Double Olympic diving champion Tian Liang ran in the first place as torch relay moved on Friday through Xi'an, the terracotta warriors birthplace in Shaanxi province.
Tian, Olympic gold medallist in both Sydney and Athens Games, ran off the first leg in front of the Small Wild Goose Pagoda at 8:10 in the morning, starting the day's relay of 208 bearers covering 9.2 kilometers.
"It's just another best time in my life. It feels just like I have won another Olympic gold," said Tian, who won two Olympic golds and retired after Athens Games.
"Four years ago, I passed the torch for Athens Games. Now, I am passing the Beijing Olympic torch and I am feeling myself the host instead of guest," added 29-year-old Tian.
Tian is branded as one of the best Chinese male divers. In the Summer Olympics 2004, he won the bronze medal in the 10m platform event and a gold medal in the synchronised platform event. Tian was also the previous 10m platform Olympics champion, winning gold in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Since then, he and another gold medal winner, Guo Jingjing, often appearing at the public activities, have been nicknamed Liang Jingjing, the complex name of Tian and Guo, referring to "sparkling" in Chinese.
"It's a great relay with the most population having witnessed and being part of it. Torch relay unites Chinese people and the rest of the world, and at the same time Chinese people are building up strong cohesion," said Tian.
For the upcoming Beijing Games, Tian favors Chinese diving team for better results than previous Games. "As far as I can tell, Chinese divers will win more titles than the last time, but I'm doubtful China will have all eight," said Tian. "In each event, China renders better skilled competitors and also China gets strong contenders."
"I am now warning those going to the Games that you need to keep strong mentality.
"Taking the support from home crowd as strength, but not pressure, you will win something."
After belting his multiple Olympic medals, Tian Liang received numerous invitations to lend his name and face to corporate promotions.
Tian denied the parlance that he was fired from the national team for involvement in these activities, and also the rumor that other disputes with the national team have led to his retirement from national team.
"My retirement is just a balanced arrangement in national team, but nothing else. For I have been taken part in three Olympic Games and it's time to retire for newcomers," said Tian.
The last torchbearer Wang Libin, a former basketball star, lit the cauldron at Furong Garden at 10:10 a.m. local time, a region that served as the imperial capital on and off for centuries.
"I hope the Beijing Olympics can push forward progress in our society and promote social harmony in our country," said Wang.
Wang, used to be seen as the "Best Center in Asia," joined the national team in 1981, and has since taken part in a string of world competitions.
Xi'an was the imperial capital of the Tang Dynasty of 618-907, which is regarded by many cultural historians as the "Golden Age" of Chinese Buddhist sculpture, figure painting, Daoist poetry and aristocratic learning.
A palatial imperial wall and sentry watchtowers still surround the city, and nearby the intricately sculpted Terracotta Army still stand sentinel over the underground necropolis built for Qin Shihuang, who created the first Chinese empire in 221 BC.
Xi'an, meanwhile, is believed to be the birthplace of many sports in China. Polo, tug-of-war, wrestling, chess and other sports flourished here more than one thousand years ago.
(Xinhua News Agency July 4, 2008)