British sailing hero Ben Ainslie has kicked off the torch relay for the 2012 London Olympics with a stroll through teary, flag-waving crowds who cheered the arrival of
Hundreds held up mobile phones as he jauntily walked past and banged on plastic tambourines handed out by sponsors, creating a roar that shook the hillsides of this picturesque spot - the furthest point west in England.
The sun rose and sprinkled light across the moors, lifting spirits at a place known for its fog. It was just a picture postcard for the start of the event, which lasts for 70 days and ends with the lighting of the cauldron to start the games on July 27.
Organizers of the London Olympics almost assume the rest of the world is excited about the Olympics. But what they are really working on is the people who live here - the people who are paying 9.3 billion pounds ($14.7 billion) to host the event and are wondering if this is money well spent. They need the torch relay to inspire excitement in Britain ahead of the games. And for the first day anyway, it was working. People got up as early as 4 a.m. to watch the flame rise with the sun.
“It’s iconic, isn’t it,” said Beverly Wills, 47, who came with her husband and her son. “It’s not going to happen again in our lifetime. It brings everyone together.”
The flame arrived on British soil Friday night, a week after being captured by the sun’s rays in ancient Olympia. Soccer legend David Beckham and Princess Anne headlined the dignitaries who came to collect it, flying it on BA flight 2012 to the Royal Naval Air Station at Culdrose. The air rescue pilots then flew the flame over to Land’s End in the morning. They took a spin over the crowd, and hundreds of hands reached into the air to wave and to cheer.
The crowd’s goodwill was not just for the flame. This is an island after all, and the search and rescue team often do rescue people. “It was a great way to celebrate the search and rescue guys,” said Paul Deighton, the organizing committee’s chief executive. “That’s what our torchbearers are to do - honor unsung heros.”
From here on out, it journeys around the country in an 8,000 mile jamboree featuring the same number of runners. It will make appearances at Stonehenge and in Scotland, in Durham and at Dover, in London and in Liverpool. Organizers are proud of saying that the flame will come within 10 miles of 95 percent of the British population.
They are hoping, together with tourism officials, to create a video calling card of all things pretty and British - a sort of running “come and visit us commercial.”