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24
Sat, Aug

Sailor Ben Ainslie carried the London 2012 Olympic flame at Land's End ©Getty Images

Team TTO in Rio 2016
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Last week it was 100 days to go, then there was the formal handover in Athens. But this latest milestone is particularly special as the Olympic Torch arrives on home soil.

After a wonderful and emotional week in Greece following the flame, I pass the Torch to my insidethegames colleague Nick Butler in Brasilia with a few thoughts about how the flame has arrived in the host nation before.

Four years ago this week, I journeyed down to Land’s End, one of the southernmost points of mainland Britain. The sun had not yet even come up.

Even at that hour there were already hordes of excited chattering people waiting to greet the first runner, an Olympic sailing legend who back then was just plain Mr Ben Ainslie, not yet a knight of the realm.

David Beckham had landed with the flame at the Royal Navy Air Service station in Culdrose the previous evening.

Now all eyes craned expectantly towards the sky as the helicopter circled Land’s End with its precious cargo.

Lieutenant Commander Rich Full held the lantern under the famous Land’s End signpost before Ainslie set off, the first of some 8,000 bearers around the British Isles.

The Royal Navy had also played a key role at previous Olympic Games in London. Chief Petty Officer Herbert Barnes carried the Torch as it disembarked at Dover from HMS Bicester in 1948 after a cross channel journey. It promptly went out.

’’It was like a spring loaded firework and kept going out,’’ he said.

They had the same difficulty with the flame for Sochi 2014, which blew out shortly after Vladimir Putin had handed it over in Moscow’s Red Square.

The early domestic relays were much shorter than today. The first to Berlin in 1936 crossed the Czech border into Germany at Hellendorf, barely a day before the Games began.

The first bearer was Paul Goldammer, a splendidly appropriate name. Then, as now, there was no mistaking the enthusiasm for this simple symbol.

The first big domestic production number did not arrive until 1984 - though in 1956 the journey from Cairns to Melbourne was over 2,855 miles.

The organisers of the Los Angeles 1984 Games had decided on an expansive run to visit as much of the United States as possible. The grandchildren of two great champions carried the flame as it started its journey from New York.

“You probably don’t know the name Gina Hemphill but you might remember her grandfather Jesse Owens,‘’ said LA 1984 chief Peter Ueberroth. ’’Gina will share the torch with a native American. His grandfather was once a proclaimed athlete of the half century. We are proud to have the grandson of Jim Thorpe run alongside Gina.’’

It was also in the City of the Angels that the Atlanta 1996 Torch Relay began outside the Memorial Coliseum. There was controversy in the days before when it was rumoured that officials had insisted the headless nude statues, installed in 1984, be covered up.

As it turned out the ‘’anatomically correct’’ statues were displayed as the artist intended as Rafer Johnson passed by with the flame.

Four years later, the Torch Relay turned into an Australian walkabout beginning at Uluru. There, aboriginal hockey player and athlete Nova Peris Kneebone symbolically removed her shoes before starting the 100 day relay to Sydney.

‘’My ancestors never wore shoes and it’s a sign of respect for my people," she said. "That’s why I chose to run barefoot.’’

The runners in Barcelona 1992 had also connected with the past. Their flame journey began at the Ancient settlement of Empuries. It had been carried there on the Icaria, a replica of a typical Catalan boat and was welcomed with music and dance, all watched by a huge crowd.

‘’We welcome the flame to Empuries,’’ said Barcelona Mayor and Organising President Pascall Maragall. ‘’It will light the future of our people and purify our ideals.’’

If you were to write about any city the flame has touched, it will be a similar experience. I am quite certain Brazil will be no different.

The journey to Rio de Janeiro will take 95 days and 12,000 runners. Prepare for the biggest carnival Brazil has ever seen!

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