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      London to mark 2-year Olympic countdown on Tuesday

      An artist's impression of how the Aquatics Centre will look during Games time. / Olympic Delivery Authority
      LONDON (AP) " With Tuesday marking the two-year countdown to the London Olympics, organizers are determined to prove the multibillion-dollar project offers good value for money at a time of economic austerity.

      London will celebrate Tuesday's milestone by launching a search for Olympic volunteers and opening some venues to let athletes test the facilities where they will be competing for medals after the opening ceremony on July 27, 2012.

      Michael Johnson, a former Olympic 200- and 400-meter champion from the United States, will sprint on a temporary track in the 80,000-capacity main stadium. British cyclist Chris Hoy will take a spin at the velodrome. Former NBA player John Amaechi will shoot a few hoops at the basketball arena.

      "We're not just the next games," organizing committee president Sebastian Coe said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We're the next big global event. The World Cup is out of the way. That's where the world is coming. There's nothing else between us and the games."

      Despite an economic crisis and government budget cuts, London looks firmly on track to deliver in 2012. The external building work of key arenas is finished, sponsorship revenues are on target, plans are in place to ensure lasting use of facilities, and British politicians, media and the public remain largely on board.

      "If you look out there," Coe said, sweeping an arm toward the Olympic Park, "the venues are virtually complete in structural terms, the regeneration of east London is in large part done, and as an organizing committee we still continue to raise good sums of money to stage this under very difficult circumstances.

      "We'll just go on doing what I think we've been doing extremely well."

      Olympic organizers are under scrutiny as the coalition government carries out $61 billion in public spending cuts to trim the record budget deficit.

      The government recently ordered relatively modest cuts of $41 million in the budget of the Olympic Delivery Authority, the body responsible for building the venues. The overall construction and infrastructure budget stands at $14.3 billion.

      Coe's separate privately financed organizing committee budget is $3 billion, raised from sponsorships, television fees, ticket sales and merchandising.

      "We wake up every morning trying to figure out how we can deliver this in a more cost effective and efficient way," Coe said, quickly adding that organizers had the same policy when they were awarded the games five years ago when the economy was booming.

      "We have to recognize that the world has changed," he said. "We are in an economic climate where we have to continue to make very strong arguments for why this is a project of national and natural interest."

      The largest cost is going toward the development of Olympic Park in the Stratford area of east London. A square mile of deprived industrial area is being transformed into a new complex that will be turned over to the public after the games.

      Sports and Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson said Olympic funding is not "ring-fenced" or immune from further cuts.

      "The Olympics is happening against the backdrop of the largest peacetime deficit this country has ever had, so you can argue that the Olympics has to play its part in paying off the national debt," he said.

      Coe said the Olympics have already had an economic spinoff by providing $10 billion of construction work, employment for 10,500 workers at the Olympic Park and $1 billion of various contracts.

      Coe said organizers have raised more than $925 million toward their target of $1 billion in domestic sponsorships " a figure that organizing committee chief executive Paul Deighton has called "gravity defying."

      "The first thing that goes in any economy is discretionary spending, and yet we've punched through," Coe said.

      The work in the Olympic Park is impressive. The structure and roof covering of the Olympic Stadium is complete and seats are being installed at the rate of 700 a day. Next up will be fitting out the venues to get them ready for spectators and test events.

      "It's not just the field of play," Coe said. "It's about 80,000 people going to the bathroom at the same time and using hand basins and all the things you want."

      Coe is urging the public to sign up for the volunteer program and put their names down for tickets, which will go on sale next year.

      "What we're saying is: 'We're doing a very good job here. We're putting this together. It's over to you now. What do you want to make of it? Don't miss out on it,'" he said.

      Coe, a former two-time Olympic champion and middle-distance great, said organizers have reached the 400-500 meter mark of an 800-meter race and are entering the back straightaway or "killing zone."

      "It's in that space that you create the platform for the finishing line," he said. "What we do this year will in a way decide the rhythm, the pace, the symmetry of the games."

      Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.