First 2012 Olympic Contests Kick Off

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LONDON -- The Opening Ceremony for the 2012 Olympics may not be until Friday, but for some athletes, the Games begin Wednesday.

British women take to the soccer field against New Zealand in Cardiff, Wales, the first of six women's soccer games around Britain Wednesday.

Women from the United States, France, Japan, Canada, Brazil, Cameroon, South Africa, Sweden, Colombia and North Korea are all in action on what Games organizers are calling "Day -2."

Organizers got good news Wednesday morning, as border staff who had been planning to go on strike Thursday over job cuts called off the plan.

London drivers, meanwhile, got bad news, as traffic restrictions went into effect. They're banned from special "Olympics Lanes" reserved for athletes and officials, and face a £130 ($200) fine for using them.

The city's transportation agency, Transport for London, reported moderate traffic problems Wednesday morning as the rules went into effect.

While Britain's wettest June in more than a century may have cast a cloud over the final preparations for the Games, forecasters say the weather is now set to brighten.

More than 10,000 athletes from 205 countries are assembling in London for Friday's Opening Ceremony.

Every country will have at least one female athlete after Saudi Arabia included two women in its team for the first time, setting an important precedent for women's rights in the kingdom.

And with medals to be handed out in 26 different sports, there's always the chance of a shock upset or the emergence of a shining new talent to captivate the crowds.

Much of the cost of staging the Olympic and Paralympic Games has been met by British taxpayers, with the government overseeing £9.3 billion ($14.5 billion) of spending from the public purse.

According to its figures, the Games are currently under budget by some £476 million ($738 million).

London's Metropolitan Police Service, known as the Met, is undertaking what it says is its biggest-ever peacetime operation, running for 66 days across 1,000 venues, including sporting and cultural events, and making use of up to 9,500 police officers on the busiest days.

The government is deploying 18,200 troops -- many more than planned after private security contractor G4S announced it could not provide the 10,400 guards for which it had been contracted.

The Ministry of Defence is guarding the games with two warships, Typhoon jet fighters, Puma helicopters, and, perhaps most controversially, surface-to-air missiles placed on apartment buildings near the stadium, despite objections from residents.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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