Sailor Ainslie starts Olympic torch relay

 

Three-time Olympic sailing champion Ben Ainslie today kicked off the London 2012 Olympic torch relay, saying it was "one of the more nervous moments of my life".

Fresh from winning his sixth world title, Ainslie was up in the early hours to complete the first leg of the relay at Land's End in Cornwall. He decided to walk his 300m leg and soak up the experience.

Ainslie happily paused and waved so the cheering crowd of all ages could take photographs. Many of whom had risen at 4am to make the trip and waved flags to support the first torchbearers.

Ainslie, 35, said: "I did alright at least I did not trip over. I did not really want to rush it.

"I wanted to give everyone the chance to touch the torch , it gives everyone around the country to feel part of it.

"It is one of those moments in your life where you are just in shock. It was an amazing moment. I was very proud obviously to help kick start this period in the run-up to the Olympics.

"It was probably one of the more nervous moments in my life but it is so special for everybody to see the Olympic torch."

Being the first person to carry the Olympic Flame on home soil would also be a treasured memory, added Ainslie who is aiming to win his fourth successive gold medal on home waters at the London 2012 competition at Weymouth and Portland.

He said: "I would say that particular moment ranks right up there with winning a gold medal.

"It was incredibly special."

The Olympic Flame touched down at RNAS Culdrose yesterday and was flown to the UK's most westerly point by a 771 Naval Air Squadron Sea King helicopter for the start of the relay.

Lieutenant Commander Richard Full carried a lantern to the world-famous First and Last signpost at Land's End, where the first torch was lit in front of the cheering crowds.

He said: "Months of planning went to that one moment. I was honoured.

"The whole squadron are really pleased. It is exposure to the wider world of what we do and we are extremely proud of what we do but we generally go about our business in a quiet and unassuming way. Perhaps it is just our turn in the limelight."

Devon and Cornwall Police said around 3,500 people were at Land's End to see the start of the relay.

The relay involves 8,000 torchbearers are carrying the flame 8,000 miles to the opening ceremony on July 27.

The torch relay travels nationwide and aims to bring the Olympic Flame to within 95% of the UK population.

Sir Keith Mills, the London 2012 deputy chairman, who is a keen sailor who has worked with Ainslie on an America's Cup, said: "Seeing Ben with the torch was one of the reasons that I wanted to be here.

"He is one of our greatest Olympians and he also happens to be a friend. I have spent a lot of time with him with the America's Cup and the way that he is sailing with such passion, he is in a great position for a fourth gold medal.

"I also know that for him being able to carry the torch on his home soil, is very special for him and his family.

"I wanted to share in the moment with him."

Ainslie passed the flame on to 18 year-old Anastassia Swallow from St Ives said she wanted to take it slowly to take it all in but she got "a bit excited and a little crazy and ran too fast".

She has represented Britain four times as member of the junior British surf team and dreams of becoming the first woman to represent surfing and snowboarding for her country.

London 2012 wanted the bulk of people taking part in the relay to be unsung heroes who have done things to help their community, individuals involved sport and people from the younger generation.

Ms Swallow, who is hoping that surfing will soon become an Olympic event, said: "I was really surprised by the atmosphere here today. Everyone was cheering and calling my name. It is something - will never forget."

There are 139 torchbearers carrying the flame a total of 136 miles on the first day of the relay which will end with an evening celebration at the Hoe in Plymouth.

Many of the torchbearers are unsung heroes whose efforts are making a difference their local communities.

George Phillips, 87, from Penzance, who also carried the flame in the London 1948 torch relay, is carrying it in Plymouth.

He has been involved in hundreds of fundraising activities for local good causes.

He also spent 30 years as Honorary Consul in the South West for French, Flemish and Spanish foreign nationals and supported individuals and their families during times of crisis.

Eric Smith, 76, of Surrey, won the George Medal in 1962 as a helicopter rescue winchman on the wreck of the Jeanne Gougy at Land's End where he gets to carry the torch today.

Connor McArthur, 13, is carrying the torch in his home town of Plymouth as a thank you for helping the families of service children through Her Majesty's Schools (HMS) Heroes.

Some of the other torchbearers include Emma Jones, 29, who has been a medic in the Royal Navy for the last 10 years, working for search and rescue teams, is carrying the torch in her Newquay hometown.

Spike Reid, 29, from Plymouth is carrying the Flame in Plymouth. He works hard to get young people and adults to learn about themselves and the world around them, his nomination said.

Mr Reid was seriously injured while fighting off a polar bear which killed his friend in an attack while camping in Norway.

The attack left Eton pupil Horatio Chapple, 17, dead and several others, including Mr Reid, battling for their lives.

Mr Reid tweeted that he was "Really looking forward" to being a torchbearer describing himself as "Muchos Excited".

His nomination read: "Recently Spike sustained severe injuries defending a team of young people against attack from a polar bear on an educational research expedition.

"His brave actions saved the lives of others in his team and his fearless nature and dedication are an inspiration to all."

PA

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