London stages final test events ahead of Olympics

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By BARBARA SURK, Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Thousands of sports fans braved the rain and cold at the Olympic Park in London on Saturday as organizers staged the final test events ahead of the Summer Games.

Student athletes competed in water polo, wheelchair tennis, field hockey and track and field events, watched by about 75,000 spectators.

It marked the first time the main stadium in the heart of the Olympic Park in east London was open to the public for a track and field competition. Organizers said about 40,000 people are expected to attend the official opening of the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium on Saturday night.

More than 10,500 athletes from 204 countries will start moving into the Olympic village two weeks before the opening ceremony. The Olympics run from July 27 to Aug. 12, and the Paralympics take place from Aug. 29 to Sept. 9.

The final days of test events come after the British military performed a series of operations to test Olympic security, including flights over London by fighter jets and helicopters this week.

"This is the one big opportunity, particularly with the number of people we've got in the park, to test our venues, to test the park management, the security and tickets," said Sebastian Coe, who heads the local organizing committee.

With about 140,000 people attending test events over the past six days, the organizers also assessed the movement of spectators across the sprawling Olympic Park.

"We are actually in a very good shape, but with a mountain of work still to do," Coe said.

With just over 80 days before Olympic competition begins, the organizers' main focus is the athletes, Coe said. Test events are used to gauge reaction from participants to fine tune any changes ahead of the Olympics.

"The thing that we will always take very seriously is the feedback from the athletes because they are the most important group of people that we have to deliver for," Coe said. "Every time you see an athlete going into those venues they've probably given up half their lives for that moment, so that's clearly important."

Aside from complaints about the weather, few fans had anything bad to say about the biggest day so far in the Olympic Park. Spectators, who bought tickets for the main stadium opening ceremony in March, patiently queued to enter the sports complex after airport-style security checks. Police helicopters flew over the park and armed police troops patrolled the area.

"It's not a problem, really. It's much quicker than the airport and it's good to be checked because now we know we're safe," said Simon Levy, a Londoner, who came to the Olympic Park for the first time on Saturday with his wife and friends.

Adrian Casy, a security guard at the Olympic Stadium, said Saturday's events were among the main rehearsals for the games, particularly in moving and managing the crowds of spectators from the Park and from one venue to another.

"Honestly, so far so good, although we're still trying hard to make it run smoother," said Casy, adding that some spectators were wearing "insufficient clothing" to cope with the weather conditions.

For Hassan Berton, a subway driver who grew up in the east London industrial area turned into the Olympic Park, attending Saturday's test events with his wife and 20-month-old daughter was like being at the Olympics.

"We don't have tickets for any Olympic competition, but we've watched this whole place being built up on a piece of bad land," Berton said. "In my wildest dream, I never thought the greatest show on earth would ever come here. I will be watching it all on TV, 10 minutes away from the stadium ... Today is the Olympic Games for us."

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