The Olympic flame has officially been handed over to Britain ahead of the 2012 Games.
On Thursday evening, Princess Anne – president of the British Olympic Association – was presented with the torch in Athens.
In torrential rain and watched by thousands of Athenians, the Princess Royal led a delegation that included David Beckham, Boris Johnson and London 2012 chairman Lord Sebastian Coe into the Panathenaic stadium.
They will travel back with the flame on Friday evening, ready for the start of the London 2012 torch relay.
The Olympic contingent and their special cargo will arrive on flight BA2012 just before 7.30pm at Cornish airbase RNAS Culdrose for a welcoming ceremony.
Princess Anne – who rode for Great Britain in the equestrian team at the 1976 Montreal Olympics – will then carry it on to British soil.
Her contribution to the Games has been praised by Lord Coe and sports minister Hugh Robertson who has described her as “one of the great unsung heroes of this whole process”.
Lord Coe added: “I couldn’t ask more from any board member that I have. Her commitment and passion for this is absolutely extraordinary.
“Crucially she sees the world through the eyes of a competitor. It is almost like having an extra member of our athletes” committee.”
On Saturday, the flame will begin its 8,000 mile, 70 day relay around the UK, starting at Land’s End and carried by triple Olympic gold-medal winning sailor Ben Ainslie, the first of 8,000 torch bearers.
In total, it will visit 1,019 cities in all four nations of the UK before being carried into the Olympic Stadium in Stratford on July 27 for the 2012 opening ceremony.
The flame – meant to represent purity – was kindled from the rays of the sun using a parabolic mirror in a ceremony on May 10 at Olympia, the home of the ancient Olympic Games.
It was taken on a 1,800 mile relay around Greece before it was received by the Princess Royal.
The flame was then transferred from a burning torch to a golden lantern which Anne carried out of the stadium and to the British ambassador’s residence in Athens where it was kept overnight.
“This is a moment of national importance for us,” Lord Coe said at Thursday’s ceremony, adding that millions of people across the UK were getting ready to welcome the world.
“The story of the flame will be about those that carry it – their stories will inspire.”
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