Anticipation grows as Britain prepares for arrival of Olympic Flame
Friday, 18 May 2012
May 18 - A Royal Naval Air Station near the southwest tip of Britain provides the eagerly awaited setting later today for one of the most treasured moments in sport - the arrival of the Olympic Flame.
Seven years after London clinched victory over Paris to host the Games for the first time since 1948, the torch touches down at RNAS Culdrose near Helston on Cornwall's Lizard Peninsula for a brief ceremony before the start of a 70-day relay involving 8,000 torchbearers covering the length and breadth of Britain.
Altogether it will travel through 1,019 cities, towns and villages, on foot or in convoy, in all four nations of the UK, before being carried into the Olympic Stadium in London on July 27 for the Opening Ceremony of the Games.
Among the dignitaries on board the flight from Athens, where the flame was officially handed over on Thursday (May 17), will be British Olympic Association (BOA) President The Princess Royal, 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe – previously an MP for nearby Falmouth – and England football icon David Beckham who played a prominent role in securing the Games, and is arguably still Britain's most recognised sportsman internationally.
The gold coloured plane named Firefly (pictured above), assigned the special flight number BA 2012, is due to land just before 19:30 local time at Culdrose, a search and rescue base, for a brief welcoming ceremony attended by around 1,000 officials, hand-picked guests, local schoolchildren and media.
Cornwall resident Georgia Higgs, one of a group of five children selected to join the high-profile delegation bringing the Flame from Athens because of their commitment to sport, said it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"I'm so proud," she said.
"It will be something I will always remember."
In past Games, the flame has arrived at commercial airports, but Culdrose was chosen partly to acknowledge the contribution made by Britain's maritime and coastal search services.
On the plane from Athens, the Flame will travel in a ceremonial lantern secured in a specially designed cradle that is fixed to a seat.
After spending the night at Culdrose, it will be flown by naval helicopter to nearby Land's End – the most westerly tip of the English mainland – ready for the start of the official Torch Relay on early Saturday morning which, it is hoped, will capture the essence of the Olympic spirit and galvanise an entire nation – including a good many cynics uncomfortable both with the way tickets have been distributed and the huge financial cost of staging the Games.
Triple Olympic gold medal-winning sailor Ben Ainslie, who hails from Cornwall, has been chosen to carry the torch on its first leg of 300 metres.
Thousands of flag-waving local residents are preparing to come out for the landmark occasion to cheer the torch on its way just after first light.
Ainslie will then begin his run just after 07.00 from the world-famous signpost at Land's End, an iconic venue visited by generations of tourists.
May 2012: Philip Barker - Even British-style weather fails to dampen Athens handover of Olympic Flame
May 2012: Olympic Flame passes to British hands
May 2012: "Posh" and Becks to attend Olympic Flame ceremony in Athens
May 2012: Ben Ainslie to be first London 2012 Torchbearer on British soil
May 2012: Philip Barker - Olympic Flame lighting brings back memories for Coe of his youth