London Olympics 2012 torch relay starts in UK


Yachtsman Ben Ainslie was the first torchbearer as the Olympic flame began its 70-day journey around Britain and Ireland on Saturday ahead of the 2012 London Games.
With the Atlantic Ocean behind him at Land’s End, England’s most southwesterly point, the triple Olympic gold medallist waited while the flame was flown in by a Royal Navy search and rescue helicopter.
Lieutenant Commander Richard Full carried the flame off the helicopter in a golden lantern, posed briefly for photographers, and took it a short distance to light the torch that Ainslie was holding in the bright morning sunshine.
Ainslie then set off, barely breaking into a jog as he let some of the 3,500 spectators lining the route touch the golden torch whose design has led it to be nicknamed the “cheese grater”. After travelling barely 300 metres (yards), he passed on the torch to 18-year-old Anastassia Swallow, a surfer who is hoping that her sport will one day become an Olympic discipline. Over the next 10 weeks, the torch will travel 8,000 miles (12,875 kilometres) around England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and will also visit the Republic of Ireland. Some 8,000 people — one for every mile of the route — will take part in the torch relay as it heads for the Olympic Stadium in east London for the opening ceremony on July 27. Ainslie, who just a day earlier won a sixth world title in the Finn class as he steps up his efforts to win a fourth Olympic gold, said it had been a special moment for him to start the relay in his home county of Cornwall.
“I’m really very proud for the whole nation,” said Britain’s greatest Olympic yachtsman, who wore the number 001 on his white London 2012 top. “It was pretty emotional, so much effort has gone into getting the Olympics in London and it means so much to everyone involved.”
On its first leg, the torch was to be carried through Cornwall to the city of Plymouth. On its 70-day odyssey, it will travel through 1,019 cities, towns and villages and visit landmarks such as Stonehenge.
From June 3-7, it will go to Northern Ireland and then the Republic of Ireland — the only country outside the United Kingdom on the route. No overseas legs of the relay have been planned this year after those before the 2008 Beijing Games were hit by protests against China.