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The 2012 London Games Torch Relay: an inspiring journey


From 16 May to 27 July 2012, the Olympic torch the that year’s London Games was carried by a total of 8,000 people across the breadth and length of the United Kingdom, covering 12,800km and visiting 1,000 towns and villages.

On 18 May 2012, when the gold-liveried Airbus A319 transporting the Olympic flame arrived at Culdrose naval airbase in Cornwall in the south west of England, Lord Sebastian Coe, Chairman of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), stated, “This is an incredible moment that has been 10 years in the making.”

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The torch was subsequently dispatched by helicopter to Land’s End, the southwesternmost point of the United Kingdom, where it was placed in the hands of the first carrier, three-time (and soon-to-be four-time) Olympic sailing champion Ben Ainslie.

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The torch for the London Games was perforated by 8,000 circular holes, symbolising the 8,000 torch bearers that would carry it across the country. Made of aluminium alloy skin, it had a triangular shape that was imbued with a multi-layered significance, representing the three core Olympic values of respect, excellence and friendship; the three components of the Olympic motto, “faster, higher, stronger”, and the three Olympic Games hosted by London (in 1908, 1948 and 2012).

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The flame was originally lit on 10 May 2012 amid the ruins of the Temple of Hera in Olympia, from where it was then sent on a week-long journey around Greece, passing through Crete, Thessaloniki, Xanthi and Larissa. It arrived in Athens on 17 May, where it was officially handed over to an LOCOG delegation that included HRH Princess Anne, London Mayor Boris Johnson and global football icon David Beckham, before being flown to Cornwall in four Davy lamps.

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Seventy days of magic

Carried over water (in rowing boats, sailboats and steamboats), by railway, in the air and by road by torch bearers dressed in white and living up to the relay’s slogan, “moment to shine”, the flame followed a route that was devised so that 95% of the population of the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey would be within one hour’s drive of witnessing history being made.

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Some of the highlights of the course included Much Wenlock, where Baron Pierre de Coubertin famously planted an oak tree in 1890, Stonehenge, Windsor Castle, the White Cliffs of Dover and the Channel Islands, as well as the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands in Scotland. Commemorative events and festivities were organised in each town visited by the Olympic Torch Relay. “Through these 70 days we'll see some magic in our local communities,” LOCOG Chief Executive Paul Deighton predicted beforehand.

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On the evening of 20 July, the Olympic flame made a spectacular arrival in London via one of the Royal Navy’s Sea King helicopters. While the helicopter hovered above the Tower of London, a Royal Marine expertly abseiled down with the torch, which was securely contained in a lantern attached to his waist.

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The following day, the flame set off on a week-long 300km journey through the sprawling host city, during which time it would be carried by nearly 1,000 different torch bearers and pass by some of the British capital’s most recognisable landmarks.

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On the day of the much-anticipated Opening Ceremony, the flame made its way by speedboat from Tower Bridge to the Olympic Stadium under the care of David Beckham and up-and-coming footballer Jade Bailey, who then passed it on to Sir Steve Redgrave.

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In a move symbolising the handover of the Games to the younger generation, the five-time Olympic rowing champion entered the stadium and delivered the torch to seven young athletes aged between 16 and 19 (Callum Airlie, Jordan Duckitt, Desiree Henry, Katie Kirk, Cameron MacRitchie, Aidan Reynolds, and Adelle Tracey). These potential stars of the future then had the privilege of collectively lighting the Olympic cauldron, made up of 204 copper petals, representing the 204 nations and territories competing in the Games.

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