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London's Olympics countdown clock stops running

Less than 24 hours after a spectacular unveiling in London's Trafalgar Square, a giant electronic timer counting down to the 2012 Summer Olympics stalls, embarrassing officials. Ticket sales also stumble after a glitch.

March 16, 2011|By Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from London — On your mark — get set — stop!

London is gearing up to host the Summer Olympics next year, but the countdown to the big event has started (or, actually, stopped) inauspiciously with an embarrassing freeze-up of a clock in Trafalgar Square marking the days left until the Games begin.

The giant electronic timer was unveiled amid great fanfare Monday evening, with dignitaries and Olympic gold medalists on hand to celebrate 500 days to go before the opening ceremony. But on Tuesday, less than 24 hours later, the clock suddenly stalled.

Sheepish officials were left wishing they could turn back time so that they could retract their enthusiastic endorsements of the clock, like this one by Sebastian Coe, the organizing committee's chairman: "It will be a daily and hourly reminder to everyone who visits Trafalgar Square that the countdown to the start of London 2012 has well and truly begun and that the greatest show on Earth is soon coming to our country."

Instead, with the display frozen at 500 days, 7 hours, 6 minutes and 56 seconds, the timepiece became a "daily and hourly reminder" of Murphy's Law.

Technicians from Omega, the Swiss watchmaker that produced the clock, rushed to the square — a huge tourist draw in the heart of London — to see if they could resuscitate the timepiece.

The company issued a statement saying that it was "very disappointed" with the "technical malfunction" and that the timer had been "fully tested" before its installation.

It wasn't the only glitch to hit the Olympics on Tuesday. Tickets to the events went on sale online, but some credit card holders found they were unable to complete their purchases because of a technical issue arising from their card expiration dates.

More than 6 million tickets are available for the Games, including some priced at an eyebrow-raising 2,012 pounds, about $3,220, for the opening ceremony.

The tickets will be on sale until April 26, so hopeful buyers should act before time runs out. Or stops altogether.

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