But the aim of the 70-day torch relay ahead of the 2012 London Games is really down to earth — to bring the flame close to ordinary Britons and their homes, organizers said Monday.
“The main target is to get to as many people as we possibly could,” said Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London organizing committee, as he announced the full route of the relay.
That means devising a route that covers over 1,000 villages, towns and cities across the country — including Bready, a sleepy Northern Ireland hamlet of just 93 people.
“I think it’s definitely going to bring good business, which is always a bonus,” said Eamon Nugent, who works at a hotel on the outskirts of Bready. The torch convoy will certainty be a big spectacle there — the village is so small it takes just around 15 minutes to walk around it, he added.
There will, of course, be plenty of photo opportunities. Starting on May 19, 2012 at Land’s End, a wind-swept corner in Cornwall, southwestern England, the torch will go pass lighthouses, ancient castles and historic sites like Hadrian’s Wall. It will be carried in a steamer across Lake Windermere in the Lake District, on a row boat on the Thames, and on horseback and chair lifts elsewhere. There is even a stunt to transport it by zip line off a bridge.
In total, the 8,000-mile itinerary will allow the torch to travel within an hour’s journey of more than 95 percent of Britain’s population of 62 million people, Coe said.
Next year’s torch relay will be relatively modest compared to the one that kicked off the Beijing Games. Organizers decided to keep the relay within Britain — apart from the lighting in Greece — to control it after chaotic scenes marred the international relay in 2008, when human rights protests in London, Paris, San Francisco and elsewhere disrupted the journey.
Coe dismissed concerns that activists would again use the event as an excuse to protest, saying they are working closely with police and that a security convoy of about 11 vehicles will accompany the flame wherever it goes.
Instead, organizers hoped that local communities would embrace the torch relay and celebrate it with Olympic-themed street parties and barbeques.
“We saw the appetite around the royal wedding and that’s what we’re wanting to do,” Coe said, referring to the many themed parties organized across the country during Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton in April.
Most of the 8,000 torchbearers will be ordinary members of the public nominated by their community, but it is likely that sports stars like David Beckham will also run with the torch.
The flame is set to arrive from Greece on May 18, 2012. The relay will also go off the mainland to visit Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, Guernsey, Jersey, Shetland, Orkney and the Isle of Lewis. The journey ends in London, where the flame will stay a week before being carried down the Thames to the Olympic Stadium to light the cauldron at the opening ceremony on July 27, 2012.