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Olympic flame lights up city
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-06-10 08:33

An Olympic blaze lit up the capital yesterday when the Beijing leg of the Athens 2004 Olympic Torch Relay was launched in the city.

Chinese NBA star centre Yao Ming, the last torchbearer, acknowledges spectators after igniting the cauldron at the Summer Palace at the end of the day. [China Daily]
Despite scorching 36 C temperatures, the relay which brought the sacred Olympic flame to the Chinese mainland for the first time was encountered with an even warmer reception from the public.

Ten of thousands of people swarmed to the streets along the relay route to catch a glimpse of the flame while millions of others were expected to catch the moment live yesterday on national and local television stations.

Many of the spectators, holding little Chinese flags, followed every move of the torchbearers since the relay started at 9:30 am from the east gate of the Great Hall of the People at Tian'anmen Square.

Viewers were clapping, yelling and giving impromptu performances including rollerskating, lion dancing, drumming and Peking Opera singing.

The zeal was so great that even torchbearer Li Xiaopeng, the Sydney Olympics double gold medal-winning gymnast had to keep his nerves under control to finish his leg of the run, which was less than 400-metres-long.

"I felt a little bit nervous to run in the relay," Li said. "It is totally different from what I feel during the competitions. But I really felt some pressure."

Besides Li, women's breaststroke world champion Luo Xuejuan, herself a gold medal favourite at the Athens Games, said she shared the same feelings.

"It is the dream of every athlete to join in the relay," Luo said. "In fact, I am here to represent my teammates on the national swimming squad."

The appearance of the last torchbearer, star Chinese NBA centre Yao Ming, brought the relay to a climax with his personal charisma unexpectedly attracting thousands of teenager sports fans to watch.

The fans caused a chaotic scene while trying to catch a glimpse of the basketball star, blocking the gate to the Summer Palace where the relay ended.

local children celebrate during the Athens Olympic torch relay yesterday in Beijing. [China Daily]
"Yao is No 1 in my heart, I have been waiting so long to see him carrying the torch," said Yao Yao, a high school student who refused to leave the palace even when the relay had already finished an hour before.

A total of 148 torchbearers and 31 escorts took part in the nine-hour marathon relay, which ended around 6 pm.

For them, the chance to hold the torches which are worth 300 euros (US$368) each, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

"I ran pretty slow during my 400 metres today, because I wanted to enjoy the moment as long as possible," said torchbearer Liu Xiang, the first Chinese male to win a medal at the world athletics championships, and also a medal hopeful at this year's Athens Games.

"I will bring the good feeling from holding the Olympic flame into my training in the remaining two months."

Qi Kaili, one of two disabled torchbearers covered the distance by operating her wheelchair herself with the torch fixed to her side.

"While holding the flame, I felt that I was the focus of the whole world, which made me know that passing the flame is not a matter just for myself but for people all over the world," she said.

"I felt no fatigue afterwards, because the enthusiasm of the big crowd encouraged me a lot."

Athens 2004 torch relay at a glance

The 2004 Olympic Torch Relay began on March 25, 2004 after the Olympic flame was lit by the rays of the sun in a traditional ceremony held in ancient Olympia, Greece, site of the first Olympic Games in 776 BC.

After departing ancient Olympia, it traveled for 7 days through the Peloponnese, the islands of the Saronic Gulf, and finally to the Panathinaiko stadium in Athens, the stadium which hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. There the flame remained lit in a cauldron until the international portion of its journey started June 3.

When the international portion is complete, on July 9, the flame will return again to Greece and travel throughout the country before igniting the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games on August 13, 2004.

International relay

The Athens 2004 Olympic Torch Relay will travel throughout Greece and around world. The international portion of the relay will span 35 days visiting 34 cities (including ancient Olympia) in 27 countries (including Greece).

The Athens 2004 Olympic Torch Relay has several "firsts" including:

The first truly global Olympic Torch Relay

The first time the Olympic flame will visit all host cities of the Olympic Summer Games (including Beijing 2008)

The first time the Olympic flame will visit Africa (Cairo, Egypt and Cape Town, South Africa)

The first time the Olympic flame will visit South America (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

The first time the Olympic flame will visit all five land masses represented by the Olympic rings

The Olympic flame is ignited by the sun's rays in a traditional ceremony in Olympia, Greece, and is kept in a lantern that travels with the relay. A torch is lit from the flame every morning to start that day's relay. The Olympic flame is passed from torch-to-torch. The lantern is closely guarded to ensure that the flame is never extinguished.

More than 3,600 torchbearers will pass the Olympic flame during the international route for the Athens 2004 Olympic Torch Relay.

The Athens 2004 Olympic Torch Relay will travel more than 1,500 kilometres by torchbearer.

The Athens 2004 Olympic Torch Relay will travel more than 78,000 kilometres by air.

Each torchbearer will carry the flame approximately 400 metres or approximately one lap around a track.

The Olympic flame will travel an average of 48 kilometres per day.

The Olympic flame will travel via torchbearers, automobile, airplane, boat, bicycle, wheelchair and motorcycle.

The Olympic flame will stop at the end of each day for a city celebration. Each city plans and manages its celebration.

The International Athens 2004 Olympic Torch Relay will:

Change time zones 37 times

Use 20 local currencies

Utilize 19 languages

More than 264 million people reside in the 34 cities and surrounding areas where the Olympic flame will pass.

More than 3.8 billion people reside in the 27 countries on the Relay.

The Athens 2004 Olympic Torch Relay is made possible through the generous support of presenting sponsors, The Coca-Cola Company and Samsung.

Journey to Greece

The torch was lit on March 25, 2004 (the date that corresponds to the opening ceremony of Athens Olympic Games in 1896 and Greek Independence Day) and journeyed in Greece for 7 days; it returns to Greece after the international portion of the relay to resume its journey Greece in early July.

43 days of operations in Greek territory; 54 prefectures of Greece

174 Destinations - 24 Historic Sites - and 32 Islands

About 7,700 torchbearers and 1,540 escort runners

The Athens 2004 Olympic Games will take place from August 13-29, 2004.

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