Huge demand overwhelms Beijing ticket sale system

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BEIJING, Oct 30 (Reuters) Huge demand for the second tranche of Beijing Olympics tickets overwhelmed the booking system, jammed telephone lines and caused lengthy queues when sales started today morning.

Beijingers started gathering outside the designated 1,000 branches of the Bank of China as much as six hours before the 1.85 million tickets went on sale at 9am.

This was the first chance for the Chinese to guarantee they got the seats they wanted as the first 1.6 million of the seven million tickets being sold were allocated after a lottery earlier this year.

Cheng Qiang eschewed the chance to book online or by telephone and at 7am on a chilly Beijing morning was first in line at a Bank of China branch opposite the Worker's Stadium, venue for some Olympic soccer matches next August.

''When I passed the new venues under construction on my way to work, I thought I want to sit inside them and watch the Games,'' said the 32-year-old.

By the time sales started, Cheng had been joined by some 30 others, mainly elderly, anxious to secure their place at the world's biggest sporting event.

Dr Li Guiqin, a 7.30am arrival and second in line, benefited from her modest shopping list and walked away with a single 80.29 dollars ticket for the soccer final after a two-hour wait.

''Watching on television will be fine for me,'' she said, clutching her booking confirmation. ''But my 17-year-old son wants to be there to see it live.'' SYSTEM CRASHED Cheng eventually got his 11 tickets but soon afterwards the system crashed.

The retiree surnamed Gu next in line already owns the hottest Games tickets -- seats at the Bird's Nest stadium for the opening ceremony and the 110 metres hurdles final, where China's Liu Xiang is expected to win gold -- from the first round of sales.

As grumbling around her about the delays grew louder, she gestured to an older woman in a wheelchair.

''I would let you come here in my place in any other situation but the Olympics are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,'' she said.

An hour after the branch opened just 12 tickets had been sold and those at the back of the queue were giving their phone numbers to bank staff on the promise that they would be called when their turn was near.

Those trying to book tickets online or on the telephone hotline faced an equally long and frustrating wait as the booking system repeatedly crashed.

Mu Di was taking no chances as she sought to secure a trackside seat for what she and millions of her compatriots hope will be Liu Xiang's triumph on Aug. 21 next year.

She started her lonely vigil outside a Bank of China branch close to Tiananmen Square at 2.30am, four and a half hours before the next person turned up.

''I really, really want this ticket,'' she said. ''It's a rare opportunity, I've been looking forward to this for a long time.'' Reuters TB DB1155

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