Just under 500 days remain until the London 2012 Olympic Games, with momentum in the British capital gathering pace as the Opening Ceremony approaches.
Tickets have gone on sale for the first time, but nearly six years of work have already gone into the preparations since London beat Paris for the right to host the event, with the opening of the Velodrome just the latest milestone passed.
Nicknamed the Pringle by local residents - in homage to its distinctive design - the venue will host the cycling and BMX competitions during the 2012 Games.
Jeremy Hunt, British secretary of state for culture, Olympics, media and sport, said: “The progress on the Velodrome has been phenomenal and it is fitting that it should be the first venue on the Olympic Park to be finished, given the gold medal hopes we have for our British Olympic Track Cycling team at the Games.
“Watching Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton christen the track today was a historic first in the countdown to London 2012.”
Outside of the capital events are also developing apace, with the Lee Valley White Water Centre - which will host Canoe Slalom - completed late last year.
The Olympic Stadium is expected to be handed over later this year
With venues coming on stream, organisers also whetted appetites recently by releasing the finalised sporting schedule for the Games. Athletes competing in cycling, archery, swimming and judo will be among those to receive the first gold medals, with competitions taking place on the day following the Opening Ceremony - Saturday 28th July.
Some eight million tickets will go on sale, with tourists from around the world expected to descend on London for the duration of the event.
LOCOG chair, Sebastian Coe, explained: “Today the application process opens to be part of the greatest show on earth.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the world’s greatest athletes going for gold in the UK – a chance for people to see their favourite sport and perhaps try a new one.
“Our message today is simple – mark the date in your diary and sign up to our ticketing site at http://www.tickets.london2012.com to receive all the information you need to help you with the process.”
Hotels – reportedly resisting the urge to raise prices so far – have reported a boost to occupancy rates during the games, while airlines are preparing to offer additional airlift ahead of the Games.
Rio will be next to benefit from the Olympic Games
Rio de Janeiro 2016
But London is just the latest city to benefit from this crown jewel of the $600bn a year sports tourism industry.
While Qatar 2022 grabbed most of the headlines over the past year, it was largely forgotten Brazil – and in particular Rio de Janeiro – is set to become the next destination of choice for sports fans from around the world.
Rio will take the Olympic mantel from London during the Closing Ceremony on August 12th 2012, when the countdown to the first games in South America will begin. Before that, however, is the small matter of the FIFA World Cup, which will visit the country in 2014 in a remarkable double header.
As WSDE Sport Tourism Expo director Sion Rapson explained: “Sports tourism is the fastest growing sector in international travel, with Brazil riding the crest of the wave.”
National, regional and city tourist boards with a sport tourism portfolio as well as hotels and resorts offering sporting facilities – from Brazil and around the world – will also be converging in Thailand later this year for the WSDE Sport Tourism Expo – as Bangkok hosts the annual event from 27th-29th September.