21 Jul 2012

Olympic torch touches the heart of London

The Olympic torch races through London on its first full day in the capital, giving crowds a “supreme buzz” before opening ceremonies kick off 27 July.

Tourists and Londoners lined the capital’s streets to watch the torch arrive at the prime meridian in Greenwich at 7:22am. Rain gave way to brilliant sunshine and bands played for the crowds.

Greenwich’s Natasha Sinha, 15, nominated to carry the torch for her dedication to swimming and cross-country running, took the flame down into the equestrian arena. It was then carried around Sir Cristopher Wren’s Old Royal Naval College before arriving at the Cutty Sark, which has recently undergone a £50m renovation.

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to sail solo non-stop around the world, founder of the Clipper Round the World yacht race in 1995, ran the torch around the clipper. He was one of 43 Torchbearers carrying carry the flame on Saturday over a 36.35 mil stretch.

Double celebration

The torch later made its way to Private Jaco van Gass, 25, from South Africa, who carried the flame. Pte van Gass, who lives in Woolwich, lost his left arm in a rocket-propelled grenade attack while serving with the Parachute Regiment in Afghanistan in 2009.

“It was fantastic,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to the Games. As a dual citizen – of South Africa and Great Britain – I’ve got double the chance of celebrating.”

Spectator Deirdre Lane, from Co Kildare in Ireland, described the sight of the famous flame as “totally exhilarating”.

“It’s a supreme buzz. You don’t get that buzz from the newspapers but you can feel it in the air today. It’s electric.”

Next stop? east London

Last night, Royal Marine Commando Martyn Williams abseiled into the Tower of London with the flame.

The torch makes its move into southeast London on Sunday before it arrives at the Olympic Stadium in Stratford next week. Click here for a map to track the torch along Sunday’s route.

The torch will be taken around the streets of host boroughs Newham, Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Waltham Forest, stopping off at Stepney Green Park, Hackney Town Hall and Leyton Cricket Ground.

Fauja Singh, 101and a marathon runner, will carry the flame through Newham. He completed the London Marathon in seven hours 49 minutes in April.

Who will light the cauldron?

The name of the lucky Brit who will light the cauldron is still a mystery, however. Matthew Pinsent, a four-time British rowing Olympic gold medallist, said the anticipation added to the excitement.

“We need to have some mystery about the opening ceremony,” he said. “Otherwise it’s like watching a magic trick and knowing what’s going to happen.”