The Olympic torch was formally handed over from Greece to organisers of the London 2012 Olympic Games in a ceremony in Athens on Thursday.
In damp weather at the Panathenaic Stadium that hosted the 1896 Olympics, the torch was presented to Princess Anne by the president of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, Spyros Capralos.
“It is with deep emotion and exceptional honour that I hand over the Olympic flame, wishing you every success in the organisation of the Olympic Games in London,” Capralos said.
Princess Anne, who is a former Olympian and current British Olympic Association president, headed a British delegation that included London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe, Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson and London Mayor Boris Johnson.
“For the past eight days our two countries have connected in a very special way in the spirit of peace and friendship of the flame and the values of this great Olympic movement,” Coe said in reference to the Greek torch relay that has been running since the torch was lit at Olympia last week.
“Today’s handover is an occasion of international significance and of importance as the flame belongs to the world.”
He said millions of people in Britain were getting ready to welcome the torch.
“If the Olympic Games is about celebrating the best athletes in the world, the Olympic spirit is about celebrating the best in ourselves and our neighbourhoods. We have found the very best in our torchbearers who like Olympic athletes will inspire a generation,” Coe said.
He concluded: “This summer we welcome the world to London and we look forward to the incredible events that will unfold, that will capture the imagination of the world.”
The British delegation, which also included football superstar David Beckham, will leave Athens on Friday to take the torch to Cornwall in southwest England to begin its 70-day journey around Britain and Ireland.
Beckham, the Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder and former England captain, was part of London’s winning bid team in the contest to stage the Olympics and looks set to be included in Great Britain’s football squad for the Games.
During the final push in the bidding campaign in 2005, Beckham said he was dreaming of the day the Olympics would be staged in east London, where he grew up.
The torch relay starts on Saturday at Land’s End, the southwest tip of England, to begin a 12,875km journey around Britain, with a detour to include the Irish capital Dublin. It will arrive at the Olympic Stadium for the opening of the Games on July 27.
The flame, which was lit in ancient Olympia a week ago and travelled throughout Greece by torchbearers, was carried together around the all-marble stadium by Greece’s Olympic weight-lifting gold medallist Pyrros Dimas and Chinese Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Li Ning, who lit the cauldron at the last Olympics in Beijing in 2008.
The two former athletes also carried an olive branch, a symbol of peace, which was cut from one of the world’s oldest olive trees situated on the island of Crete.
Thousands of spectators attended the brief ceremony despite the dismal weather.
Greek presidential guards dressed in traditional attire and the philharmonic orchestra of the city of Athens were part of the ceremony which also included a circle of white-clad actresses dressed as ancient priestesses.