Sailing legend Ainslie kicks off Torch Relay from Land's End amid huge fanfare
Saturday, 19 May 2012
May 19 - In a spirit of unbridled patriotic fervour, thousands of well-wishers flocked to the western-most tip of the British mainland this morning to celebrate the eagerly awaited start of the London 2012 Torch Relay.
With clockwork precision, Ben Ainslie (pictured top), three-times Olympic gold medal-winning sailor, began the relay's 5,000-mile, 70-day route to roars of encouragement on a beautiful sunny morning, matched by an infectious, typically British fanfare.
After spending the previous night at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, where it had arrived from Athens amid classical pomp and ceremony, the Olympic Flame was flown 23 miles to Land's End by a Sea King helicopter where it lit the torch that will now pass through 1,019 cities, town and villages before entering the Olympic Stadium on July 27 for the Opening Ceremony.
For the organisers of London 2012, the huge crowds lining the narrow pathways of this iconic tourist resort, and for millions more watching on television, it was a moment to savour as the flame, encased in a small lantern, ignited the torch against a stunning coastal backdrop.
Ainslie, a proud Cornishman, was all smiles as he held the torch aloft at Land's End's world-famous signpost (pictured below) marking 874 miles to John O'Groats at the other end of Britain.
With the number 001 on his white London 2012 top, he seemed almost overcome with emotion as he waved to the crowds before completing the initial 300 metres of the relay and handing over to the second of 8,000 torchbearers, 18-year-old Tassie Swallow (pictured below), a local surfing champion.
"The torch is a great way to get Olympic fever going," said Ainslie, who this week became world Finn champion for the sixth time and is aiming to win his fourth successive Olympic gold medal, this time on home waters.
"It's amazing – for me, growing up in this part of the world, in Cornwall, for the Olympic Torch to set off from here around the nation, is a fantastic moment for the UK, for London 2012."
With the rolling Atlantic Ocean behind him, Ainslie said being the first torchbearer was more nerve-wracking than competing in the Games itself.
"It's one of those moments in your life when you are almost in shock," he said.
"The atmosphere was electric – it was pretty emotional to be honest."
After being mobbed by supporters who poured out of their homes just after dawn to join in the festivities, Ainslie decided to walk with the torch rather than run.
"I didn't want to rush it," he said.
"I wanted everyone to be a part of it and feel involved.
"That's what the torch is all about; I didn't have anything scripted; I didn't know whether to run, sprint, walk or crawl!
"This moment, with everything kicking off in Cornwall, certainly ranks up there with winning a gold medal – it's incredibly special."
In classic party mode, the scene was as colourful as you can get with all manner of flags, wigs, costumes and entertainment, including pirates, clowns, scores of face-painted children and a Samba band clad all in purple and white.
One couple even draped a Union Jack around their border collie named Kie – the Cornish word for dog.
"Yes I know, a dog called Dog," joked Kie's owner.
First in the queue to get the best vantage point for the memorable lighting of the golden, triangular torch was the Norris family from Devon, the adjacent county.
"It's one those 'I was there' moments for all of us," father-of-two Richard Norris told insidethegames.
"I wanted my children to tell their children they were here too.
"After all, it's not going to happen again – not in my lifetime anyway."
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