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Will torch relay spread Olympic fever across UK?

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David Bond | 11:58 UK time, Wednesday, 18 May 2011

It was the Nazis who first spotted the symbolic power of a relay carrying the sacred Olympic flame from the ruins of ancient Greece to the site of the modern Olympic Games.

The commanders of the Third Reich ruthlessly used it for propaganda purposes at the so-called Hitler Games in Berlin in 1936.

And yet, despite the darker reasons for its inception, the Olympic torch relay has developed into one of the movement's most treasured symbols, a key part of the build up to the summer and winter Games.

Organisers use it to not only create excitement in the final months before the opening of the Olympics but also to spread the message beyond the limited confines of the host city.

The Olympic Flame will arrive in the United Kingdom on 18 May, 2012 for a 70-day Relay ending at the Opening Ceremony in the Olympic Stadium on July 27.

The Olympic Torch Relay will begin on 18 May, 2012 and end at the Opening Ceremony in the Olympic Stadium on July 27. Photo: Getty

London's torch relay may not be as vaulting in its ambition as previous hosts Beijing who took the torch to every corner of the globe before a trek around the world's most populous nation.

But the message will be just the same.

Today - exactly one year before the flame arrives here in Britain - London 2012 have released the first details of the torch's route.

Starting in Land's End, the relay will cover about 8000 miles (12,800 km) taking in every nation and region of the UK. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog) says 95% of the population will, at some stage, be within one hour of seeing the torch pass through.

Overnight stops are planned for all the major cities and towns but the Channel Islands, Orkney and Portrush in Northern Ireland also feature. There's even a plan to take the torch to Dublin, which would be its one trip outside Britain.

Until the final details of the full route are published it is difficult to be certain which areas will miss out but inevitably there will be those, as with the lottery for tickets, who will end up disappointed by London 2012's latest attempt to reach out beyond the capital city.

One of the biggest challenges for the organisers has always been to deliver a Games for the whole country when many people outside London feel they are helping to pay for something that won't really touch their lives.

Today I'm off to Liverpool - one of the stops on the torch tour - to see if people there are getting into the Olympic spirit. Earlier this year I travelled with Lord Coe as he went to Scotland and Northern Ireland trying to drum up interest in the big ticket sell off.

Judging by the 1.8m applications for 20m tickets Locog has received there does seem to be a growing excitement around these Games.

But until we know the regional breakdown of those ticket applications it's extremely difficult to judge whether this will be - as some people fear - an Olympic garden party for the wealthier residents of London and the south east.

The other grumble about the relay is likely to come from those who say there are not enough places for ordinary people to run with the torch.

Of the 8000 torch bearers, around three quarters of the places have been allocated to the relay's nine sponsors and in particular the three "presenting partners" Coca Cola, Lloyds TSB and Samsung.

Just 2012 places will be allocated via a nominations process launched today by Locog which will ask the public to select their "local heroes". Organisers also want the emphasis to be on runners aged between 12 and 24.

Locog say they don't make any money from the torch relay deals - after all London 2012 is looking to break even with all the money raised going towards putting on the Games.

And sponsors argue that their selection processes will be similar to Locog's with the emphasis on achievement. It won't just be a chance for fat cats and executives to pull on the tracksuit and run with the flame.

Seb Coe and David Haye. Photo: Getty

Seb Coe and David Haye attended the Olympic Torch Relay launch. Photo: Getty

But despite all that there will be those who argue that the relay is just another Olympic sell-out, a further example of how the Olympic movement is underpinned by a corporate ethos. For all their commitment to sharing the places out to ordinary people, it shouldn't be forgotten that the relay will get huge media coverage - including on the BBC. Those brands who have paid for their space next to the flame will be hoping for a 70-day advert.

For all that, most of the interest in the relay will be focused on who the final torch bearer will be. The lighting of the flame in the Olympic Stadium has become one of the iconic moments of the Games. Who can forget when Muhammad Ali appeared, shaking from the effects of Parkinson's Disease, to set the cauldron alight in Atlanta in 1996? Or the archer in Barcelona?

London knows it has a tough act to follow after Beijing's jaw dropping spectacle when former gold medal winning gymnast Li Ning was hoisted to the roof of the bird's nest to complete a lap in the air before lighting the flame.

Organisers will keep their plans under wraps until the very last minute but I would like to get the debate going now. I've heard all sorts in the last few weeks from Britain's greatest Olympian Sir Steve Redgrave to David Beckham and even Dot Cotton flicking her ash in the cauldron.

That might be a bit too leftfield even for the creatives at Locog but should Britain stick with tradition or try something different? I would be very interested to hear your thoughts.


  • Comment number 1.

    Is it really the case that only 2012 spots out of 8000 will be for the General Public? And do the "celebrities" and "famous sports stars" also come out of those 2012 spots?

    If so, it's a great shame that more people aren't being allowed to get involved - a longer route with more stops or more distance covered would have been better. I understand you can't please everyone, but it was always going to be the moment that most people got closest to "the London Olympic Games".

    As for the final cauldron lighting (which I assume will be in the Olympic Park, rather than attached to the roof of the stadium?) - it has to be a famous Olympian. The likes of Pinsent, Hoy & Redgrave have got to be the early front runners in the market to have the honour.

  • Comment number 2.

    In my view I think, it will in some what be a
    great day come the. Opening ceremony when the
    torch arrives at the end of the journey.

  • Comment number 3.

    I can see that they're making the effort to make the rest of the country (or even Isles) feel involved but for many of those who live more than 50 miles from the action it may as well be held on the moon. I'll enjoy the Olympics just as much as I always do but still wonder if it was worth the whole country paying into it. Did they really have to take funding from (in my view) more worthy causes to help pay for it? Should more of the events should have been distributed nationwide? For me personally this is good PR and will put sponsors on TV earlier but this Olympics has always been for London, not for the UK.

  • Comment number 4.

    Will torch relay spread Olympic fever across UK?

    Why would it?

  • Comment number 5.

    On a positive note - I'd like them to have a symbolic passing of the torch from every former UK medallist - maybe a short distance each or maybe just in a row. Recognition of every single living medallist - that would be a nice touch. Either that or get Redgrave and Pinsent to row it down the Thames, pass it to Hoy for him to cycle to the stadium - that sort of thing. Maybe a Paralympian to light it in the stadium?

  • Comment number 6.

    Will torch relay spread Olympic fever across UK?

    Well, according to the writer of one of the BBC blogs on the relay, it definitely will.

  • Comment number 7.

    Redgrave and Pinsent should be the final torchbearers. Steve Ovett, Daley Thompson, Chris Hoy and Becky Adlington should be among the torch bearers on the last legs inside the Stadium. Beckham? He has about as much Olympic significance as Dot Cotton.

  • Comment number 8.

    Will torch relay spread Olympic fever across UK?

    Blogwriter Roger Mosey, BBC's director of London 2012, who has been "involved in some of that work...........involving the Olympic organisers at Locog" is obviously enthusiastic about it.

    However, parading a torch around the country as if it some kind of relay race will not make folks in Cumbria or Northumberland suddenly interested in archery / sychronised swimming or whatever boring sports get put on TV.

    My only interest as always is in the men's 100m final.

  • Comment number 9.

    My family is interested by the torch realy and they don't even live in Britain. Having seen the torch on its way to Barcelona in 1992, I would be keen to see it in the UK, perhaps passing through my home town.

    I think that the idea of taking the torch to Dublin is a fabulous one. Olympic Blogs seem to be the exclusive province of cynics (e.g. #4) who vie to show their disinterest. In fact though there are a lot of people out there who are genuinely excited by the Olympic Games, despite the worst efforts of the cynics.

    Btw, if there really were "1.8m applications for 20m tickets" it would have been the sort of ticketing disaster that people like #4 were hoping for. Maybe the numbers are the wrong way around???? Or pehaps I will get all my modest request for 15 tickets after all?

  • Comment number 10.

    let the Queen end ighting the flame. This really would be something different.

  • Comment number 11.

    i cant wait for torch relay espcially as im going to chester uni in september and it goes through there. also i hope that i will get back home in time to see it go through guildford which is near where i live

  • Comment number 12.

    Personally, for the lighting at the stadium, you want osmeone who will get everyone in the stadium on their feet, regardless of their nationality. On that basis, I can't think of anyone better than Derek Redmond...

  • Comment number 13.

    I think it would be good to bolster the Britishness of these games and get a British Bulldog to carry the torch to light the cauldron. Good, traditional and no hype involved, just a statement of British pride.


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