Seventy runners for Olympic torch relay

April 16th, 2008 - 10:01 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi, April 16 (IANS) Seventy torchbearers will carry the Beijing Olympic Flame Thursday with the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) promising that it will be the greatest leg of the run. IOA President Suresh Kalmadi said Wednesday the “entire world is looking to India and the expectation is that the torch relay will be one of the greatest shows here. We are hopeful that we will be able to live up to the expectations of the world community.”

The Olympic flame has been through its longest run ever, covering a marathon 137,000 km, changing hands of 20,000 torchbearers spread across five continents in 130 days.

In India, seventy torchbearers will cover a distance of just 2.5 km from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate, but the actual timing of the relay has been kept a secret fearing a security breach. The torchbearers will include sportspersons, Bollywood stars and politicians, Kalmadi said.

The country’s top current and former athletes, including sprint stars Anju Bobby George, P.T. Usha, ace tennis star Leander Paes, shooters Manavjit Singh and Abhinav Bindra, boxer Akhil Kumar and hockey player Dhanraj Pillay, will be part of the run.

Actors Saif Ali Khan, Amir Khan, Sagarika Ghatge of “Chak De India” fame and Sarod player Ayan Ali Khan will also be seen in action.

Sachin Tendulkar, who was supposed to carry the flames, has pulled out at the last minute.

“He is not well and he has also an Indian Premier League captain’s meeting to attend. But he has shown his solidarity for the Olympic movement,” Kalmadi said.

“The torch will arrive from Islamabad past midnight and the relay will be taking place Thursday afternoon,” Kalmadi said.

Out of 70 torchbearers, 47 have been chosen by IOA and five by the Chinese organisers of the Olympic Games, while Olympic partners Samsung, Lenovo and Coca Cola has selected 19 runners.

The athletes have been asked to report at the capital’s Ashok Hotel at noon Thursday.

The torch relay has faced disruption at London and Paris this time as protesters condemned the Chinese action in Tibet last month.

“We do not want to see a repeat of what happened in Paris and London. It is a sacred torch and its safety is our responsibility,” Kalmadi told a press conference where he faced a barrage of questions as to why everything was being kept so secret.

Asked about the security measures, Kalmadi said: “It is the job of the government. Only normal security measures have been taken.”

“We are not afraid of any movement. They can have the movement anywhere else. We just want the torch relay to be safe. The safety of the torch is our responsibility and we are hopeful that the relay will go on well without any disruption.”

Kalmadi said that the relay would be open to common people, but considering the security ring and the seriousness of the situation they will hardly be able to have a glimpse of the relay.

“India gate lawns are huge and public can stand there,” Kalmadi said and added in the same breath, “entry will be through invitations”.

Asked whether there will be security personnel from Beijing in and around the torch, Kalmadi said: “As per International Olympic Committee norms there will be two torch attendants to look after the flame.”

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