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London 2012 tickets given away to fill seats at Olympic opening ceremony

By Robin Scott-Elliot

Tonight's spectacular opening ceremony of the London Olympics will be performed in front of a full house in the Olympic Stadium. A number of the most expensive tickets for the four-hour-long ceremony remain on sale but organisers will look to ensure any seats not sold will be occupied.

The 80,000-seat stadium in Stratford has top-end tickets worth £2,012 and £1,600 still available but should they not be sold today it is likely the seats will be distributed either through the Ticketshare scheme to young people or filled by off-duty members of the armed services. The seats will not be sold off at reduced prices despite speculation to the contrary yesterday.

A spokesperson for Locog, the London organisers, said last night: "We are confident there will not be any empty seats tomorrow. Sebastian Coe did not say there would be price cuts. He said that we will always look at ways that we can get young people to the Games."

The top-end prices have been criticised and the take-up of hospitality packages has been slow despite growing excitement over both the Games and the ceremony, which starts at 12 minutes past eight tonight. Two dress rehearsals for Danny Boyle's extravaganza have been held this week in front of crowds of 60,000. Boyle himself spoke on both nights to ask the audience to "keep the surprise" and not disclose details of the £27m ceremony. Feedback to the organisers in the wake of the rehearsals has been overwhelmingly positive. The show seems certain to be well received.

One detail is yet to be revealed to anyone beyond Boyle's team, the organisers and a member of the British Olympic Association – notably the identity of the person who will light the cauldron in the stadium. A number of Britain's great Olympians of old, including Sir Steve Redgrave, will be involved. Britain, as is traditional for the hosts, will be the last of the teams to enter the stadium for the athletes' march-past. Around 260 of the 541-strong team will take part, with an extra 40 officials. The proximity to competition and the fact that some of the teams, such as track and field and cycling, are yet to enter the Olympic village will keep the numbers down.

There is burgeoning expectation that Britain will enjoy a hugely successful Games with a third-place finish in the medal table not beyond reach. But Colin Moynihan, chairman of the BOA, yesterday sounded a note of caution. Moynihan insists Britain will have delivered an "absolutely stunning" Games if they can match the achievements of four years ago in Beijing.

The first two home medals could come as early as tomorrow, via Mark Cavendish and Hannah Miley, but despite labelling it Britain's best-prepared team – it is also the largest for more than a century and best funded, too – Moynihan believes simply matching the 19 golds and fourth place of four years ago will be an achievement in itself, describing the task as "incredibly tough". "The margins that are going to differentiate gold from silver from bronze are tiny," said Moynihan at the Olympic Park yesterday. "We have outstanding talents and are ready to deliver. It will be a great success if we can deliver fourth place and if we come out of this with the same number of medals or more [than 2008] it will be an absolutely stunning Games."

Beijing was Britain's most successful Games since 1908 and with home advantage there should be a sizeable improvement. Yet UK Sport, the body that funds elite sport in Britain, has set a target of 48 medals, one more than in 2008, while the BOA has stated only a vague target of "more medals, across more sports" and to hold on to fourth. Most other leading nations have specified the number of golds they aim to win.

Moynihan said: "We come ready to meet the expectations of the public which we accept will be very high."

Flag-bearers: Who to see from other nations

Ireland: Katie Taylor (Boxing)

The current Irish, European, and world women's lightweight champion, and also a member of the Irish women's football team, Taylor will be the first female boxer to carry her nation's flag.

Italy: Valentina Vezzali (Fencing)

She is the most decorated Italian female athlete of all time, who has won five Olympic golds in various fencing events.

Malaysia: Pandelela Rinong (Diving)

The 19-year-old won bronze in the 10m synchro platform dive at the 2009 World Championships, and will serve as her country's first female flag-bearer.

Nicaragua: Michelle Richardson (Chef de Mission)

The Nicaraguan-born swimmer won silver for the United States at the 1984 Games after the Sandinista Government rejected her request to swim for her native country.

Russia: Maria Sharapova (Tennis)

Carrying the Russian flag on her Olympic debut, Sharapova has won each of tennis's four Grand Slam tournaments.

Serbia: Novak Djokovic (Tennis)

Until recently the world No 1, he has won five Grand Slams, is a three-time Australian Open champion, and won the men's bronze at the 2008 Olympics.

Singapore: Feng Tianwei (Table Tennis)

Currently ranked eighth in the world among women, she helped Singapore win their first Olympic medal as an independent nation in 2008: silver in the team competition.

South Africa: Caster Semenya (Athletics)

Following her women's 800m win at the 2009 World Championships, Semenya's gender was subject to scrutiny and testing from the IAAF. She was cleared to run in 2010 and won silver in the women's 800m at the 2011 Worlds.

Spain: Pau Gasol (Basketball)

The Los Angeles Lakers star was chosen to replace Rafael Nadal, who pulled out of the Games with an injury. Gasol has won two NBA championships, Olympic silver in 2008, and is considered a basketball hero in his home country.

US: Mariel Zagunis (Fencing)

Chosen over many other high-profile American athletes, she is a chasing a third gold medal in women's individual sabre, having won at both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.

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