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Torch Relay Finishes in Chengdu, Heads to Beijing
    2008-08-05 10:55:02     CRIENGLISH.com

Retired sharp shooter Zhang Shan is the first torch bearer in the Chengdu leg of the torch relay on Tuesday, August 5, 2008. [Photo: Xinhua]

The Olympic torch relay ended on Tuesday in Chengdu, capital of the quake-battered Sichuan Province, the last leg of its tour outside the host city Beijing.

The Chengdu leg of the torch relay began at 8:10 a.m. on Tuesday, 85 days after an 8.0-magnitude earthquake jolted the southwestern province and killed nearly 70,000 people there.

Tens of thousands of people looked on as former Olympic gold medalist Zhang Shan took over the torch from the provincial Communist Party chief Liu Qibao to become the first of all 315 torchbearers along the 13.2-kilometer relay route.

Zhang claimed gold in the skeet event at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 but failed to enter the Beijing Games after losing to her teammate Wei Ning in the qualification round. Wei, 26, was runner-up in the Athens Games of 2004.

"If the Beijing Games were an endpoint in my own Olympic career, then I hope they would be the starting point for the younger people," said Zhang, 40.

"Go, go, China; Arise, Sichuan" were heard from the crowd of onlookers, many of whom still need time to heal the trauma brought by the earthquake of May 12.

Two huge signboards were erected at the starting point of the relay route, expressing thanks from the Sichuan people for the help they have received from across China and the world.

When the torch relay ended at 10:40 a.m., a ceremony was held to celebrate, with all the 862 torchbearers from Sichuan, quake relief workers and children from the quake-hit areas, including three-year-old Lang Zheng who saluted to his saviors from the stretcher and young heroes who saved classmates in time of the disaster.

Sichuan enjoys more than 4,500 years of civilization and is home to the endangered giant panda, the original form of Jingjing, one of the five mascot dolls of the Beijing Games.

After Sichuan, the Olympic flame will be relayed in Beijing from Wednesday to Friday before the opening of the Games.

OLYMPIC SPIRITS INSPIRE

The Olympic torch relay was suspended for three days after the devastating earthquake, and Sichuan was readjusted on the relay schedule to become the last stop before Beijing.

The Olympics were there to inspire the Chinese people even in time of the quake disaster. The Olympic rings and the characters "Gu Bai Dan" -- the Chinese transliteration of Pierre de Coubertin -- were seen on a piece of a broken bulletin board found in the rubble of a collapsed school. The news photo, taken in one of the worst hit counties, moved many people to tears.

A week after the May 12 quake, former Olympic champions flooded into the worst-hit areas as volunteers, including Gao Min and Deng Yaping. They played games with the children, hoping to soothe them.

The sorrow-stricken children in Mianyang had a long-lost smile on their faces when they learned they could play table tennis with Olympic champion paddler Chen Longcan, and play rope skipping with synchronized swimmer Li Rouping.

"It's the first time I see them smile. Sports helped open their hearts," said a volunteer.

When the Olympic torch arrived in Mianyang on Monday, quake sufferer Luo Tang'an said he knew all the time it would come. "In fact, the flame is with us all the time," he said in his temporary lodging in Pingwu County.

The quake has taken a heavy toll and toppled homes, but never dampened the nation's faith.

"On sports field or in life, hardship and disasters only make us stronger," said Tan Guoqiang, a primary school teacher from the epicenter Wenchuan County. Despite the grief over the loss of his wife in the quake, Tan and his colleagues worked day and night searching for signs of life in the rubble of their collapsed school buildings.

Out of faith, Zhao Yifu, 61, ran his own marathon by walking six hours from his temporary shelter to feed water to his horse, three bulls and at least two scores of pigs and sheep.

"We have already seen the courage and determination of the Chinese people in another context. The world mourned the staggering loss of life from the earthquake in Sichuan Province and marveled at the courageous response by the Chinese people," said International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge on Monday.

He said the Beijing Games would be a "historic" one and would significantly advance the Olympic goals of universality and fair play.

 
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