LONDON – Tickets for the final race of Michael Phelps' glittering career have become the hottest seat of the Olympic Games and are changing hands on the black market for the incredible price of nearly $10,000.
Phelps brings the curtain down on another glorious Olympic campaign Saturday night, seeking to go out in style with a gold medal in the 4x100 meter medley relay.
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Official tickets for the last session in the pool sold out months before the event, but the swell of interest in Phelps and his bid to add more hardware to his career haul of 21 medals has pushed up prices to unprecedented levels.
Yahoo! Sports contacted three ticket scalpers specializing in London sporting events and each reported the same story regarding the action at the Aquatics Center. One asked for $10,000 for a premium ticket and another sought 6,000 British pounds ($9,385.20). The third did not give a specific price but said a ticket would be "very steep."
"It is all because of Phelps," said one scalper named Mark, who has been known to this writer for more than a decade. "We have even started quoting prices in American dollars because all the people interested are Americans who want to see him one more time."
The astronomical price – for a session that will last for little more than an hour – is due to some unusual circumstances regarding the ticketing process.
The only available tickets are mainly for the highest-priced level, hence the drastically inflated asking price from scalpers. When the tickets were released, the top ticket sold for $704, with other levels at $461, $289, $149, and $78.
"Normally, I make my money by paying face value for tickets from people who don't want them anymore," said another scalper, who gave his name as Tony, outside the ExCel Centre in East London that hosts four Olympic sports. "This is a unique event. I am paying way, way above face.
"Normally, I would never take a risk like that and expose myself financially, but in this case it is not a risk. There are buyers and, quite frankly, they are all rich Americans. We didn't expect this, but it is good for business."
None of the scalpers would reveal the amount they had paid for their tickets or where they obtained them. The London Games have been plagued by controversy over its ticketing system, with swathes of empty seats visible for many "sold out" events. It has also been alleged that members of various national Olympic committees have been illegally selling their allocations to third parties.
"I don't have any on me," said a third scalper operating within Olympic Park. "I can get one for you, but it is going to cost you.
"I am in this to make a living but sometimes you do feel sorry for people. Some friends of (British swimmer) Fran Halsall tried to get some tickets from me, but they just couldn't afford how much I was asking. But I can't underprice them when I know I can make more."
Halsall will seek to win Britain's first gold in the pool when she swims in the 50-meter freestyle.
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Closer to the start time of the event, it's expected that tickets at the lower-priced levels will become available when fans realize they can make a quick profit even though they would miss out on a slice of history as Phelps waves goodbye to swimming. The scalpers thought that seats for the cheapest levels would go for up to $800 – for viewing positions way back in the top tier of the arena.
London's Metropolitan Police department launched "Operation Podium" before the start of the Olympics to clamp down on illegal ticket selling. However, Yahoo! Sports witnessed several scalpers selling tickets outside the ExCel Centre both earlier in the week and on Saturday. When one fan tried to buy a ticket from another outside an official London 2012 ticket stand, a games official simply advised the pair they should "not do that in front of me."
At the midway point of the week, Metropolitan Police statistics put the total number of ticket-related arrests at 31 but have since stopped recording the tally as it is a "fast-moving operation," according to a press officer.
Section 31 of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games Act states that "a person commits an offense if he sells an Olympic ticket in a public place or in the course of a business, and otherwise than in accordance with a written authorization issued by the London Organizing Committee."
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