Olympic torch ends longest-ever relay

August 8th, 2008 - 7:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Beijing, Aug 8 (DPA) China held the final leg of the 2008 Olympic torch relay Friday before the lighting of the cauldron at the opening ceremony in Beijing’s National Stadium. The last 7.9-km leg began at Beijing’s Peking Man museum in the south-western suburb of Zhoukoudian, where a fossilized human skull dating back at least 200,000 years was found in 1926.

The relay ended when the torch arrived at Beijing’s 101 District Middle School, the site of the Olympic Youth Camp before transport to the “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium, where 80 heads of state and 91,000 other spectators were gathering for the opening ceremony.

The Olympic flame travelled some 137,000 km, mostly by air, over 130 days of international and Chinese torch relay legs.

The torch was carried in public by bearers for some 4,300 km, or just 3 percent of its global journey, according to BOCOG statistics.

The anti-Chinese government protests that dogged several international legs of the relay prompted some International Olympic Committee members to propose curtailing or ending the recent practice of holding international legs.

Many protesters accused China of taking the Olympic torch to Tibet, including a leg to the summit of Mount Everest, to reaffirm its sovereignty over the region.

The schedule was revised after the relay was suspended for three days to mourn the 70,000 people who died in the May 12 earthquake in Sichuan province.

Thursday, the relay reached the Great Wall of China near Beijing and was taken along a 14.6-km route to the Ditan (Temple of the Earth) Park in the city centre.

Tens of thousands of people lined main roads for the first leg in Beijing Wednesday, when China’s first astronaut to make a space flight, Yang Liwei, led the relay from the Forbidden City, just north of Tiananmen Square.

As always at Olympic Games, the identity of the final bearer of the 2008 torch relay, who will light the Olympic flame in a cauldron in the National Stadium during the opening ceremony, is a well-kept secret.

Speculation on the final bearer has shifted focus from current stars to two former Olympic champions: Li Ning, a triple gold medallist in gymnastics in 1984 and a successful sportswear maker since retirement; and Fu Mingxia, a four-time gold medallist and celebrity “diving queen”.

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