Minding the Torch: Olympic flame travels in style
LONDON (AP) — Have flame, will travel.
London organizers revealed the first details Wednesday of the Olympic flame's trip from Greece to Britain for the 2012 London Games, offering a brief outline of the start of its journey from ruins of the site of the ancient games to a military base in Britain.
The release of the details moves organizers another step closer to the games that begin July 27 and end Aug. 12. Thousands of community organizers, cancer survivors, disabled children, veterans and other members of the community will be called to carry the flame on a 70-day extravaganza that will touch every corner of the country.
Much is at stake. Organizers need the flame to be embraced by ordinary people — and build excitement for the event which has been criticized for its 9.3 billion pound price tag ($14.6 billion) in a time of economic troubles.
The flame will be lit by the sun's rays May 10 at the Temple of Hera in Olympia, in a traditional hour-long ceremony. From there, it will be carried on an eight-day relay around Greece. British Airways will fly it to Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose in Cornwall in southwest England on a gold-liveried Airbus.
Captain Willie Entwisle, commanding officer of Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, said in a statement that he was honored the flame would touch down in the U.K. at his base.
"Our personnel, many of whom are currently supporting the Royal Navy on operations across the globe, are very excited that the build-up to the London 2012 Olympic Games will start here," he said. "We are delighted to be playing such an important part in this once-in-a-lifetime event."
The flame gets its own seat — though British Airways suggests it will be in a class all its own. The seat also has a special holder, so no seatbelt is required. It has its own security guard, but will not have its own torchbearer while in transit.
Regulators gave organizers special permission to have a live flame on the plane. It will be placed in a miner's lantern for safety for the duration of the flight.
Olympic organizers made the conscious decision to nominate most of the torchbearers in community ballots, focusing attention on the great and the good in cities across Britain. Star athletes and celebrities will be included, but most of the attention is meant to focus on local heroes.
Keeping it local is also part of a larger theme. Human rights activists disrupted the international torch relay for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, forcing future runs to be scaled back. This year's relay has been extended to Ireland as a gesture of political good will after the International Olympic Committee gave its approval.
Authorities will be cautious nonetheless, and security will be high to prevent disruption. The public nature of the run makes it a target for all sorts of causes, including demonstrators upset over the huge expenditure of funds on the Olympics by the Conservative-led government at a time when job cuts, pension rollbacks and university tuition fee increases have hit the country hard.
The run will involve 8,000 runners and include trips past landmarks and through remote islands the length of Britain. It ends its journey in London with the lighting of the cauldron at the opening ceremony.