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Once lit in Olympia, the flame reached Athens, where it was passed on to representatives of the Beijing Games Organising Committee on 30 March 2008 in the Panathenaic Stadium. On 31 March, the flame landed in Beijing. From there, it continued its journey around the world, which took it to 19 cities on the five continents before reaching Hong Kong, then Macao and, finally, Mainland China.
Part of the path of the relay was inspired by the Silk Road, with some of the cities crossed located on this ancient network of commercial roads between Asia and Europe. In addition to travelling to all the continents, the organisers’ aim was to circulate the Olympic flame widely in Asia within the framework of the international relay.
In Mainland China, the relay crossed 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions. It began on 4 May in Sanya, in the province of Hainan, with five-time Olympic speed skating medallist Yang Yang (A) as the first torchbearer. Arriving in Hangzhou on 18 May, the relay took a break of three days between the 19th and 21st of May to mark the national mourning for the victims of the dramatic earthquake which had struck the province of Sichuan a few days before, on 12 May. The organisers also decided to modify the relay route so that the flame visited the province of Sichuan at the end of its journey. Originally planned between 15 and 18 June, the journey through the ravaged province finally took place between 3 and 5 August, just before the flame reached Beijing.
On the morning of 6 August, the flame reached Beijing and travelled for three days through the capital. On 8 August, at the Opening Ceremony, the flame was carried by relay to the Stadium by seven famous Chinese athletes, one after the other: Haifeng Xu, Min Gao, Xiaoshuang Li, Xugang Zhan, Jun Zhang, Zhong Chen and Jinfang Sun. The torch was then entrusted to Ning Li, a six-time medallist in gymnastics at the Los Angeles 1984 Games. Lifted by cables, Ning Li took flight and moved in the air doing a lap along the edge of the Stadium roof, until he reached the cauldron, which he finally lit.