The queen, UFOs, Bolt? Fancy an Olympic bet?

Fri Jun 1, 2012 9:42am EDT
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By Belinda Goldsmith

LONDON (Reuters) - Would you bet on Queen Elizabeth lighting the Olympic flame? Or a UFO appearing above the opening ceremony? Or maybe on Usain Bolt winning the men's 100 meter race?

With the London Olympics fast approaching, Britons are happily combining two of their favorite pastimes: sports and betting - no matter how ludicrous some of the bets.

"It is deep in the British psyche to have a bit of a flutter when it comes to sports. Sports and betting almost go hand-in-hand in this country," said Joe Crilly, a spokesman from bookmaker William Hill.

Less than two months away from kickoff, bookmakers are starting to close their books on the most popular bet so far - who will light the flame, the symbol of the Olympic Games, at the opening ceremony on July 27.

The identity of the person who runs the final stretch with the Olympic torch after a 70-day relay is always a highlight at the opening extravaganza. China's former champion gymnast Li Ning was awarded that honor in Beijing in 2008; at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics, legendary boxer Muhammad Ali lit the cauldron in an emotional show as he struggled with Parkinson's disease.

Bookmakers William Hill, Ladbrokes, Stan James and Coral all agreed the favorite for that coveted task in London, with odds of 1-3, is former rower Steve Redgrave, 50, Britain's most successful Olympian who won five gold medals from 1984 to 2000.

Bets were also running on the 83-year-old Roger Bannister, who made history as the first man to run the four-minute mile in 1954; Kelly Holmes, the retired British runner who won two gold medals at the 2004 Athens Olympics; and football star David Beckham.

"We also took some bets on Tom Daley at 16-1, Prince William at 66-1 and, incredibly, the queen at 500-1," said Stan James spokesman Rory Jiwani.   Continued...