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Olympic Torch Starts British Tour Before London Games

The Olympic torch has begun a 70-day relay around Britain to herald the start of the Summer Olympics in London on July 27.

The relay began on May 19 in Land's End, England, the most southwestern point of the island.

The first to carry the torch was triple Olympic gold-medalist sailor Ben Ainslie.

"It's amazing," he told Reuters television as he received the torch to begin the relay.

"For me, growing up in this part of the world, in Cornwall, for the Olympic torch to set off from here around the nation, is a fantastic moment for the U.K., for London 2012. Very exciting."

A crowd of hundreds of people watched as Ainslie began the relay, banging on plastic tambourines handed out by sponsors and creating a roar of welcome.

The yachtsman, wearing the number 001 on his T-shirt as the first torchbearer, then passed on the torch to 18-year-old Anastassia Swallow, a surfer who is hoping that her sport will one day become an Olympic discipline.

The relay will take the torch on a journey of almost 13,000 kilometers around the historic sites of Britain before it reaches the capital for the start of the games.

Some 8,000 people will successively carry the torch through 1,019 cities, towns, and villages and to landmarks such as Stonehenge.

On June 3-7, the torch will also go to Northern Ireland and then the Republic of Ireland -- the only country outside the United Kingdom on its route.

The oldest runner will be a 100-year-old woman, while Olympians past and present and soldiers injured in Afghanistan are also taking part.

The flame arrived at Land's End on May 19 aboard a navy search-and-rescue helicopter after being flown to the nearby Culdrose naval station on a special flight from Athens late on May 18.

The plane from Athens landed at the Culdrose naval air station with Britain's Princess Anne, London Games Chairman Sebastian Coe, London Mayor Boris Johnson, and former England soccer captain David Beckham among the delegation.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP
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