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Olympic Torch Relay Begins Final Leg in Beijing
    2008-08-06 08:11:11     Xinhua

China's first astronaut, Yang Liwei, carries the torch in the first segment of the Beijing relay on Wednesday morning, August 6, 2008, beckoning to the cheering people at the Meridian Gate of the Forbidden City. [Photo: Xinhua]

Related: Olympic Torch Relay Routes, Time in Beijing

by Xinhua writer Fu Shuangqi

The Olympic torch relay began its final leg, the Beijing leg, Wednesday morning.

At the Meridian Gate of the Forbidden City, the torch was handed over to the first bearer, Yang Liwei, the country's first astronaut, by Liu Qi, president of the Beijing Organizing Committee of the 29th Olympic Games (BOCOG).

It is expected to light the main cauldron in the National Stadium, or Bird's Nest, on the opening ceremony Friday after touring areas in Beijing.

"The flame has come back to Beijing!" said Guo Jinlong, Beijing mayor, at a brief ceremony held at the small square in front of the 558-year-old gate, decorated by red carpet and flags. "We can expect a successful end of the Journey of Harmony."

The torch returned from a journey of 129 days and 137,000 km through six continents, the longest since the tradition started at the 1936 Berlin Games, under the theme "Journey of Harmony."

The cheerful and eager crowd gathered at the Tian'anmen Square since early morning, holding high red Chinese national flags and flags of Beijing Olympics.

Wang Xia, in her early 50s, reached the square with 400 other members of a cheer squad at around 6:00 a.m. They performed Taichi before the ceremony.

"The Games is just going to open. I can't describe the emotion in my heart with words," she said. "We are here to show our hospitality as the host."

The bearers, which will run through the vast city of 17 million people, smiled and waved to the cheerful crowd chanting "Go Olympics, Go Beijing" along the streets.

Many Beijingers had waited along the relay route long before the beginning of the relay. Many kids sat on the shoulders of their parents, covering their foreheads with a red ribbon bearing the words "Go China". Young girls with small red and white flags pasted on their cheek waved bigger flags in their hand.

Cao Zuozheng, 104 years old,joined the crowds in her wheelchair. On Tuesday the elderly lady had asked her family to take her to the Meridian Gate and took a photo to mark the relay.

The Olympic flame will travel in the Olympic host city for three days, involving a total of 841 torch bearers.

On its first day, the torch relay covers 16.4 km through seven districts in just over four hours and ends at the Temple of Heaven.

"The torch relay has displayed the spirit of Chinese," said Yang, who became a national hero after for carrying out China's first manned space mission in October 2003. "I am very glad to be the first torch bearer in Beijing, but the honor goes to our motherland. I feel proud of my own country."

There are big names and ordinary people among the bearers. Yao Ming, China's most popular basketball star, was the ninth bearer.

He will lead the Chinese team in the Games against the U.S. squad on Aug. 10.

GEARING UP FOR PARTY OF SPORT

Zhang Yimou, the famed film director and chief director of the Games' opening and closing ceremonies, also carried the torch on Wednesday.

His work, the Olympic opening, has been under tight secrecy after the third and last rehearsal finished on Tuesday. Zhang Heping, the BOCOG Opening and Closing Ceremonies Department director, said it will "tell a Chinese story in a universal language."

He also announced that British singer Sarah Brightman and Chinese singer Liu Huan had been chosen to present the theme song of the Beijing Olympics at the opening.

The city government has announced that Friday will be a holiday in the city.

Most of the 10,500 athletes from 205 countries and regions have arrived. On Wednesday evening, 12 women's football teams will compete in the first six games. China will face Sweden in co-host city Tianjin. Brazil and Germany, the rivals at the 2004 Athens Olympics final, will meet at their debut in northeastern city Shenyang.

U.S. swimming team gave a press conference Wednesday morning. The American top swimmer Michael Phelps said he was enjoying himself in the Olympic Village, excited by the Water Cube and did not have a problem with the air. He is expected to break countryman Mark Spitz's seven Olympic golds mark in Beijing.

On the same day, the Guatemala delegation raised their flag in the Olympic Village.

Fernando Caceres, head of the delegation, told Xinhua that it's too hard for them to target a medal. "We just want to break our national records," he said.

The city government said on Monday that the capital was fully prepared in energy and water supply, transport services, air-quality control, public hygiene, health services, commodity supplies, hotel booking, tourism services and entertainment.

"Beijing is fully ready for the Olympic Games. The city is opening its arms to guests worldwide,"the Mayor Guo said. "We are eagerly waiting for the flame to be lit in the National Stadium."

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