Olympic torch lit as London 2012 hits final stretch
The Olympic flame is lit, and is heading towards the UK. Less than 77 days remain until the grand Opening Ceremony. A long – and expensive – journey is drawing to an end.
The Olympic flame is meant to symbolise purity. Yesterday, at Olympia – the ancient home of the first Olympic Games – ‘priestesses’ danced and sang as the specially designed Olympic torch was lit using mirrors that focused the beams of the sun.
Athletes in white robes posed around the ruins of the three thousand-year-old stadium, as London Games organiser Lord Coe addressed a crowd of watching dignitaries: ‘We are reminded this morning,’ he said, ‘of sport’s enduring and universal appeal.’
The head of the International Olympic Committee (the IOC) agreed, calling the newly kindled flame ‘a beacon for the Olympic values of friendship, excellence and respect,’ and ‘a symbol of fellowship and peace.’
This grand ceremony marks the beginning of the final run up to the 2012 Olympic Games. The flame that was lit yesterday will be taken around Greece, before arriving in the UK at the end of next week to begin its journey to the Olympic Stadium.
Arriving in Cornwall, the flame will be carried in a huge relay to all corners of the country, by 8,000 specially chosen torchbearers. Exactly 1,019 communities will see the torch pass through – and 95% of the UK’s population will have the flame pass within ten miles of them. It will even visit the Shetlands and the Isle of Man on its way to Stratford, East London, where the games will officially begin.
For Lord Coe and his colleagues, this is the last leg of a gruelling ten year marathon. When a London Olympic bid was first proposed back in 2003, it was met with widespread scepticism. Everyone assumed Paris would be chosen by the IOC – not Britain’s rainy capital.
And when London was named host city in 2005, the Olympic project immediately ran into trouble. There was controversy over the fate of the stadium; costs grew from just over two billion pounds to more than twenty; East Londoners grumbled about disruption to their lives, misguided ‘regeneration projects’ and noisy building work.
Now, at last, the London Olympic organisers will have the chance to silence the naysayers. How? By putting on a truly spectacular show.
Can London pull it off? History is not encouraging. Past Olympic host cities have found themselves deep in debt, overwhelmed by visitors, thrown into chaos by traffic and then, at the end of it all, saddled with decaying sports facilities that are never used.
But although the stakes are high, Coe and his colleagues are sure that London 2012 will be an event to remember. No one said it would be easy, they admit, but Britain can succeed where others have not.
- Can London put on a good Olympics?
- What is the point of the Olympics?
- If you can, watch a clip of the torch lighting ceremony in Greece. Then design a torch lighting ceremony that would be more appropriate for your neighbourhood.
- The Olympic torch ceremony is meant to mirror Ancient Greek traditions. Investigate the first Olympic Games. How many of the ancient traditions do you think should be continued today?
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Q & A
- How much difference will the Olympics make to everyday life?
- If you live in London – a lot. Lord Coe has (rather optimistically) predicted that an extra one million visitors will arrive in Britain for the games. Those extra bodies will put huge strain on a transport network that – in many places – dates back to the Victorian era.
- What about the rest of the UK?
- Anyone travelling through Heathrow should expect long delays. Queues at passport control are already incredibly long. Now, the airport is about to see a 35% increase in traffic.
- So visiting Britain might not be the best idea?
- In some cities, tourism has actually dropped in Olympic years, as visitors who might have come in an ordinary year stay away to avoid congestion. The UK government is spending a reported one billion pounds on marketing to stop that happening.
- The Ancient Greek Olympics were held every four years at the sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia in the Peloponnese. The Hellenic city states were constantly at war, but during the period of the games they always observed a sacred truce. For a brief moment, competition took place on the race track, rather than the battlefield.
- Lord Coe
- Lord Sebastian Coe, who spearheaded the London Olympic bid, was formerly a Conservative MP and, before that, a medal-winning middle distance runner. He took gold medals at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics.
- Another athletic event that comes from Ancient Greece, marathon runs of just over 26 miles commemorate the messenger who ran back to Athens with news of the Greek victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. Having delivered his message, the legend tells, the runner collapsed and died of exhaustion.
- Fate of the stadium
- The Olympic Stadium was the subject of a bitter squabble between the Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United football teams, both of which hoped to use it as a new home base. West Ham won the contest, but the stadium is far too big for the club’s fan base.