Olympic Flame Flies To United Kingdom

The flame for the London Olympics, which was ignited by the rays of the sun in the 2,800-year-old Temple of Hera in Greece, arrives in the UK Saturday. It was carried from Olympia in a lantern that flew aboard a gold-painted plane. Vicki Barker has more on the flame's relay race to London.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Olympic torch has arrived in Britain, ahead of this summer's Games in London. The torch, lit at the original location of the Games at the ancient Greek site of Olympia one week ago, flew in from Athens yesterday. Just a few hours ago, the historic flame began its tour of the UK. Vicki Barker reports from London.

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VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: With helicopters circling overhead, the torch began its 70-day journey under early morning sunshine at Land's End, a rocky promontory jutting into the North Atlantic. The first torchbearer was sailor and three-times gold medalist Ben Ainslie. As the white-clad Ainslie jogged slowly through the crowds, he held out the torch for bystanders to touch, an unscripted gesture, he said later.

BEN AINSLIE: So, yeah. I just felt, you know, I think the Olympics is for everybody so it's great that people get out - to get up close to the torch and feel it and feel a part of it.

BARKER: After 300 meters, Ainslie used his torch to light a torch held by local surfer Tassy Swallow, a handover known as the kiss, and the Olympic torch relay was officially underway.

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BARKER: The flame, lit last week, flew from Athens yesterday in a special British Airways flight, landing at air/sea rescue base in Cornwall. Britain's Princess Anne carried it off the plane. David Beckham then used it to light a cauldron.

DAVID BECKHAM: To be part of this team bringing the flame not just to England but to a part of London where I grew up, I'm very proud of that.

BARKER: For local Hazel Trembath, this one day the torch spends on Cornish soil is a chance for her homeland to strut its stuff on a global stage.

HAZEL TREMBATH: The rest of the world will actually see the way the Cornish people are, the traditions and what we can put on and what we can do.

BARKER: The relay route passed through the once-thriving resort of Penzance, its main street now full of shuttered shops. Local Paul Watkins was not planning to be watching.

PAUL WATKINS: The money that's been spent on the Olympic torch would be far better invested in Penzance.

BARKER: It's a sentiment Olympic organizers have heard repeatedly in recession-hit Britain, but Princess Anne, herself a former Olympic equestrian, told the BBC that critics overlook just how many British jobs have been created or safeguarded by the torch relay and the games that follow.

PRINCESS ANNE: I understand that it looks like an extravagance but I think if they recognize the way a lot of that money has been spent, it's made quite an constructive impact on people's lives.

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BARKER: Eight thousand torchbearers from all walks of life will zigzag 8,000 miles, the length and breadth of Britain. Ninety percent of the population will be within 10 miles of the torch at some point between now and July 27th. That's when it reaches its destination: London's Olympic Stadium. For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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