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Olympic flame bound for Britain

The Olympic Flame is on its way to Britain.

An actress, dressed in floor-length pleated robes, lifted the burning torch from a parabolic mirror as if the light had been beamed by the Gods directly from the sun's rays.

Only a select group of dignitaries witnessed at first-hand the flame almost automatically burst in to life in front of the Temple of Hera in Ancient Olympia. They included a 15-strong delegation from London 2012, led by chairman Lord Coe.

The first torchbearer was Spyros Gianniotis, Greece's England-born World champion swimmer. Gianniotis, who has already booked his place at London 2012 which will be his fourth consecutive Olympics, proudly set off via Pierre de Coubertin's Grove.

He passed it on to 19 year-old Alex Loukos, who was one of the 30 East End schoolchildren who travelled to Singapore in 2005 as part of the closing presentations for London's bid.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge described the lighting as "the final countdown to a dream" which started when London was awarded the Games in 2005.

This special day has been a long time coming for Lord Coe and London 2012 deputy chair Sir Keith Mills. After the lighting, Lord Coe, a two-time Olympic champion, said: "For us this is now the best part of a decade. We were sitting in a glass box with half a dozen people in Canary Wharf and to be honest this is a day we never really dared to dream about. This is an extraordinary journey."

Sir Keith admitted that he cried. He said the ceremony was "beautiful because it was so simple". It felt solemn and respectful, he said. "Standing in a place like this where the Olympics was born, you can understand how special it all is."

The flame will visit Crete, Piraeus, Thessalonica, Xanthi and Larissa, among other places, in a relay around the Greek mainland and islands. The torchbearers are taking it from Ancient Olympia to the Panathenic Stadium in Athens, which was used for the 1896 Games, for the handover to London on May 17.

It is then flown to the UK, landing at RNAS Culdrose, near Helston, Cornwall, on 18 May for a 70-day relay around Britain. Starting at Land's End, this will see 8,000 torchbearers carrying it from May 19 to the opening ceremony at the Olympic Stadium in east London on July 27.

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