Man cycles across the world from China for London 2012

By Josephine McDermott
BBC News, London

Media caption,
In two years Chen Guanming has travelled through 16 countries

When London's mayor accepted the Olympic flag in 2008 a Chinese farmer who was looking on inside the stadium says he was inspired to travel to the next host city for the Games by the only way he could afford - rickshaw.

In just over two years Chen Guanming says he has travelled about 60,000km through 16 countries, overcoming floods, war zones, mountain passes and temperatures of -30C.

His aim, he said, was to "spread the Olympic spirit".

He says he left his home on 23 May 2010 and arrived in London on 9 July.

John Beeston, from Norwood Green, in west London, discovered him at the top of Lower Regent Street looking "completely lost and downhearted".

Image caption,
Chen Guanming is still sleeping in his rickshaw now he is in central London

"At first I assumed it was a tourist rickshaw. Then I looked back and thought 'No, this is something different'."

Mr Chen has pictures on his three-wheeled rickshaw of him posing in front of international landmarks and a banner saying he is on a journey of 140,000km (86,992 miles) - which includes China.

Mr Beeston, who runs an insurance brokers and travels to China on business, was able to chat to Mr Chen who is unable to speak English.

"I spoke with my limited Mandarin, asking if he was Chinese and he burst into life."

He took him to Soho's Chinatown where Mr Chen told his story and has since been showered with admiration and offers of accommodation.

He has even been bought a Jamaican tracksuit top.

"They couldn't find a Chinese one," Mr Chen said.

'London is beautiful'

His story sounds so fantastical that few would give it house room, but the 57-year-old from Jiangsu province in eastern China, has the passport, press cuttings and book full of messages from around the world, to testify to his feat.

"It's like telling people that a Martian has landed in the garden," said Mr Beeston.

"But, what he's done isn't dissimilar to what Marco Polo did and the Italians named an airport after him."

In the first countries - Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam - he had to wring his clothes out seven or eight times a day because of the sweat. It was about 38C.

In Thailand, he was caught up in deadly floods.

On trying to leave South East Asia he was refused a visa in Burma.

Image caption,
John Beeston says it is like trying to tell people that a Martian has landed in the garden

Unperturbed, he backtracked and cycled to Tibet where he wended his way on his gearless bike up 7,000m high mountains.

Having crossed Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran he ended up in Turkey where it was -30C and he says he spent four days snowed in.

He says he supported himself couriering items along the way for people and through people's donations.

So was the journey worth it?

"London is especially beautiful," he says.

"People are very friendly. They always show warmth towards me.

"When I go back to China I want to tell them how civilised the English are."

Opening ceremony ambition

He wants to carry on spreading his message of peace and environmental protection, he says.

"I'm a big fan of Olympic Games," he says with typical understatement.

"I wanted to come here because I wanted the whole world to support the Olympics and be part of it."

Ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games he led a personal crusade against littering, encouraging people to respect their environment.

To achieve this, he cycled to Beijing from his village, Erchen, in 2001 when China's bid was successful.

He says he went through 1,764 cities, covering more than 90,000km.

For three months he collected litter around Beijing and the Olympic Park.

He litter picked everything from cigarette butts to plastic bottles and was rewarded for his voluntary work by the authorities with a seat at the closing ceremony.

Now, he wants to be in the opening ceremony to round off his Olympic journey.

Asking Mr Chen if he thinks it will be "difficult" to take part in the ceremony on Friday seems crass given the scale of his achievement in coming this far.

And with his indomitable spirit, who's to say he won't achieve it?

Whatever happens, he has his heart set on making it to Brazil next for Rio 2016.

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