Olympic Torch-bearers step into the limelight for historic journey
8,000 people will carry 2012 flame on canoes, ice skates and even zip wires
A 12-year-old boy, a 100-year-old woman and Britain's richest man are among the 8,000 people who will carry the Olympic Flame some 8,000 miles around the country when the torch relay begins in May. Most will carry the fire on foot, but it will also travel by canoe, zip wire, horse, steam train, ice skate and chairlift.
The exact route the flame will travel – passing within 10 miles of 95 per cent of the population – was unveiled yesterday, as were the names of 7,300 "community heroes" who will carry it.
Among them is centenarian Dinah Gould, who runs exercise classes at her retirement home, and 12-year-old Holly Holmes from Wandsworth, who suffers from cerebral palsy, autism and epilepsy. Officials received almost 100,000 nominations for the 8,000 spaces, but managed to find space for Lakshmi Mittal, the billionaire who has paid £16m for the construction of the giant red metal sculpture at the entrance to the Olympic Park, which will bear his company's name.
Mr Mittal will carry the torch through the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where he, his wife, son and daughter all have homes worth tens of millions on Kensington Palace Gardens, the world's most expensive road.
The 7,300 names have all been published online, as has the precise route map, but those scouring the list for the likes of David Beckham and Sir Steve Redgrave will have no luck. The final 700 "more high-profile" names are yet to be revealed, with Sir Steve still favourite to light the Olympic Cauldron in the stadium on 27 July. The route for the final two days of the relay also remains a secret for now.
Each torchbearer will carry the flame for about 300m on a 70-day journey to the Olympic Stadium. "I just hope I do a good job," Ms Gould said, dressed in her white tracksuit at the launch event at Redlands Primary School in east London, along with Mayor Boris Johnson and Olympic gold medallist Jonathan Edwards.
Ms Gould, who is 99 now but will be 100 when she carries the flame through Barnet, north London, on 25 July, was nominated by her granddaughter and will be the oldest known torchbearer in Olympic history. Dominic Macgowan is the youngest of 212 children who will be 12 at the time of the relay. He said he was "most nervous about falling over".
The torch lands in the UK on 18 May after being flown from Olympia in Greece, where it is lit every four years in highly ritualised fashion by 11 women dressed as the Vestal Virgins, using a curved metallic bowl used to ignite the flame from the light of the sun.
To an audience of nine-year-old children wearing flamed hats made from cardboard, the Mayor explained how, in the ancient Greek myth, Prometheus stole fire from the gods.
With strict impartiality regulations beginning today in the run-up to the mayoral election, it was his final opportunity for some Olympic grandstanding. He didn't disappoint. Recasting himself as Prometheus, he described how he was "taking fire out of the hands of the athletes, the politicians and the fat cats, and giving it to everyone".
The flame begins its journey at Land's End and travels the length and breadth of the country. At the Needles on the Isle of Wight, a torchbearer will carry the flame on a chair lift. At Nottingham Ice Centre it will travel by skate, and at Henley-on-Thames it will be rowed up river, along the Olympic course from the 1908 and 1948 Games. Torchbearers at Grimsby will abseil down the dock tower, while at Newcastle Gateshead it will fly off the Tyne Bridge on a zip wire. Between York, and Thirsk in Scotland, the flame will travel on the newly renovated Flying Scotsman.
The Olympics in Athens and Beijing both had international relays, a practice the International Olympic Committee has ended after the flame attracted protesters.
Thirty-six Metropolitan Police officers will accompany the flame this time, sleeping with it as it stops overnight.
Playing with fire: When torch tour goes awry
* Thirty-seven pro-Tibet protesters were arrested when the torch passed through London on its way to Beijing four years ago. One tried to steal the flame from Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq. The 10 blue tracksuited Chinese "flame attendants" swooped before the deed could be done. They were reportedly from China's Security Services.
* Barcelona's Olympic Stadium was plunged into near total darkness in 1992 as the torch was handed to Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo. He lit one of his arrows, and fired it across the stadium, clean over the cauldron, which miraculously lit anyway. This, it has since been claimed, was the plan – the arrow lit the gas vapours emanating from within.
* At the 2000 Sydney Games Australia's Cathy Freeman was tasked with walking across a circular pool of water, lighting a halo of fire and sending it up a hundred yard escalator to light the flame amid a crowd of fireworks. It got stuck en route for more than four minutes.
From billionaire to centenarian: the torchbearers
Lakshmi Mittal: Britain's richest man, worth more than £12bn, has paid £16m for the building of a giant steel sculpture at the Olympic Park. He'll be carrying the flame through Kensington & Chelsea where he lives.
Dinah Gould: Ms Gould will be 100 years old when she carries the flame through Barnet, in north London, the oldest torchbearer in Olympic history. She currently runs yoga and exercise classes in her retirement home.
Dominic MacGowan: The youngest torchbearer of all will run with the flame through Birmingham on 1 July, shortly after his 12th birthday. He also has tickets to the gymnastics.
Aidan Kirkwood: Aidan, 23, found he had a rare medical condition when he came close to death when his body overheated during training with the Territorial Army in Afghanistan in 2009. But he has since done the Great North Run.
Rosy Ryan: Rosy, 17, from Dumfries, has a passion for sport and coaches a girls' football team. She would like to coach PE or football in the US and to see the women's game at the same level as the men's.
Abul Kasam: A school governor from Tower Hamlets, Abul, 30, was identified as someone who makes a real difference in his community, be it through hours of voluntary work or mountain trekking for charity.
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