Olympic torch starts 70-day journey round UK

Story highlights

  • The 70-day torch relay started in Land's End, Cornwall, and will finish in London
  • The flame will pass within 10 miles of 95% of the U.K. population along the route
  • Ben Ainslie, who has won three Olympic golds in sailing, was the first torchbearer
  • The flame was lit on May 10 at ancient Olympia, in Greece, birthplace of the Games

The Olympic torch began its 70-day, 8,000-mile journey around Britain Saturday from Land's End in Cornwall, with three-time Olympic gold medal winner Ben Ainslie the first to carry the torch.

Ainslie, a sailor who grew up in Cornwall, southwest England, passed the torch on to 18-year-old surfer Anastassia Swallow, the second torchbearer.

More than 100 people will carry the flame on the first day of its long voyage, during which it will take in towns, villages and cities across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland before reaching London.

The Olympic flame arrived at a Royal Naval Air Station in Cornwall on Friday, carried by Princess Anne, the president of the British Olympic Association and also an Olympian.

She received the flame at an elaborate handover ceremony in Athens Thursday. The flame had been on an eight-day journey round Greece after being lit at ancient Olympia, birthplace of the Olympics, on May 10.

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The flame was also accompanied on its flight from Greece by footballer David Beckham, London Mayor Boris Johnson and Sebastian Coe, head of the London 2012 organizing group.

"The arrival of the Olympic Flame on home soil is a magical moment for any host country," Coe said. "It will connect millions of people around the UK to the Games in a unique way and allows us to celebrate the best of the UK and its people."

The route for the torch relay has been designed so that the flame will pass within 10 miles of 95% of the U.K. population before its arrival at the Olympic Stadium in London on July 27.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who greeted the flame on its arrival in Cornwall, said it was the start of an exciting journey.

"Today, the Olympic flame begins its journey across the nation. 8,000 people will pass it from hand to hand, a human chain that reaches the length and breadth of Britain.

"It will visit a thousand towns, and be seen by millions; with every step, the excitement will build. And 10 weeks from now, the world will watch as the flame arrives at the new Olympic Stadium, bringing with it the hopes of a nation," Clegg said.

London last hosted the Olympic Games in 1948.