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Olympic Torch Relay: Flame Starts Its 8,000 Mile Route To London At Land's End (PHOTOS)

AP  |  By Posted: Updated: 05/20/2012 10:20 am

Olympic Torch Relay Ainslie
Olympic gold medal sailor and the first London 2012 torchbearer, Ben Ainslie and lieutenant commander Richie Full, who delivered the Olympic Flame from RNAS Culdrose, pose for a photograph beside the Lands End sign on May 19, 2012 in Cornwall, England.

LAND'S END, England -- British sailing hero Ben Ainslie kicked off the torch relay for the 2012 London Olympics on Saturday with a stroll through teary, flag-waving crowds who cheered the arrival of the flame.

Hundreds held up mobile phones as he jauntily walked past and banged on plastic tambourines handed out by sponsors, creating a roar that shook the hillsides of this picturesque spot - the furthest point west in England.

The sun rose and sprinkled light across the moors, lifting spirits at a place known for its fog. It was just a picture postcard for the start of the event, which lasts for 70 days and ends with the lighting of the cauldron to start the games on July 27.

There were some mishaps along the way.

The torch is carried by torchbearers along part of its journey around Britain, but it also travels in a bus during other parts of the route.

A group of disabled patients from a Cornish care home space had gathered along the route to watch the flame, at a spot given to them by the local council, but were disappointed when they realized that the torch would only pass them in a covered bus, not carried aloft by one of the torch bearers. Olympic organizers said the council had mixed up the route and should not have allocated the group a spot where the torch was being driven.

But elsewhere, the mood was jubilant.

Organizers of the London Olympics almost assume the rest of the world is excited about the Olympics. But what they are really working on is the people who live here - the people who are paying 9.3 billion pounds ($14.7 billion) to host the event and are wondering if this is money well spent. They need the torch relay to inspire excitement in Britain ahead of the games. And for the first day anyway, it was working. People got up as early as 4 a.m. to watch the flame rise with the sun.

`'It's iconic, isn't it," said Beverly Wills, 47, who came with her husband and her son. "It's not going to happen again in our lifetime. It brings everyone together."

The flame arrived on British soil Friday night, a week after being captured by the sun's rays in ancient Olympia. Soccer legend David Beckham and Princess Anne headlined the dignitaries who came to collect it, flying it on BA flight 2012 to the Royal Naval Air Station at Culdrose. The air rescue pilots then flew the flame over to Land's End in the morning. They took a spin over the crowd, and hundreds of hands reached into the air to wave and to cheer.

The crowd's goodwill was not just for the flame. This is an island after all, and the search and rescue team often do rescue people. `'It was a great way to celebrate the search and rescue guys," said Paul Deighton, the organizing committee's chief executive. `'That's what our torchbearers are to do - honor unsung heroes."

From here on out, it journeys around the country in an 8,000 mile (12,875 kilometers) jamboree featuring the same number of runners. It will make appearances at Stonehenge and in Scotland, in Durham and at Dover, in London and in Liverpool. Organizers are proud of saying that the flame will come within 10 miles (16 kilometers) of 95 percent of the British population.

They are hoping, together with tourism officials, to create a video calling card of all things pretty and British - a sort of running `'come and visit us commercial."

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  • Olympic Torch Relay

    British Olympic sailing hero and three time gold medalist Ben Ainslie holds the Olympic torch at the official start of the London 2012 Olympic games torch relay, with Lt Cmdr Rich Full of the Royal Navy at Land's End, west of England, Saturday, May 19, 2012.

  • Olympic Torch Relay

    British Olympic sailing hero and three time gold medalist Ben Ainslie holds the Olympic torch at the official start of the London 2012 Olympic games torch relay at Land's End, west of England, Saturday, May 19, 2012.

  • Olympic Torch Relay

    British Olympic sailing hero and three time gold medalist Ben Ainslie waves to the crowds as he holds the Olympic torch at the official start of the London 2012 Olympic games torch relay at Land's End, west of England, Saturday, May 19, 2012.

  • Olympic Torch Relay

    This photo made available by the Ministry of Defense shows people lining the streets around a Royal Navy Sea King helicopter which carried the flame to Lands End, south west England for the start of the Olympic torch relay Saturday May 19, 2012.

  • Olympic Torch Relay

    British Olympic sailing hero and three time gold medalist Ben Ainslie walks past the media as he holds the Olympic torch at the official start of the London 2012 Olympic games torch relay at Land's End, south west England, Saturday, May 19, 2012.

  • Olympic Torch Relay

    British Olympic sailing hero and three time gold medalist Ben Ainslie holds the Olympic torch, as he makes his way past crowds of people during the official start of the London 2012 Olympic games torch relay at Land's End, south west England, Saturday, May 19, 2012.

  • Olympic Torch Relay

    Crowds watch as torchbearer Johanna Dickinson waves as she holds the torch on the beach at Marazion, looking out to St Michael's Mount, during the leg of the torch relay between Newlyn and Marazion south west England Saturday May 19, 2012.

  • Olympic Torch Relay

    This photograph issued by LOCOG shows torchbearer Nicole Martin carrying the Olympic torch during the leg of the torch relay between the villages of Rosudgeon and Helston in south west England Saturday May 19, 2012.

  • Olympic Torch Relay

    Sarah Blight holds the London 2012 Olympic torch with her patriotic finger nails on display in Marazion, west England, Saturday May 19, 2012, during an 8000 mile torch relay around the British Isles with hundreds of runners given the honour of taking part.

  • Olympic Torch Relay

    Johanna Dickinson holds the London 2012 Olympic torch on the beach near St Michael's Mount at Marazion, west England, Saturday May 19, 2012, during an 8000 mile torch relay around the British Isles with hundreds of runners given the honour of taking part.

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Filed by Chris Greenberg  |