Olympics

Water polo arena ready for games

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LONDON (AP)

The pool is filled, the humidity is high and there's even a brightly colored water polo ball floating in its place right in the middle.

Two weeks before the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, the first fully ''dressed'' venue was opened Friday.

''It's not finished, but it's the closest we've got,'' said Greg Nugent, the London organizing committee's director of marketing. ''There are still adjustments that we need to make. It's all very fine-tuning now.''

The water polo arena will seat 5,000 spectators, and has already been sold out for the games. But this year's tournament will be different from previous Olympics because the sport has its own venue instead of sharing a pool with the swimmers.

That detail alone will create a completely new atmosphere for Olympic water polo in London.

''What the players love about the venue is the proximity of the fans to the pool,'' said Matt Phelan, the venue manager. ''They're going to get water on them, they're so close.''

The arena is next door to the Aquatics Center, and just a short walk across the river from the main Olympic Stadium.

Inside, there are stands on both sides of the pool, with huge TV screens at each end. Already hanging in the rafters are the flags of the competing nations, including three-time defending men's champion Hungary.

At first glance, the pool itself looks a bit strange because there are no lane markers on the bottom for the swimming competition, allowing the sky blue color to stand out. And with the nets and ball already in place in the heated pool, it's an inviting sight.

After the Olympics and Paralympics, the pool and the stands at the temporary venue will be demolished.

The water polo competition begins on July 29, two days after the games officially open. The men start things off with six group-stage matches involving all 12 teams, followed by the eight-team women's competition a day later with four games.

''The men haven't played in the pool yet,'' said Phelan, noting the test event was a women's competition. ''When they arrive, it certainly will up the atmosphere.''

The Water Polo Arena was the first to be opened because the signage inside is in place. James Bulley, the director of venues, said almost all the other Olympic arenas and stadiums are in their final phases. The one exception is beach volleyball.

That competition will take place at Horse Guards Parade, the central London parade ground near Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. Last month, it was used during the Queen's Jubilee celebrations.

''Horse Guards Parade is probably the one because of the late access,'' Bulley said.

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