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George Poulos


Athens, 9 June 2004


A huge and very excited crowd was out on the streets of Beijing to welcome the Olympic Flame to the populous city that will be hosting the next Olympic Games in the year 2008. Two cultures and two organising bodies met face to face in front of literally hundreds of thousands of citizens that lined the Flame’s route to watch the 148 torchbearers who carried the token of the invitation to Athens.

In the words of the President of OCOG 2008, “Beijing is grateful to Athens because one of the memories from 2004 will be the images of the capital of China”.

The Olympic Flame’s two-day stay in Beijing was the central theme of the Chinese newspapers. The People’s Daily itself – official newspaper of the Communist Party of China – carried in central position on its front page a picture of the Torch Relay arriving at the Great Wall. TV networks broadcast the Flame’s passage through the city centre live, with impressive pans across the crowd gathered to watch well-known Chinese personalities run in the ATHENS 2004 uniform. The route included all of the historic landmarks in the heart of town: Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, Olympic Venues, the University, and the Summer Palace. Beijing welcomed the Flame with a riot of colourful celebrations, including scores of banners with the Torch Relay motto - ‘Pass the flame, unite the world!’ – written in English.

Proceedings started at Tiananmen Square in the morning. The Square was cordoned off, and the vast grey space was given colour by the red flags of students and by the uniforms of the first of the torchbearers.

“We are welcoming Athens with enthusiasm and I am sure its Games will be successful” said Beijing 2008 OCOG President, Liu Qi as he received the torch from the hands of ATHENS 2004 Executive Director Marton Simitsek. “In 2008 the world will see a new Beijing with a glorious past and a contemporary, modern present”. Mr Simitsek replied that the international torch relay was the fulfilment of a commitment made by ATHENS 2004 President, Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki at the time when the Games were assigned to Athens.

Mr Ling Yang, Vice-President of the Beijing Organising Committee and Member of the IOC, was the first Chinese torchbearer. Famous Chinese basketball player Yao Ming carried the Flame last. The Torch Relay Closing Ceremony was at the Summer Palace. No spectators were allowed at this ceremony. On a stage floating on the Lake, a large company of dancers enacted the traditional and modern face of China.

ATHENS 2004 OCOG Executive Director, Marton Simitsek, headed the Greek delegation, and the President of ATHENS 2004 was represented by her husband Thodoros Angelopoulos. Also present were the Greek Minister of Tourism, Dimitris Avramopoulos, and the Greek Ambassador to Beijing, Haralambos Rokanas.

The next stop in the world torch relay will be New Delhi in India, on Thursday.

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