Olympic champion-turned-entrepreneur Li Ning ignited the Olympic cauldron at the Bird's Nest National Stadium Friday night, concluding the 129-day world trip of the Olympic flame billed as a journey of harmony and peace.
The Beijing Olympic torch relay was meant to spread the spirit of peace, progress, equality, friendship, justice and partnership, which is the widely valued concept in the modern Olympic Games.
Chinese former gymnastics champion Li Ning kindles the cauldron of the Beijing Olympic Games during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games held in the National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest, in north Beijing, China, Aug. 8, 2008. [Zhao Peng/Xinhua]
After being lit at the Olympic birthplace in Ancient Olympia, Greece, on March 24, the Olympic torch traveled to the Panathinaiko Stadium in Athens before it was carried to Beijing on March 31.
Starting from the Chinese capital, the torch passed five continents, visited cities along the Silk Road that symbolizes ancient links between China and the rest of the world. It was also carried to the top of the world - the Mt. Qomolangma peak.
The Olympic torch relay has achieved its goal to spread the Olympic spirit as well as the message of peace, progress and friendship. It also ignited the passion of the people around the world in spite of the sporadic protests and melees.
The relay covered 137,000 kilometers (85,000 miles) as the longest ever trip of the sacred flame since the tradition started at the 1936 Olympcis.
In the international leg of relay, the relay won loud applauses from local crowds but encountered protesters representing a range of political issues, particularly those related to China's human rights and the March 14 unrest in Tibet.
The Olympic flame lit the passion of Buenos Aires in its first visit to a Spanish speaking country in Latin America on April 11. Throngs of people lined the avenue. Horns and sirens honked all the way to squeeze a lane for the media bus to keep going. The torchbearers had to be very close to the rear of bus for walking down each 200 meters.
In Dar es Salaam of Tanzania, it was a similar scenario. Swarms of boys and girls followed the relay all the way, some of them bare-footed, ignoring a heavy downpour.
In the last stop of the international relay on April 29, smiles, cheers and applauses are everywhere in Ho Chi Minh City. The Olympic flame witnessed a night of great enthusiasm and festivity.
The Olympic torch returned to Chinese territory on May 2 as tens of thousands of people turned out to cheer the flame in Hong Kong.
The festive mood continued over the Chinese mainland until a deadly earthquake rocked Sichuan Province on May 12, claiming at least 69,000 lives.
To honor the quake victims, the Olympic organizers scaled down celebrations, shortened the routes and started every leg of relay with one minute of silence.
The quake-ravaged Sichuan was the last stop for the flame before it headed to Beijing.
Jiang Min, a female police officer who lost 10 relatives in the catastrophe, started the Sichuan relay at Guang'an, the birthplace for Deng Xiaoping, who launched China's reform and opening up three decades ago.
Astronaut Yang Liwei kicked off the relay's home stretch on Aug. 6. After three days of relay by 841 runners, the Olympic flame finally made it to the Bird's Nest.
(Xinhua News Agency August 9, 2008)