A Chinese mountaineering team took the Olympic flame to the top of the world yesterday in a spectacular feat dreamed up by organizers to underscore China’s ambitions for the games in August.
The team used torches designed by rocket scientists to take the flame along the final icy incline leading to the peak of Mount Everest. The jubilant climbers unfurled small Chinese and Olympic flags at the end of their ascent, which was broadcast live across China.
“One World, One Dream,” team captain Nyima Cering yelled as his torch was lit, repeating the slogan for the Beijing Olympics.
The 19-member team, dressed in red parkas emblazoned with Olympic logos, broke camp at 8,300m before dawn and reached the top of the 8,850m mountain a little more than six hours later.
The stop at the top of Everest was meant to be the highlight of the Beijing Olympics torch relay, the longest in Olympic history.
Organizers hope the dramatic image of the torch atop Everest will counter some of the damaging publicity from protests that marred the international parts of the torch relay.
Tibetan activists, however, continued to accuse Beijing of using the climb to reassert its control over Tibet. China says it has ruled Tibet for centuries, although many Tibetans say their homeland was essentially an independent state for most of that time.
“The Chinese government’s obsession with summitting Everest with the Olympic torch betrays the depth of its insecurity over its rule in Tibet which was so clearly challenged by Tibetans in March and April,” Tenzin Dorjee, deputy director of Students for a Free Tibet, said in a statement.
Politics aside, taking the torch to the peak and broadcasting it live was a technological feat. China’s state broadcaster CCTV spent heavily to build a TV studio at the base camp and to construct transmission points at four camps on the mountain’s face.
The torch was designed by a Chinese firm. Fueled by propane, the flame burned brightly in the windy, oxygen-thin Himalayan air thanks to technology that keeps rocket motors burning in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, Xinhua news agency reported.
Liu Xingzou, the chief engineer of the project, said: “We installed a pressure-retaining valve in the torch, which enables the flame to withstand winds of up to 65 kilometers an hour, nearly 6cm of rain an hour and temperatures of minus 40˚C.”
The Olympic flame was carried most of the way in a special metal canister. As the team neared the summit, they used a wand to pass the flame from the canister to the torch.
The climbers could be heard struggling for breath as five torchbearers inched a few meters before passing on the flame to the next person. A colorful Tibetan prayer flag stood beside the path and fluttered in the wind.
The final torchbearer, a Tibetan woman named Cering Wangmo, stood silently on the peak with her torch while other team members unfurled small Chinese and Olympic flags. They then clustered together, cheering “We made it” and “Beijing welcomes you.”
The Everest flame is separate from the main Olympic torch, which yesterday was on the opposite side of China, in Guangdong Province. The relay leg in Shenzhen was postponed until the afternoon to allow for the Everest ascent.
The main torch was not taken up Everest because of weather concerns.
A delay because of bad weather would have thrown off the schedule for the whole relay.