Greece formally handed over the Olympic flame to a London delegation led by Princess Anne and including David Beckham yesterday at the Panathenaic Stadium, where the first modern Games were held in 1896.
Seb Coe, chairman of the London organizing committee LOCOG, spoke of a “massive, massive moment” as the clock ticks down to the Games’ opening ceremony on July 27, while London Mayor Boris Johnson was typically ebullient.
“It’s an amazing day for us. This is the moment when we prepare to take the torch and the eyes of the world are swiveling to London,” Johnson said.
“I think they will see a city that has made phenomenal progress in getting ready ... by any measure, London is extraordinarily well prepared,” he added.
Princess Anne, daughter of Queen Elizabeth II and a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as well as a former Olympic equestrian competitor, received the flame from the president of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, Spyros Capralos, in the ceremony.
Former England soccer captain Beckham, born in east London where the new Olympic Park has taken shape, played a role in the proceedings with five young Britons chosen for their commitment to sport and promoting Olympic values.
The youngsters joined Princess Anne, who is president of the British Olympic Association, in receiving the flame.
The flame would be kept overnight in lanterns at the British embassy in Athens and then flown on the golden-liveried “Firefly,” British Airways Flight 2012, to a navy base in Culdrose near Land’s End in southwest England.
The 70-day, 12,874km relay around Britain starts tomorrow.
“This is really the beginning of the journey,” Coe said.
“Once that flame starts its route ... 8,000 torchbearers within 10 miles [16km] of 57 million people over 1,000 villages, towns and cities, I think people will recognize that actually there is no turning back now. It’s theirs,” he added.