'Sir' David Beckham and his royal teammate go for the burn as 2012 torch heads for UK

Flame lit in Athens and will start tour of Britain tomorrow

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The Independent Online

Though they could rather do with one at the moment, the Greeks don't have an equivalent saying to "it never rains but it pours". The best the Greek dignitaries could do then was to blame David Beckham, the Princess Royal, Lord Coe and the rest for bringing decidedly British weather with them as the Olympic flame was carried into the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens in a spectacular downpour.

At the ancient stadium that also hosted the 1896 games, the weather mercifully yielded in time for the traditional dancing by a High Priestess and 23 lesser priestesses, dressed in traditional flimsy white garb.

Sitting on ancient thrones, the Princess Royal and the Greek President, Karolos Papoulias, looked decidedly stony faced. Not even "Sir" David Beckham, to whom the stadium announcer generously granted a knighthood on several occasions, could muster much of a smile. It was Princess Anne who officially received the flame, housed in a special lantern to which airport security will have to turn a blind eye to when it and the other dignitaries return this afternoon, aboard the gold-painted Firefly, flight number BA2012.

They will land at the Royal Naval Air Station at Culdrose, Cornwall, before sailor and three-times Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie becomes the first torchbearer at Land's End at 7am tomorrow.

Some 8,000 torchbearers, most of them under 25, will carry the torch 8,000 miles around the British Isles over the next 70 days. "From Helston to Halifax, to Hackney in east London," Lord Coe told the assembled Greeks in a short speech.

The small lantern the Princess Royal carried the flame in yesterday has a far more significant role than is realised. It will be in one of these that the flame undergoes more extreme parts of its journey, such as up Mount Snowdon. It will also rest overnight in one of them.

Other such lanterns – all lit from the same source, and as such genuine Mount Olympus fire – will serve as back-ups, should, perish the thought, the flame goes out. When the Beijing torch relay passed through London four years ago, protesters armed themselves with fire extinguishers.

To guard against such incidents, 400 police will be on duty for the torch's first day in the UK, while a dedicated team of 70 Met officers will run alongside the torchbearer.

Olympic news you may have missed...

Princess Anne has admitted she would find competing in a home Olympics "really difficult" thanks to the increased spotlight and pressure. Her daughter, Zara Phillips, remains in contention to compete in the eventing this summer, but Anne, who took part in the same discipline in Montreal in 1976, does not miss the attention.

"I'd hate to be doing it now," she said. "It's got worse. I'd have found it really difficult to do it on a home patch. All the things the electronic media have opened up simply didn't exist when I was doing it. Some people find it a help but I suspect, for others, that's a difficult level of intrusion to manage."

Israel officials have criticised the International Olympic Committee's decision not to pay tribute to the 11 team members killed at the 1972 Munich Games. "[It] rejects the central principles of global fraternity on which the Olympic ideal is supposed to rest," deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon said of the decision.

What's coming up...

Today The Finn Gold Cup draws to a close in Falmouth, where the final race and medal race take place. After a week of fiercely unpredictable winds, the experience of three-time Olympic champion Ben Ainslie has paid dividends – he is set to claim a record sixth title.

Who's up?

Andreas Thorkildsen The double javelin gold medallist claims the emergence of world championship winner Matthias de Zordo motivates him. "It's always fun to have new competitors," he said. "It creates interesting compe-tition; that's the way I want it."

Who's down?

Monique Gladding British diver was set for a medal at the European Championships in Eindhoven but flunked her penultimate dive of the 10m platform final, plunging to fifth. "I'm gutted." she said. "I've thrown away a medal."

Walter Dix Double world silver medallist will miss Sunday's 150m sprint in Manchester due to a tight hamstring.