Olympic flame starts journey to Midlands

[gallery] Olympics fever was officially ignited in the UK today when the iconic flame started its 70-day nationwide tour.

Olympic flame starts journey to Midlands

Olympics fever was officially ignited in the UK today when the iconic flame started its 70-day nationwide tour.

Three-times Olympic gold medal winning sailor Ben Ainslie was the first of 8,000 torchbearers to begin the relay after it was flown in to Lands End by a 771 Naval Air Squadron Sea King helicopter.

Click on the image to the right for photos

The flame will arrive in the Midlands on Thursday as part of its 8,000-mile tour ahead of the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Games.

Ainslee, who also has the honour of being the first athlete to formally be selected for Team GB, said he was delighted to be the first to carry the flame.

"It was pretty emotional. So much effort has gone into getting the Olympics here and it means so much. It's a very proud moment for everyone involved," said the 35-year-old.

"For me, growing up in this part of the world, in Cornwall, for the Olympic Torch to set off from here around the nation, is a fantastic moment for the UK, for London 2012. It is very exciting."

Watched by a 3,500-strong crowd of excited onlookers, Ainslie passed the flame on to the second torchbearer, 18-year-old Anastassia Swallow from St Ives.

She has represented Britain four times as a member of the junior surf team and dreams of becoming the first women to represent her country in surfing and snowboarding.

Eric Smith, aged 76, was the third runner leading the way as the torch now embarks on its nationwide tour and aims to bring the Olympic Flame to within 95 per cent of the UK population.

More than 70 villages, towns and cities across the West Midlands will be visited.

On Thursday, the torch will pass through Bewdley and Kidderminster. It will be in Gnosall, Haughton and Stafford on May 30 before returning on June 30 for the start of a tour of Staffordshire and the Black Country that will cover areas including Bloxwich, Leamore, Birchills, Walsall, Willenhall, Lichfield, Dudley, Wolverhampton and West Bromwich.

An overnight stop in Birmingham will be marked with an evening of Olympic-themed celebrations.

Princess Anne and England footballer David Beckham carried the Olympic Flame on to UK soil last night.They arrived at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall on a specially chartered plane called the Firefly where the flame was kept alight in a lantern.

The Princess Royal and Beckham, 37, sat three rows apart while the torch was secured into seats 1A and 1B.

It even had its own seat on BA Flight 2012, strapped into seat 1A.

The Princess carried the lantern off the Firefly plane at 7.30pm, and Beckham then lit the symbolic first Torch.

Report by Shaun Jepson

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