Victoria, Canada/Washington - Olympic gold medal winners Catriona Le May-Doan and Simon Whitfield led off the longest domestic Olympic torch relay in history Friday which will end in Vancouver before the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games.
The flame arrived from Greece later than expected in the capital of British Columbia on a Canadian Forces jet, where it was carried off the plane by Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson before a cheering crowd, the Toronto Star reported. Athletes will transport the flame across 45,000-kilometres using dog sleds, canoes and an airplane to reach into the far north of Canada.
The relay will take three and a half months before the Winter Olympics opening ceremony on February 12. Le May-Doan is a speed skater who won back to back gold medals in 1998 and 2002. Whitfield is a triathlete who won a silver medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics and a gold medal in Sydney in 2000. The flame's zig-zag journey started in Victoria, capital of British Columbia on Canada's west coast, and aims to pass within an hour's drive of 90 per cent of all Canadians before circling back to Vancouver.
Victoria is located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, near the US border. Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper was on hand for the arrival of the torch on the Canadian Forces jet. "We're celebrating the Olympics as a great moment for the country," Harper was quoted as saying. "The flame is emblematic of the spirit of the games." The relay began in downtown Victoria with an estimated 12,000 torchbearers expected to carry the flame through
In addition to dogsled and the Haida canoe, the torch will travel on a chuck wagon, seaplane, ice resurfacer and double-decker bus and be flown as far north as the Alert forestry station in Nunavut. The ancient lighting ceremony in Athens for the Vancouver Olympics was peaceful compared to the previous one held for the Beijing 2008 Games, which was disrupted by a series of human rights protests. Unlike Beijing, there will only be a national relay in the host nation after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to ban future international relays following the Beijing protests by Tibetan activists. Canadian organizers have expressed fears, however, that some protests over "native American land" and seal hunting could disrupt the relay. (dpa)