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England's Beckham taking part in handover

England footballer David Beckham will take center stage when the Olympic flag is handed to London at Sunday's Closing Ceremony in Beijing.
/ Source: Reuters

England soccer player David Beckham will take center stage when the Olympic flag is handed to London at Sunday's Closing Ceremony in Beijing.

Beckham, whose popularity in China dwarfs that of even record-breaking swimmer Michael Phelps or sprint sensation Usain Bolt, will take part in London 2012's eight-minute slot in the Games finale designed to showcase the next host city.

The Los Angeles Galaxy player will be joined in the Bird's Nest stadium by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and London-born singer Leona Lewis as well as dancers from the Royal Opera House and numerous sportsmen and women from previous Olympic Games.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is attending the ceremony, which will see new London Mayor Boris Johnson receive the flag from his Beijing counterpart, Guo Jinlong.

No details were revealed about the content of the show or exactly what Beckham's role would be, but his appearance is likely to get the biggest cheer of the night.

"He has been passionate about the bid from the early stages, he played a key role in Singapore and he was brought up within a stone's throw of the Olympic Park in London," Bill Morris, the London Organizing Committee (LOCOG) director of ceremonies, told reporters on Friday when confirming the A-list lineup.

The former Manchester United and Real Madrid midfielder, who has a Chinese proverb tatooed on his torso, was mobbed when he arrived in Shanghai with L.A. Galaxy this year and has a fanbase in China running into hundreds of millions.

Morris said the theme of the London slot would be simple and fun and would not be trying to compete with anything Beijing managed during a sparkling Opening Ceremony.

"This is not the moment we want to try and compete with the truly astonishing job BOCOG did with their ceremonies," Morris said, referring to the Beijing organizers. "But it will be youthful, diverse, loud and proud.

"It's also great opportunity to celebrate the outstanding success of the British team in these Games."

Mayor Johnson joked that he had been in training for his big "flag-carrying moment."

"I am thrilled, I'm overwhelmed, I'm incredibly excited, but I'm not intimidated," he said.