Image: Lewis and Comaneci
Alastair Grant  /  AP
Former Olympic champions Carl Lewis and Nadia Comaneci pose for the cameras in front of London's Tower Bridge as they take part in a media event to launch 500 days to the start of the London 2012 Games.
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updated 3/15/2011 12:42:01 PM ET 2011-03-15T16:42:01

With 6.6 million tickets up for sale, two Olympic superstars came to London on Tuesday to help celebrate the countdown to the 2012 Summer Games.

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Nine-time track and field gold medalist Carl Lewis and five-time gymnastics champion Nadia Comaneci joined London Olympic organizing committee leader Sebastian Coe — a former Olympian — for a series of events across the capital.

"It's happening," said Lewis, the American sprinter and long jumper who competed in four Olympics. "It's wonderful to get the bid. It's wonderful to know what's coming. But today you can actually start your opportunity to be a part of it."

Slideshow: London calling (on this page)

Tuesday marked the first chance for fans to apply for tickets to the 645 competition sessions across 26 sports, with prices ranging from $32 for some events to $1,200 for the men's 100-meter final.

Comaneci, the Romanian who scored the first perfect 10.0 in modern Olympic history when she won three golds at the 1976 Montreal Games at age 14, said she looks forward to coming back next year to watch the gymnastics and soak up the atmosphere.

"I always say when the Olympics are happening, you shouldn't be in any other place in the planet — you should be here," Comaneci said.

The buildup to the opening ceremony on July 27, 2012, comes with Olympic venues being completed on time and on budget. Britain is spending $15 billion to build new venues and turn an industrial wasteland in east London into a vast Olympic Park.

"This isn't the finishing straight, but we're in the back straight of the 800," said Coe, a former 800-meter record holder who also won two Olympic gold medals in the 1,500 meters.

The top seats for the opening ceremony go for $3,215. Organizers braced for a crush of demand on the online site, even though the tickets are not being sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

Customers can apply for tickets over a six-week period ending April 26, with no advantage to signing up early. Any oversubscribed tickets will be distributed via a ballot, or lottery, system. Tickets will be allocated by June 24.

The first glitch arose a few hours into the ticket launch, when fans with Visa credit cards that expire before the end of August found they were unable to process their orders. Visa is an Olympic sponsor and the only card that can be used to purchase tickets.

"It is an issue with Visa rather than the website or our systems," officials of London 2012 said.

While demand will be huge for the 100-meter final, Lewis urged fans to consider buying tickets to some of the lower-profile events.

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"I've been to four Olympic Games since I retired," he said. "Every time I've gone to two new sports that I've never seen before. I think it's a unique opportunity to go see team handball or badminton or volleyball. It gives you the opportunity to experience something else. You may end up watching badminton so much you may end up taking up the sport yourself."

Organizers are promising packed venues and enthusiastic crowds.

"The athletes enjoy the full stands," Lewis said. "I remember in Los Angeles in the 100 heats there were 93,000 people there. It makes a huge difference, especially for the home country. It creates a sense of pride."

Lewis donned a yellow construction hat and jacket to tour the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium where the track and field events will be contested in 2012. Lewis won four gold medals at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, successfully defended his 100-meter title in Seoul in 1988 after Ben Johnson was stripped of the title for doping and won the long jump for a fourth straight time at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

"I'm a long jumper that sprinted," Lewis said. "Everyone says 'fastest man in the world.' Yeah, I was that, too. I was able to win four in a row in the long jump. I take the most pride in that. To come back and be the first one to actually win back-to-back and then do it four times, it was just tremendous."

The sport's greatest athlete since Lewis is Usain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter who swept the 100, 200 and 4x100 relay at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in world-record times. A year later, Bolt again set world records in the 100 and 200 at the world championships in Berlin.

Can Bolt defend his Olympic titles in London?

"The opportunity is there," Lewis said. "It's very, very difficult, as I know, to win back-to-back at the Olympics. So many things have to happen for you to win once, let alone twice, so good luck to him."

But Lewis is cheering for American sprinter Tyson Gay, who beat Bolt in Stockholm last year and has the second fastest time ever in the 100 (9.69 seconds) behind the Jamaican's 9.58.

"I think its going to be a tremendous race," Lewis said. "I went to two Olympic finals and you never know what's going to happen. Usain has run tremendously. He's the best in the world right now, but Tyson's going to give him a run for his money."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: London calling

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  1. A view from the top in London

    London is home to the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, which will be held July 27 to Aug. 12, 2012. Visitors will be able to see all this wolrd-class city has to offer in the summertime - -everything from plays in Shakespeare's Globe Theater to bird's-eye views of the city on the London Eye. Pictured here, a passenger travels on the London Eye observation wheel which stands 135 meters high and is the tallest such wheel in Europe, on Oct. 22, 2010 in London. (Oli Scarff / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Millennium Bridge

    Pedestrians cross the Millennium Bridge, spanning the River Thames in London, on Feb. 15, 2012. (Stefan Wermuth / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Double-decker bus

    A double-decker bus travels through Piccadilly Circus on March 19, 2012 in London. (Oli Scarff / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Buckingham Palace

    At the end of The Mall is Victoria Memorial and Buckingham Palace, where Her Majesty The Queen resides. (George Rose / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Great Court

    Visitors walk in the Great Court of the British Museum on Feb. 22, 2011 in London. (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Treetop walkway

    A woman walks across the new Rhizotron and Xstrata Treetop walkway, with a view of the Temperate House behind, at Kew Gardens in London on May 22, 2008. The 18-meter high structure gives visitors the opportunity to view the tree canopy at Kew. (Luke MacGregor / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. St. Paul's Cathedral

    Tourists look towards St. Paul's Cathedral while riding on an open-top bus through central London on April 15, 2012. Despite a short-term tourism boom at the time of the Olympics, economists are warning that it won't be enough to prevent a sharp slowdown in the economy this year. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Inside St. Paul's Cathedral

    A verger pauses to look at one of the statues in St. Paul's Cathedral after its recent major restoration, in London on June 16, 2011. The St. Paul's Cathedral program of cleaning and repair cost 40 million pounds, has taken 15 years and is the first time in its history that the building has been comprehensively restored inside and out, it was reported on the Cathedral website. (Paul Hackett / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Oxford Circus

    Traffic at the Oxford Circus junction at the intersection of Oxford Street and Regent Street on May 1, 2012 in London. (Oli Scarff / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Trafalgar Square

    Tourists enjoy the sunshine in front of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square on March 28, 2012 in London. (Matthew Lloyd / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. The Tower of London

    The Tower of London is a historic castle that early in its history served as a royal residence. It's probably most well-known for its use as a place of imprisonment. King Henry VIII executed two of his wives there, and before she became queen, Elizabeth I was held captive there by her half-sister, Queen Mary I. (Scott Barbour / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. River Thames

    An aerial view of the River Thames in London, with the Shard at left and Tower Bridge in the foreground, on September 5, 2011 in London. (Tom Shaw / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Tate Modern

    Visitors to Tate Modern walk through sunlight shining through the windows, in London on July 30, 2009. (Andrew Winning / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Walking across the bridge

    People cross the Millennium Bridge in wet weather in front of the newly-restored St. Paul's Cathedral on June 16, 2011 in London. A prominent feature in the London skyline and one of the world's most beautiful buildings, St. Paul's Cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the 17th Century, and is celebrating its 300th anniversary with the completion of a 40 million pound restoration project. (Matthew Lloyd / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Graffiti art

    A woman walks past an ornately-painted building in the Shoreditch area of London on Jan. 14, 2012. Ornate graffiti appears on many buildings and structures in areas of the east London borough of Shoreditch. (Andrew Winning / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Time for soccer

    People play soccer during a warm autumn weather spell on Hampstead Heath, with the City of London in the background, on Oct. 29, 2009. (Jas Lehal / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Fish and chips

    Chelsea soccer fans eat fish and chips outside The Cafe Fish Bar in west London on May 13, 2012. Deep-fried fish in a crispy batter, with fat golden chips, is still as popular as ever with the British public, ranked alongside roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and chicken tikka masala as the nation's favorite dish. (Eddie Keogh / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Shopping spree

    Selfridges department store is illuminated on Oxford Street on December 5, 2011 in London. (Oli Scarff / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Royal Albert Hall and Albert Memorial

    An aerial view of the Royal Albert Hall and Albert Memorial on July 26, 2011 in London. (Tom Shaw / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Shakespeare's Globe Theater

    Actors Dominic Rowan and Miranda Raison perform as Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in Shakepeare's "Henry VIII" at the Globe Theatre in London on July 6, 2010. William Shakespeare's Globe Theater, on the south bank of the River Thames, burned to the ground during the staging of a play about Henry VIII in 1613 and was rebuilt in the late 1990s. (Luke MacGregor / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Westminster Abbey

    A view of Westminster Abbey on Nov. 19, 2010 in London. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. The Shard

    The Shard towers over St. Thomas Street, on July 5, 2012 in London. A new addition to the London skyline, It is the European Union's tallest building. (Peter MacDiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Borough Market

    A woman walks through Borough Market in London on Dec. 9, 2011. (Luke MacGregor / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Houses of Parliament

    A car travels along Westminster Bridge past the Houses of Parliament on March 27, 2012 in London. (Oli Scarff / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A classic pub

    Patrons drink at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub in London, on Dec. 19, 2011. This is one of London's oldest pubs and one of Charles Dickens' favorites, alluded to in "A Tale of Two Cities." (Finbarr O'Reilly / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. London's West End

    Cars travel at night, along Shaftesbury Avenue past West End theatres, on March 29, 2012 in London. The city's West End is synonymous with theater productions, containing over forty venues showing plays, musicals and operas. The theaters typically play host to over 14 million spectators that view over 18,000 performances each year. (Oli Scarff / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. The 'Gherkin'

    The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' is pictured in the City of London on August 12, 2010. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. A day in the park

    Visitors enjoy summer sunshine as they row boats on the Serpentine in Hyde Park. One of King Henry VIII's former hunting grounds, the 350-acre park in the middle of London features more than 4,000 trees, a lake and a meadow. (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Bouquets of flowers

    A woman carries sunflowers at the Columbia Road flower market in East London as summer weather hit the United Kingdom on May 24, 2009. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Street art

    A woman walks past street art by Banksy on Pollard Street on Nov. 1, 2007 in London. Recent works of art by Banksy have been bought for hundreds of thousands of pounds by celebrities such as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The Tower Hamlets Council recently said that they had a duty to remove all graffiti in the area, including anything done by Banksy. However, the public in Bristol recently voted over 90 percent in favor of keeping a piece of graffiti art by Banksy as it was deemed so popular. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. A tribute to a princess

    The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park opened on July 6, 2004, in London. The fountain was designed by American Kathryn Gustafson as a tribute to the former princess, who died in a car crash in 1997. (Scott Barbour / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. A famous crossing

    Tourists pose for a photograph on the pedestrian crossing at Abbey Road in St. John's Wood, North London on Dec. 22, 2010. The crossing, sited outside Abbey Road Studios in North London and made famous by The Beatles, was designated a site of national importance by the British government. (Andrew Winning / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Brick Lane

    Signs for businesses on Brick Lane, which is synonymous with curry restaurants, on March 16, 2011 in London, England. (Oli Scarff / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. The heart of London

    Summer crowds gather in Trafalgar Square in front of the National Gallery. At the center of Trafalgar Square is Nelson's Column, which commemorates the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar. (George Rose / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. A cultural center

    A view down Camden High Street on March 31, 2012 in London. Camden in North London has been one of the city's cultural centers since the 1960s, and is home to the famous Camden Market. The borough is rich in musical heritage with a variety of theatres, art galleries and world famous musical and comedy venues. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Official timekeeper

    The historic Royal Observatory, Greenwich, is the home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian of the world, making it the official starting point for each new day and year. (Visit London) Back to slideshow navigation
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