Prince Harry’s reputation as a ladies' man could be put to work at the sexiest sport of this summer's Olympic Games.

Harry, known as the Playboy Prince thanks to a string of conquests, has already made attending the beach volleyball events in London next August a priority and asked advisers to help him arrange premium seats.

"Everyone knows that Harry loves sport and he is planning to see many events during the Games," a source close to Harry told "However, it is fair to say he is particularly excited about the beach volleyball and is looking forward to seeing the action."

In the initial phase of ticketing for the London Games, beach volleyball proved to be one of the most oversubscribed events, with most sessions quickly selling out. The location of the event is both unique and perfect for Harry, situated in Horse Guards Parade in central London -- a Royal site used for the annual Trooping of the Colour ceremonies.

Beach volleyball makes every attempt to market the athleticism and attractiveness of its athletes, and Harry will have no shortage of model-like bodies to feast his eyes upon.

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As the news of Kim Jong Il's death spread, the big story was, of course, what next? North Korea's extreme political isolation, combined with a nuclear program that has much of the world in fear, is certainly a dangerous recipe.

But North Koreans have managed to forge a tenuous bridge to the Western world, and that path is paved by sports. From soccer to wrestling and ice hockey to gymnastics, there's something about a little harmless competition that has opened up the communist nation to global events like the Olympics and World Cup. After all, the Ever-Victorious Iron-Willed Commander was a sports nut known for his astonishing athletic prowess -- if you choose to believe his fantastical golfing tales. At the very least, we know he was a big Michael Jordan fan. And that's no small thing, considering it's proof that he let at least a little Western culture into his heart.

"Sports has been a connecting factor for North Korea and the rest of the world," says Korean-born Allen Wagner, a former copy editor of the Korea Joong Daily in Seoul who now works at the National Bureau of Asian Research in Seattle. "Sports seems to be able to bring together even the most hated rivals in some form of friendly competition. In past Olympics, the South and North Korean teams marched in the opening ceremony under one flag, even though they competed separately. And I think competing against North Koreans gives athletes from different countries the opportunity to see them in a different light, away from the usual umbrella of nuclear issues, a tyrant leader and poverty."

Sports in North Korea are a blend of traditional and Western. Kite flying, Taekwondo, and Korean wrestling (called ssyrum (씨름) are found in both North and South Korea. The country has adopted ice hockey, wrestling, soccer and boxing. But like in any other nation or culture, sports has its dark sides in North Korea.

Citizens are forced to participate in the Grand Mass Gymnastics and Artistic Performance Arirang, often called the Mass Games or just Arirang. The ornate spectacle of athletics honors the birth date of Kim il-sung, former prime minister and president.

"Young men and women practice all year just for the event, making it a pretty big deal at least for the citizens of Pyongyang, where it is held, and where the privileged live," says Wagner.

So while in free nations, sports is an escape, it can take the form of a duty in North Korea. It's for the leadership, not for the refreshment of the individual soul.

"Propaganda plays almost 100 percent in North Korea's sports culture," says Suk Hi Kim, editor of the North Korean Review and senior professor of international finance at the University of Detroit Mercy.

Soccer, considered the most popular sport in North Korea, has been shadowed in controversy. Though they haven't been proven, reports surfaced during the 2010 World Cup that the North Korean government sent players to labor camps for losing to Portugal. Four players went missing during the 2010 match against Brazil. And in 2011, five female soccer players tested positive for steroids. Then there was the bizarre story about North Korea paying Chinese actors to parade as North Korean World Cup fans.

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"Fans -- assuming there are genuine fans -- are rarely, if ever, allowed to travel overseas to watch their national teams play," says Wagner, who cites that issue as the dividing factor between North Korea and the rest of the sports world.

For many Americans, idolizing athletes is a rite of passage. But in North Korea, even the rise to celebrity athlete status is controlled by the government.

"North Korean children are not in a position to worship athletes as much as Americans," Kim says. "The government selects a few promising young athletes to train full time."

After all, if your late president is setting golfing records and coaching your World Cup team with an invisible mobile phone, who needs sports celebrities? Professor Kim says it's all part of the plan to keep the ruling family at the very top.

"You should not be surprised at these sorts of stories," he says. "North Korea will do everything to make Kim's family a god for all practical purposes."

And yet now that the Dear Leader is gone, sports brings a faint hope. Suk is not completely optimistic about the unifying nature of sports when it comes to North Korea, but says other than food aid and diplomatic talks aimed at resolving concerns over the country's nuclear program, perhaps sports is the only other way North Korea interacts with the world.

The bridge to the West is more than a little shaky, but at the dawn of an Olympic year, it's still intact.

-- Karie Meltzer can be reached at

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Michael Johnson may not agree with the decision to allow an amputee runner to compete in able-bodied events, but the world record holder hasn't let that stop him from becoming a big fan of Oscar Pistorius.

During an event this week in the double-amputee's native South Africa, Johnson greeted Pistorius warmly and spoke of his admiration for all the runner has accomplished in his career.

Pistorius was born with a congenital absence of his fibulas and had both his legs amputated when he was 11 months old. Using two prosthetic limbs, he became the preeminent 400-meter runner in the Paralympics, running times that could qualify him to run in regular meets. After years of legal battles, Pistorius was granted the right to compete in those able-bodied events in 2008. Pistorius qualified for the semifinals in the 400 during last year's world championships in Daegu, South Korea, his first major international meet.

Johnson still holds the record in that event. Though he's unsure of how much Pistorius' blades help him, he recognizes the strength of the runner.

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"Because the decision has been made and I know Oscar -- and I consider Oscar a friend -- I'm very supportive of him and I want to see him do the best he can possibly do," Johnson told the Associated Press.

"I think, and Oscar and I have discussed this, that I would not have made the decision to allow Paralympic athletes to compete with able-bodied athletes because when you're using prosthetics you just can't know how much, or if, there is any advantage that an athlete may gain," he said.

The endorsement from Johnson is no small matter. His 43.18 from the 1996 Olympics is still in the record books and is remembered as one of the greatest races in track and field history.

Pistorius will need to run under a 45.30 to qualify for next summer's Olympics. His personal best is a 45.07, making it likely that the blade runner will be on the track in London. A medal is a longshot, but that's besides the point. Getting there is the achievement. And having respect from one of the greatest runners in history isn't bad either.

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Prepare for a chance to own your very own olympic athlete. OK, maybe you won't be able to physically own Great Britain sprinter James Ellington, but you might have a chance to buy a share of history.

Ellington, whose training has been marred by a string of random injuries over the past few years, is searching for financial support to fund his Olympic push, and has turned to auctioning the privilege on eBay. The question for any potential investor is whether the money will be worth it. Unfortunately for Ellington, his times aren't the most reassuring pitch to bidders.

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Ellington's numbers don't come close to stacking up with the best in the world, posting a personal-best of 10.23 seconds in the 100 – half a second slower than Usain Bolt's top time in the event in 2011. His best time in the 200 is 20.52, which wouldn't even crack the top 10 American sprinters in the event.

But that's not to say Ellington's hopes are all gloom and doom. Sure, his times can't hang with the best in the world, but while qualifying for the summer games is a longshot, it's not near the longshot of winning sprinting gold. And what are the olympics about if not a dream and desire to compete to be the best? Critics won't be so kind, but quite simply, they don't have to bid.

Those that are willing to bid on the 26-year old, however, will vie for Ellington to wear the company's logo and to pitch for the company wherever he goes.

The good news for Ellington is that with seven days still left in the auction, he has already reached his reserve goal and beyond. So while some bemoaned the fundraising effort as futile, it's clear there's still some olympic magic left in others.

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