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Olympic flame within reach of London Games chiefs

A cauldron in front of the Parthenon has been lit and the flame was burning brightly today, just hours before it was to be handed to the London organisers.

The cauldron with the Olympic Flame is seen atop the Athens Acropolis yesterday.
The cauldron with the Olympic Flame is seen atop the Athens Acropolis yesterday.
Image: (AP Photo/Yannis Behrakis/pool)

THE OLYMPICS FLAME is coming, despite the pouring rain in Athens.

A cauldron in front of the Parthenon has been lit and the flame was burning brightly today, just hours before it was to be handed to the organisers of the London Olympics to begin its journey to London.

Although the Olympics begin on 27 July, taking possession of the flame has a special meaning for the organisers, who move now to delivering the games they promised.

“Once the flame is lit, for all intents and purposes, the Games start,” London organizing committee chair Sebastian Coe told reporters in Athens.

“This is really the beginning of the journey,” Coe added. “I think people recognise there’s no going back now.”

The flame was lit last week at the Temple of Hera in Olympia, and has been making its way around Greece in a relay. Much of downtown Athens is being closed to traffic this evening in preparation for the big handover.

David Beckham headlines the dignitaries attending the sunset ceremony. Britain’s Princess Anne will also be there. and London mayor Boris Johnson has trimmed his shaggy blond mop for the occasion.

“The eyes of the world are swiveling to London,” Johnson said with delight — only to wonder aloud whether swiveling is really a word.

The handover also marks a poignant moment for Greece as well. Lighting the flame has a special significance this year coming as it does in a time of substantial political uncertainty and economic hardship.

The Greeks like to point out that the Olympics — while a terrific idea — were not the only concept that they dreamed up.

Take Dominique Molin, a 52-year-old former French teacher who ventured out to see Princess Anne tour a centre where horses are used to help disabled children. Molin noted that Europe absorbed many ideas championed by the ancient Greeks — like democracy — to say nothing of honoring its art and culture. And even despite their economic hardships now, some 80% of Greeks in a recent vote declared that they wanted to stay in the 17-nation eurozone.

“We belong to Europe,” Molin said. “We want to be part of it.” She thought the torch relay also helped the country’s battered image.

“It shows that there are things still working here,” she said.

The flame will fly tomorrow — with its own seat and security agent — on British Airways Flight 2012, an Airbus painted gold. Shielded in a miner’s lantern, the flame will first land at a naval air station in Cornwall.

Once in Britain, the flame heads off Saturday a 70-day relay, taking in Dublin on 6 June.

There are still some mysteries yet. The final torchbearer hasn’t even been discussed, Coe said. But there is one person you can cross off that list. Coe, a former gold medalist, has said it won’t be him.

- Danica Kirka, AP

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