LONDON — The Olympic flame began a 70-day journey Saturday that will end on July 27 when a final torchbearer lights a caldron at the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games.
For many Britons, the torch relay is the beginning of the countdown to the Summer Games, arguably the world's greatest sporting spectacle.
Lit by the sun's rays in ancient Olympia, in Greece, just over a week ago, the Olympic flame will pass through more than 1,000 cities, towns, villages and landmarks ranging from Stonehenge to Loch Ness.
Starting at Land's End, a cliff-top site at the tip of southwestern England, sailor Ben Ainslie kicked off the relay that will see 8,000 torchbearers carry the flame along a route stretching approximately 8,000 miles.
Ainslie, a three-time Olympic gold-medal winner, walked most of his 328-yard leg, allowing some of the flag-waving local residents in the pressing lines to reach out and touch the torch. "I think the Olympics is for everybody, so it's great for people to be able to get up close to the torch and feel part of it," Ainslie said.
Unlike Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008, London has not opted for an around-the-world torch relay, which proved an embarrassment for China when the flame's progress was hindered by protesters.
But organizers have promised that the flame will pass within 10 miles of 95 percent of the British public, with most of the torchbearers nominated by local communities. The oldest bearer, Diana Gould, was nominated for her commitment to sports and will be 100 years old when she carries the flame on July 25.
Within hours of the relay's start, one of the 8,000 torches used in the relay had popped up on eBay, with bids on Saturday afternoon exceeding $240,000. A spokeswoman for the 2012 London Olympic Committee said that the torches are worth $783, although bearers have the option to buy their torch for $340. She added she was "keen" for the torch advertised on eBay to "go to a good home."