Olympic torch relay reaches halfway

About 4 million Britons showed up to cheer the Olympic torch relay to the halfway mark.


LONDON - About four million Britons have turned out to cheer the Olympic torch relay to the halfway mark of its 70-day tour of the country before it arrives in London for the opening ceremony next month, organisers said on Friday.

During the past 35 days the flame has travelled up Wales's highest mountain, been ferried across the River Mersey in northwest England and also visited Dublin on a rare trip outside the United Kingdom.

Britons have responded enthusiastically, perhaps confounding early scepticism.

The 3,529 relay runners have been a mixture of celebrities, athletes and people chosen for their community work. One torchbearer even used the relay to propose to his girlfriend.

Seb Coe, chairman of the London Olympic organising committee, said support shown for the torch carriers had been "fantastic".

The relay, which has covered nearly 4,000 miles so far on its route past the nation's landmarks, has had some hiccups along the way.

Early on, an over-enthusiastic police team pushed a spectator they suspected of being a protester into a hedge, and the flame also went out on day three.

During its visit to Northern Ireland the route had to be diverted because of clashes between Irish dissident republicans and police.

Organisers have also been criticised for putting up for auction the torch former England football captain David Beckham carried when the flame arrived in Britain from Greece on May 18.

The relay began at Land's End, the most southwesterly point of mainland England, on May 19 with Britain's most successful Olympic sailor Ben Ainslie.

Since then it has travelled to the top of Snowdon in Wales with mountaineer Chris Bonington, visited the statue of Scotland's bard Robert Burns and been carried on a zip wire from the top of the Tyne Bridge in northeast England.

When it arrives in London before the start of the Games on July 27, it will visit the official residences of both Queen Elizabeth and the Prime Minister.