ATHENS -- The curtain was officially raised on the Beijing Olympic Games with the Olympic flame being handed over to the hosts Sunday in the Greek capital.
Beijing Olympic organizing committee president Liu Qi (R) holds the Olympic flame during the handover ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic flame at Athen's Panathenian stadium in Athens March 30, 2008. [Agencies]
Liu Qi, president of the Beijing Olympic organizing committee, received the flame from Hellenic Olympic Committee president Minos Kyriakou at the Panathinaiko Stadium in Athens.
The flame, which arrives in Beijing Monday, was ignited at ancient Olympia on March 24. The torch was carried by 629 torchbearers over 1,500 km in seven days in Greece.
"The torch relay in Greece has brought people excitement and inspiration the Olympic flame is the timeless symbol which stirs admiration, pride and faith (in) the Olympic ideals and values," Kyriakou said.
"I hope the world community welcomes the flame and honors it, showing the same feeling and respect (as Greeks did)," he said.
Altogether 26 Chinese torchbearers carried the torch in Greece, including famous athletes, staff of the Games organizing committee and the Chinese embassy in Greece as well as students.
Before reaching the marble stadium, where the history of the Modern Olympics Games began in 1896, the flame was kept overnight in ancient Acropolis.
At the handover ceremony Sunday afternoon local time, the last torchbearer, the Greek women's triple jump silver medalist in Athens 2004, Pigi Devetzi, ran into the stadium with the torch and lit the cauldron, which was surrounded by priestesses.
The "High Priestess" ignited the torch in her hand and passed it to Kyriakou, who handed over the flame to Liu.
Then, Liu lit the lantern, which is used to store the flame during the torch relay afterward.
"We firmly believe that the Olympic spirit is the essence of human civilization and the Olympic flame is the symbol of peace and friendship," said Liu. "The Beijing Olympic torch relay, under the theme of 'Journey of Harmony', will be a sure success."
He also extended a warm welcome to people from around the world to join the Beijing Games.
In 130 days, "the 2008 Olympic Games, which will become the focus of the world's attention, will be inaugurated in Beijing," Liu said. "We, along with all the people of the world, are looking forward to this glorious moment. We invite the people of Greece and the rest of the world to come to Beijing for the Olympic Games.
"Together we can fulfill the noble ideals of the Olympic Movement and proudly help contribute to the promotion of the great Olympic spirit."
The Olympic torch will arrive at Beijing Monday and a grand welcoming ceremony will be held at Tian'anmen Square.
The torch will start its global trip tomorrow, passing 134 cities in 130 days with 21,880 torchbearers covering 137,000 km. It will also reach the world's highest peak, Mt Qomolangma, in May.
On August 8, the torch will enter the National Stadium and the cauldron will be lit to signal the start of the Games.