ATHENS - The flame for the London Olympics, which start on July 27 after a 70-day torch relay around Britain, was handed over on Thursday at a damp ceremony in the marble stadium that hosted the first modern Games in 1896.
The flame, lit from the sun's rays at the home of the ancient Games in Olympia a week ago, was presented under grey and rainy skies to Britain's Princess Anne by the president of the Hellenic Olympic Committee Spyros Capralos.
Transferred to a small lantern by golden torch from a cauldron, it will be guarded overnight in the British embassy in Athens.
It will then be flown on 'Flight 2012', a British Airways Airbus 319 called 'Firefly', to a naval air base in south-west England on Friday before the relay starts at Land's End the following morning.
London Games chairman and twice Olympic 1,500 m champion Sebastian Coe paid tribute to Greece and even thanked the hosts for providing suitably "British weather" in a Panathenaic Stadium exposed to the elements.
"Thank you for the warm hospitality and welcome that you and your country have extended to us, particularly for laying on the British weather this evening," said Coe, who spoke after the heavens eased off and umbrellas were folded away.
"Like the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Flame belongs to the world," he told spectators including London mayor Boris Johnson and former England soccer captain David Beckham, who was mistakenly referred to as "Sir" by the announcer.
Beckham, who will travel with the flame on Friday and is strongly tipped to be part of the first British soccer team since 1960 at the Games, shared an umbrella with Johnson as the rain lashed down.