07/26/2012 05:18 EDT | Updated 09/25/2012 05:12 EDT

Opening ceremony to ignite London Olympics

Though competition is already underway, the London Olympics will officially begin with today's opening ceremony, starting at 9 p.m. local time (4 p.m. ET).

Special permission was granted by the Palace of Westminster to allow Big Ben to ring outside its usual schedule to begin the day of celebration. It sounded 40 times during a three-minute span, starting at 8:12 a.m. local time. At the same time, thousands of other bells — at schools and churches and even on bicycles — rang out across Britain.

Meanwhile, the Olympic flame was carried along the Thames in the royal barge Gloriana on the final leg of the torch relay, arriving at Tower Bridge before it was taken to City Hall, where it will remain out of public view until the opening ceremony begins.

English film director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) is overseeing the $42.3-million US show at Olympic Stadium, where thousands of athletes from 204 countries will congregate to mark the opening of the 30th Summer Games.

The ceremony is expected to draw an estimated global television audience of one billion.

Boyle's show, entitled Isles of Wonder, is inspired by William Shakespeare's play The Tempest. It will include nods to such British cultural icons as James Bond, Peter Pan and Paul McCartney. The former Beatle is expected to appear in person.

An 86-song set list has been reported, including songs by English artists The Beatles, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Queen, Blur, Radiohead, Coldplay, Oasis and Adele.

The Queen will officially open the Games, but her exact role at the outdoor event in this notoriously rainy city will be "weather dependent," Boyle said.

Prince William and his wife Kate, and Prince Harry will also be in attendance, along with more than 80 heads of state and government, including Canada's Governor General David Johnston.

As at any Olympics the big question is who will light the Olympic cauldron? Sir Roger Bannister, 83, the iconic English athlete who in 1954 became the first person to run a sub-four-minute mile, is the heavy favourite. British bookmaker William Hill stopped taking bets on Bannister after handling a flurry of action on the retired neurologist.

Whitfield leads Team Canada

The Canadian team will be led into the stadium at approximately 10 p.m. local time (5 p.m. ET) by Simon Whitfield, the two-time Olympic medallist in triathlon who was selected as Canada’s flag bearer.

Mark Tewksbury, chef de mission for Team Canada, spoke to CBC's Heather Hiscox in Trafalgar Square this morning.

Tewksbury said he brought with him a few objects for good luck: a piece of the towel he wore when he won Olympic gold in the backstroke in Barcelona in 1992, a loonie he received from the Canadian Mint and a pin bearing the five words he says represents the team: proud, unbreakable, world-class, fierce and relentless.

Not all 277 of Canada’s Olympians will take part in the ceremony. The swimming and rowing teams plan to skip the festivities to prepare for the start of their events on Saturday morning. The women’s soccer team has a match against South Africa on Saturday in Coventry, about 150 kilometres away, so they’ll stay away, too.

Though competition in London began on Wednesday with the opening matches of the women’s soccer tournament (Canada lost 2-1 to World Cup champion Japan), the first medals will be handed out Saturday in archery, road cycling, fencing, judo, shooting, swimming and weightlifting.

One of the most anticipated events in the pool will take place Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET, when American stars Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte are expected to go head-to-head in the final of the men’s 400-metre individual medley.

Opening Day in London: Live Blog