Beijing, the city that will host the 2008 Olympic Games, today wished every success to Athens, placing the Olympic Flame on the Great Wall of China in what was the most impressive ceremony held so far in the International Torch Relay.
Twelve Chinese athletes ran carrying the Torch along a section of the Great Wall, unescorted, wearing the ATHENS 2004 uniform. This was how Beijing chose to welcome the Flame on the first of the two days during which it will remain in China's capital. In the words of the ATHENS 2004 representative, Spyros Lambridis: "This reception, and the organisation for the 2008 Games, confirm that the Chinese people can astound the world."
The Flame's arrival was run as the top item in Tuesday's broadcasts, and dozens of reporters were present at the airport when 'Dias', the plane carrying the Flame, landed. The Organising Committee for the 2008 Olympic Games had painted buses with the Torch Relay colours, and all their representatives wore uniforms bearing the ATHENS 2004 colours and Greek lettering. The reception at the Great Wall left everyone breathless: the Greek delegation was greeted by dozens of young people dressed in traditional costumes, by a large chorus and by children displaying artwork on Olympic themes. The theme for the event was based on the symbols of previous Games, with the ATHENS 2004 symbol given place of prominence. Flags with depictions copied from Olympic stamps had also been raised.
Twelve young Chinese athletes were selected to be the first Torchbearers to carry the Flame along the top of the Great Wall. The Torchbearers wore the ATHENS 2004 uniform. Cameras remained at a discreet distance, and sponsors did not participate in the ceremony. Some 2,000 local residents watched the welcome ceremony.
Officially, the Torch Relay will begin tomorrow, Wednesday, from Tiananmen Square. The 148 Torchbearers will carry the Flame to central Beijing locations, such as the Forbidden City, the Olympic village and the Summer Palace, where the Torch Relay closing ceremony will take place.
ATHENS 2004 Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer, Marton SIMITSEK, is heading the Greek delegation. Minister of Tourism, Dimitris AVRAMOPOULOS, will also attend the ceremonies.