was avoided, however, when border guards called off a strike planned for Thursday.
Culture and Sport Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced this week that 1,200 extra soldiers had been deployed to protect Olympic venues at the last minute to cover for a shortfall in private security guards in a major embarrassment for Prime Minister David Cameron's administration.
The presence of courteous, smiling troops at the Olympic Park has in fact proved highly popular among athletes, reporters and officials.
"Security to me hasn't been an issue," said U.S. beach volleyball player Misty May-Treanor, one of dozens of athletes talking to the media before the training begins in earnest.
"I just look at all those young faces, all the soldiers, and I'm like, you guys are so young. It kind of puts everything into perspective," added the 34-year-old.
Also attracting the cameras were Syria's athletes, who put aside the increasingly violent civil conflict engulfing their country on Wednesday to sign a "truce wall" at the Olympic Park and raise their flag.
The symbolic Olympic torch, nearing the end of its 8,000-mile journey, on Wednesday visited Wembley Stadium, scene of England's only soccer World Cup triumph in 1966, and was carried by the goalkeeper in that match, Gordon Banks.
Harry Potter star Rupert Grint, who plays the red-haired Ron Weasley in the hit movie franchise, was also among the bearers.
The torch's odyssey ends with the lighting of the Olympic cauldron on Friday evening before 60,000 spectators including Queen Elizabeth, U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama and a host of celebrities and dignitaries.
Another one billion people are expected to tune in around the world for the ceremony directed by film-maker Danny Boyle.
While many details of the show have leaked through the media and social networking sites, some secrets remain, notably the identity of the person who will light the flame and even the location of the cauldron.
Former England and Manchester United soccer player David Beckham has confirmed he will play a cameo role in the event, which will include pyrotechnics, a celebration of British music and several spectacular stunts.
It has been widely reported that the three-hour show will feature idyllic scenes of pastoral Britain, references to the "Satanic mills" of its industrial past and nods to its place on the modern international cultural stage.
At rehearsals this week, crowds cheered the complex and distinctly British ceremony, which will be in stark contrast to Beijing's more choreographed extravaganza.
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