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Which star will launch greatest show on earth?

The eyes of the world are on London this evening as the 2012 Olympics begins.

The big stage rehearsals for tonight's €35m opening ceremony are complete and more than 10,000 athletes from 204 nations are preparing to compete for a coveted Olympic title.

Special effects, big names and bags of enthusiasm will be used to help launch the Games in front of an audience of more than 70,000 who will be watching live at the stadium in Stratford, east London.

Millions more globally are expected to tune in on television but many competitors will be missing from the long and late-starting athletes parade.

Competition clashes or just preferring to rest instead as part of vital preparations mean that some swimmers, athletes, track cyclists and rowers will skip the ceremony.

Dancing nurses, the biggest ringing bell in Europe inscribed with lines from Shakespeare, and children will be key features of the opening ceremony.

The identity of the person who lights the flame will remain secret up until the final moment, but some of the host nation's greatest Olympians will take part in the closing stages of the ceremony.

These will include five-time Olympic rowing champion Steve Redgrave and double Olympic decathlon gold medallist Daley Thompson. Neither are expected to light the cauldron.

At least one bookmaker stopped taking bets on Roger Bannister, the first man to break the four-minute mile, but it may be that the honour is shared between a legendary sporting figure and someone else who is symbolic of London's ambition to inspire an international generation of youth.

Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle, the mastermind behind the opening ceremony, believes the curtain-raiser at the Olympic Stadium is fitting both for everyone who will compete at the Games.


The ceremony has been shrouded in secrecy, although some images and features have been released on Twitter, prompting many to use the hashtag #savethesurprise.

"Part of the theme of our show is that this is for everyone," he said. "We all know we are a warm-up act for the 10,000 athletes who are getting ready to compete in the Olympic Games.

"They are the most important thing about the show, except one thing. This is a show that has been built out of our volunteers."