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Athens flame ignites central London

By Jeremy Lovell
June 27, 2004 01:49 IST
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The Olympic flame was rapturously received by a crowd of 80,000 as it arrived at a special pop concert in central London on Saturday after an absence of half a century.

"The flame is a visible signal of universal ideals. As it travels throughout the five continents symbolised by the five Olympic rings, the flame is linking peoples, removing political, religious, social and cultural barriers," British International Olympic Committee member Princess Anne said.

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"More than ever, this Olympic torch relay conveys a message of peace and friendship among people," she added.

The flame, on a six-week global odyssey before the Athens Olympics in August, started the day with a visit to Wimbledon's Centre Court after being flown in from Paris.

The concert -- opened and closed by ageing rocker Rod Stewart -- also featured pop stars such as James Brown and Ozzy Osbourne and was the climax of a 48-kilometre tour of the British capital by the flame.

Under a steady drizzle with a blustery wind threatening at times to extinguish it, the flame was lit by sub four-minute mile record breaker Roger Bannister on Centre Court before being carried across the city in a procession of flaming torches.

British number one tennis player Tim Henman was the first of a relay of 140 runners, walkers and wheelchair riders to take the torches on a circuitous tour past London's most famous landmarks -- The Tower of London, St Paul's Cathedral and Trafalgar Square.

Participants included past and present athletes, as well as ordinary members of the public to celebrate the broad appeal of the Games.


The journey ended in the Mall, the sweeping avenue leading to Buckingham Palace, and five times Olympic rowing champion Steven Redgrave jogged through the cheering concert crowd as Britain's Red Arrows air display team thundered overhead trailing red, white and blue smoke.

Arriving on the concert stage, Redgrave used the torch to light a replica of the Olympic cauldron.

Bannister, marking the 50th anniversary this year of his historic feat, said at Wimbledon the Olympic movement was a success but "the administration of the Games has to fight to keep it as pure as it can".

London is bidding to stage the Olympics for the third time in 2012.

"The last time we did it was in 1948 when everyone was turning from war to sport," Bannister said. "I would like us to do it again. We could do it and I hope we shall."

The flame is taking in 33 cities in 34 days and for the first time is taking in all five continents represented by the rings on the Olympic symbol.

The flame returns to Greece on July 9 for a final homecoming tour before the start of the Olympics on August 13.

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Jeremy Lovell
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