Lights, cameras, flags, flowers, drums and plenty of hoorays and action. The start of the final leg of the Olympic torch relay Wednesday had everything and more.
On Tian'anmen Square, the blue uniforms of security staff and volunteers and the varied shades of red, yellow, green, gray and black combined into a kaleidoscope of joy and hope.
Individual identities did not matter on a day of the collective. There was no Ji or Jin, no Liu or Lucy.
Torchbearer Yao Ming holds the torch as he runs through the Tiananmen Gate during the 2008 Beijing Olympics torch relay in Beijing August 6, 2008. [Agencies]
Nor did anyone seem overtly bothered to know who would light the cauldron at the National Stadium on the opening day of the Games tomorrow.
Amid all this, stood a man taller, not only because of his height, than the rest. But even Yao Ming seemed to be overawed by it all. And then he realized he was supposed to run with the torch.
The image of Yao coming out of the Forbidden City's Duan Gate, torch in hand, with Chairman Mao Zedong looking down from his portrait above would forever be etched in people's mind.
The huge sea of people and the solemnity of the occasion were overwhelming for even Yao, for he could run no more. He slowed down into a jog, and finally walked, passing person after person after person. "Go slower," a flame attendant told him. And so he did.
The scared flame was not new for the NBA star. But as the 2008 Olympic torch's 133-day, 137,000-km odyssey entered its penultimate day, the passion within him was "burning more strongly" than the sacred flame.
"This time I was even more excited," he said after completing his run, comparing the experience with that of 2004 Athens Olympics.
The torch has perhaps overcome more hurdles than any hurdler, the legendary Edwin Moses and Liu Xiang included, has.
Its global journey across 21 destinations in six continents (outside the Chinese mainland) was welcomed with warm hearts and open arms. But it had to encounter woos and boos, too, in a few cities.
It has battled weather of all kinds, from days under the burning sun to those of torrential downpours, fog, snow, hail and storm. It made way for China's annual college entrance exam, which affects the lives of millions of students.
And in those tragic and devastating weeks of May, it had to be off the roads to mourn the victims of the Sichuan earthquake that left 80,000 dead or missing.
The Sichuan leg had to be deferred, and the number of torchbearers and their running lengths reduced.
"What an odyssey," a core flame attendant said Wednesday. "I'm glad it's home."
The relay will end with the lighting of the sacred flame in the Bird's Nest tomorrow. But till now no one knows who would get the honor of doing that.
Yao, Liu Xiang and former shooter Xu Haifeng, winner of China's first-ever Olympic gold in 1984, had been public favorites. But all three were ruled out after taking part in the relay.
Back on the road today, the 268 bearers will carry the torch on its 14.5 km journey that would pass through Beijing's eight districts and counties in about 3 hours.
Tomorrow's route will be 7.9 km and the journey will last about 90 minutes, with 140 torchbearers carrying the sacred flame.