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Can't pay, won't pay? 2012 for free thinkers

Union flags are on sale in front of the Houses of Parliament on October 22, 2010 in London, England. Tickets and souvenirs won't come cheap at the London 2012 Summer Games. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Oli Scarff/Getty Images

So you could not afford London 2012 tickets and are dreading the prospect of spending all of next summer staring at the television?

Competing as an Olympic athlete or being wined and dined as a VIP visitor are probably not options either, but do not despair.

In a time of financial belt-tightening, and with a nod to the spirit of the Austerity Olympics of 1948, there will be ways to get out, soak up the atmosphere and watch some live sport without handing over hard-earned cash.

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Standing on a south-coast cliff top to watch the yachting somewhere out to sea off Weymouth is always one possibility but there are other less-distant and dramatic alternatives.

Even with a full year to go until the July 27 opening ceremonies of the "greatest show on earth" at the Olympic Stadium, it is never too early to start planning one's own wallet-friendly 2012 experience.

If you want to witness that opening extravaganza, or the men's 100-metre sprint final, from the inside and for free then you will probably have to charm a sponsor, fast-track your media career or try to worm your way into the army of technical support staff.

Best to get started on that right away. With more than one million applications for the sold-out 80,000-seat stadium, those who do have a ticket have won the lottery and they know it.

A more-profitable use of time might be to attend some of the test events next month for sports that offer free access, such as road-race cycling and triathlon, to check out the best viewpoints.

The men's and women's cycling road races, on the opening weekend of the Games, could produce Britain's first gold medalist with Tour de France multiple stage winner Mark Cavendish likely to be the big home hope.

Both events start and finish outside the Queen's central London residence of Buckingham Palace, with spectators likely to throng the route through leafy south-west London out into the Surrey countryside.

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The London-Surrey Cycle Classic test event next month will be a good advance opportunity to find a prime vantage point.

"We have the opportunity for thousands of people to engage with this, on their doorstep, in the local park, in the pub beer garden and all sorts of other places along the route," organizing committee (LOCOG) cycling manager Simon Lillistone said.

"It is a fantastic opportunity for people to actually see an Olympic event first-hand and hopefully link into what London 2012 is here to do and really inspire young people."

Hampton Court, the palatial home of 16th-century monarch Henry VIII, will be the base for the men's and women's time trials on Aug. 1 next year.

The men will also do a loop through the royal Bushy Park which - always allowing for the vagaries of the British summer - offers the potential for picnics while watching the riders.

The marathons pass a string of London landmarks and parts of the triathlon course and race walking will also be fantastic free opportunities for those who get there early enough.

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The ticketed sections along the northern edge of the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park for the Aug. 4 and 7 triathlons were an early sell-out in the British public ballot but other areas inside the Park are open to all.

Top spectator spots identified by British Triathlon, who are also running a free test event next month, include the Wellington Arch/Hyde Park Corner area, the south side of the Serpentine Bridge and around Buckingham Palace.

The archery ranking rounds at Lord's cricket ground on July 27, likened improbably by those within the sport to Formula One qualifying without the noise or frenzy, caused some excitement when they were listed as non-ticketed events.

That could score as a bull's-eye for the freebie hunter although the rounds, in a part of the cricket ground used as a training area, are more likely to be behind closed doors.

Organizers are still considering the options but could make a limited number of tickets available to local residents and schoolchildren as well as athletes' friends and family.

"You'd get to see the world's best but it's really just a load of people standing in a line shooting arrows, rather than the excitement of a head-to-head," Archery GB spokesman Peter Jones said.

For those wanting a deeper level of commitment there is the volunteer route, while 8,000 relay runners must be chosen to carry the torch around the country from May.

Thousands of performers will need to be signed up for the ceremonies.

The Olympics will need up to 70,000 volunteers, or "Games Makers," to keep the show on the road from welcoming visitors to looking after catering and cleaning.

Some will get to meet famous athletes such as Usain Bolt or Rafa Nadal, others will be working on the opening and closing ceremonies. Still more will be working long hours away from the competition venues.

"A hundred thousand people are already now going through their volunteer interviews," London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe told Reuters, with that process lasting into 2012.

"Another chunk are going through [Mayor]Boris [Johnson's]city ambassador program … we've got our torch relays, we've got the cultural Olympiad, we've got our open weekend. So there's a massive amount of stuff going on in the next year."

Members of the armed forces will have access to free tickets while there has never been a better time to be nice to teachers.

Some 125,000 tickets, including for showcase events such as the 100-metre final, will be handed out to schools in the capital that have signed up for the Get Set program by Dec. 16.

How those tickets are then distributed to the children will be up to the schools, although it is a pretty safe bet to assume there will be rewards for academic achievement, athletic endeavour and general attitude.

If all else fails, there will be the individual countries' hospitality houses: the Alexandra Palace in the case of the Dutch and beer sponsor Heineken, and Live Sites across London where fans can enjoy the action in a party atmosphere.

"These are going to be fantastic," Johnson said with typically boyish enthusiasm.

"[They are]venues where you are going to be able to watch in real time, with huge screens, share in the Olympic atmosphere and listen to the commentary and enjoy it almost as though you are actually there.

"There really will be a big opportunity for Londoners who want to share in the atmosphere of the Games, who can't get into the [Olympic]Park, to go to a live site."

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