'I must have one!' The race for mascot merchandise is on

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BEIJING, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Hours after Beijing's Winter Olympics officially opened on Friday night, shoppers lined up in the bitter pre-dawn cold to get their hands on what for many will be the biggest prize of the Games - merchandise featuring panda mascot "Bing Dwen Dwen".

Souvenirs in the likeness of the chubby bear in a hard, transparent body suit - figurines, soft toys and dangly decorations - were sold out by 2 p.m. on Saturday at a flagship store in downtown Beijing's Wangfujing shopping area.

"It's too cute! I must have one!" said seven-year-old May as she waited in line to buy items featuring Bing Dwen Dwen, whose name officially translates to "Ice Child" but includes a "roly poly" descriptive.

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May was too late.

Her mother, Ye Yingyi, who said she had been unable to find any items in stock online, promised her a return visit.

While it has been hard to escape the hype in the run-up to the Games taking place in the Chinese capital from Feb 4-20, Olympic fever had yet to fully set in, with people instead focused on the Lunar New Year holiday that began on Feb 1.

"We've been selling since a year ago and it's been quiet," said a security guard at the store who declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak to media.

"Then suddenly, yesterday and especially today, the crowds appeared out of nowhere and snapped up all of a year's worth of stock," he said, adding that there had been no limits on purchases, meaning some people had bought large quantities.

Disappointed customers were asked to come back after Wednesday, when factories would have resumed production after the holiday and stocks replenished.

Ren Yi, 24, had wanted to buy a set of seven Bing Dwen Dwen figurines for his girlfriend but came away empty-handed.

"We love toy figurines in general, but this set would be special as it would be something we can remember the Beijing Winter Olympics with," he said.

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Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and Muyu Xu; Editing by Tony Munroe

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