70 days, iconic sites: Olympic torch coming to UK

Time to get out the cameras: Britain's most photogenic man will be bringing the Olympic flame back from Greece.

David Beckham is joining officials at a handover ceremony Thursday in Athens, as the Olympic torch travels from the ruins of the ancient games in Olympia to a naval base in Cornwall, southern England.

The former England national team captain who now plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy was among those who helped London snatch the 2012 Summer Games away from Paris, the favorite. He will carry the torch back to the U.K. on a flight Friday along with Princess Anne and Olympic officials.

From there, the torch begins an Anglophile's dream tour — a 70-day, 8,000-mile (12,875-kilometer) journey past nearly every iconic site on the island: Big Ben, Stonehenge, the white cliffs of Dover, you name it. It ends up at Olympic Stadium in London to highlight the opening ceremony on July 27 and burns brightly until the Aug. 12 closing ceremony.

Here's a look at the torch travels:


The flame is part of a ritual that began last week when actress Ino Menegaki, dressed as a high priestess, stood before the 2,600-year-old Temple of Hera. She had a word with Apollo, the ancient Greeks' Sun God, and then used a concave mirror to focus the sun's rays to light a torch. The torch has spent over a week being relayed around Greece, a deeply proud country that probably could use some good cheer of late. Greeks came up with the concept of democracy, let's not forget, and the whole notion of having games in the first place was their idea.

Yet there were more people waiting for buses along the streets of Athens on Wednesday than there were waiting for the flame to pass. Some say Greece's deep economic troubles began when officials overspent to host the 2004 Athens Olympics.


The torch always travels first class, gets its own seat and its own guard. This time it's on British Airways flight 2012, placed in a miner's lantern for the safety of everyone else on the plane. Once it lands in Britain, it stays safe and secure at a Royal Naval base before it goes off into the wilds of the British Isles.


A total of 8,000 people will carry the torch during the 70-day relay that begins at Land's End — the furthest point west in England — and reaches the Shetland Islands, off Scotland's northern coast. It also goes to Ireland as a special gesture of goodwill. They are neighbors, after all.


The torch heads to places big and small, from quaint towns like Old Leake and Hogsthorpe to bigger cities like Nottingham, home of the legendary nemesis of Robin Hood. It crisscrosses the country, passing through Stratford upon Avon, where the famous bard William Shakespeare was born. Cambridge and Oxford will study it briefly. It trots through Coventry, where Lady Godiva went on her famous (nude) ride. It will burn bright at the ancient monoliths of Stonehenge and dance through the Liverpool base of the Fab Four. Brighton and its famous pavilion, Dover and its white cliffs — the photo ops just keep on coming.


Who carries the torch? Nice people. Thousands of community organizers, cancer survivors, disabled children, veterans and other local heroes will each do a stint. Olympic organizers hope that torchbearers will inspire the nation since they are the ones who fight real fires and save children and work to better their communities.


Not surprisingly, the torch is a magnet for all sorts of people who want publicity. The London Olympics have a 9.3 billion-pound ($14.6-billion) price tag for Britain and a fair number of people think the Conservative-led government could have spent the money more wisely during this economic downturn.

Just recently, a man protesting austerity measures dove into the water to interrupt the annual Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge.

The Olympic flame has its own security team and they are well aware of the human rights protests that accompanied the 2008 Beijing Olympics torch relay as it journeyed the world. Afterward, the International Olympic Committee decided to keep the relay in the host country and had to give special permission to let the 2012 relay go to Ireland as a gesture of political goodwill.


Best thing about the Olympic torch relay: there are street parties and community events everywhere it goes, night after night. Brits like a good party — this is a country where the pub remains a cherished institution and a good pint is never too far away.


Danica Kirka can be reached at http://twitter.com/DanicaKirka