London 2012: Olympic torch relay ends on the Thames

 

The Olympic flame has completed its journey on the Gloriana on the final leg of its 70-day, 8,000-mile journey around the United Kingdom ahead of tonight's opening ceremony.

The torch, which has snaked its way through the UK and been seen by millions of excited spectators, was taken down the Thames on the royal rowbarge.

Torrential rain which battered the Diamond Jubilee river pageant last month was nowhere to be seen, as thousands of spectators flocked to the river banks to catch a glimpse of the flame.

The £1 million Gloriana, powered by 16 oarsmen, transported the flame downriver in a cauldron to Tower Bridge. Later the torch will be carried into the Olympic Stadium and the flame lit by a mystery VIP.

Today's first torchbearer was Rosie Hynes, 18, from Manchester, who is part of the Great Britain under-20s basketball squad, who carried it in Bushey Park.

Nine torchbearers then ran in relay through the grounds of Hampton Court, including around its famous hedge maze.

The last land-based torchbearer was four-time Olympic gold medallist Matthew Pinsent, who carried the flame from the palace to the royal rowbarge Gloriana, last seen during the Jubilee pageant.

Pinsent held the flame aloft before lighting a ceremonial cauldron on board, applauded by the crowds who gathered to watch the moment - including some who stood knee-deep in the water to catch a glimpse of the flame.

Rowers young and old, ranging from members of London Youth Rowing to two men in their 90s who took part in the 1948 Games, took it in turns to man the oars.

The Gloriana, accompanied by its mini-flotilla of boats, was given three cheers from those watching on the banks before it set off.

Seven young torchbearers on board carried the flame for approximately eight minutes each as the procession made its way to Tower Bridge.

Among the rowers on Gloriana were gold medal-winning rowers from past Games, including James Cracknell, Jonny Searle and Martin Cross.

More than 50 boats took part in the flotilla, each chosen to reflect London's waterborne heritage.

The last torchbearer of the day was Amber Charles, 22, from Newham, east London, who delivered London's Olympic bid to members of the International Olympic Committee in 2004.

She carried the flame to Tower Bridge before it was taken to City Hall, where it will remain out of public view until the opening ceremony begins.

Locog (London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) chairman Lord Coe said: "Support for the torchbearers has been immense with over 13 million people lining the streets across the UK to cheer them on.

"Thank you to each and every person for giving the Olympic Flame such a magnificent welcome and celebrating the best of the UK with us.

"Together we have given the London 2012 Games the best possible start and we are delighted to have seven inspiring young people carrying the flame on the last leg of the Olympic torch relay."

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "The torch relay has been absolutely fantastic.

"The enthusiasm and support shown by millions of people up and down this country has been overwhelming.

"It has showcased the very best of Britain."

Mayor of London Boris Johnson said: "From Wandsworth to Enfield and Bromley to Harrow, over three million Londoners have lined the streets of the capital to cheer on the flame and our inspirational torchbearers.

"As excitement builds to a crescendo ahead of what promises to be a glorious opening ceremony, London is poised and ready for a fantastic Games."

The torch was lit in Greece's ancient Olympia on May 10 and since then has been carried by the great and good.

Previously unsung local heroes were recognised for their charitable work and for overcoming great adversity and given the honour of carrying the torch.

Sports greats and much-loved stars such as Sir Bruce Forsyth and comedian David Walliams also carried the torch and drew massive crowds as London began to swell with millions of visitors soaking up the Olympics atmosphere.

Details for how the torch will leave City Hall and be conveyed to the Olympic Stadium have not been released.

Flotilla organiser Malcolm Knight, a director of Thames Alive, declared "mission accomplished" on his loudspeaker as the boats arrived at Tower Bridge.

Back on dry land, he said: "It was marvellous, absolutely marvellous. The whole thing went fantastically, there were boats everywhere and the banks were lined with thousands of people.

"The master plan worked, which is wonderful - the torchbearers, the crews and the crowds all played their part.

"It's a great way to bring the flame into central London, using the highway of London."

He said he was always confident the weather would hold up, adding: "It doesn't rain on my parade - and it was never going to be as cold as the Jubilee pageant."

A total of 400 rowers took part on 90 boats.

The torch arrived by boat at City Hall, where it was going inside for a reception with London Mayor Boris Johnson, Lord Coe and other dignitaries.

It docked close to Tower Bridge, which has been adorned for the Games with its own set of Olympic Rings.

Mr Johnson, speaking outside, said that around four-and-a-half million people had seen the torch in London.

"It's a life-changing thing, I haven't seen anything like it in my life," he said.

"I hope we put on a good show and the whole world goes away impressed."

Also welcoming the torch was Alexandros Loukos, 19, from Newham, east London, who carried the flame in Greece at the very start of the torch relay.

He said he was glad the Games were about to start.

"It's been awesome, I don't think anyone was expecting the crowds to be as big as they have been," he said.

PA

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