The traditional lighting ceremony took place on 10 May at the Temple of Hera, Olympia, home of the Ancient Olympic Games. The torch travelled around Greece, arriving at the Panathinaiko Stadium in Athens on 17 May for the handover ceremony.
The UK torch relay lasted 70 days, with 66 evening celebrations. About 8,000 people carried the torch a total distance of about 8,000 miles (12,800 km), starting from Land's End in Cornwall. The route was widely reported as designed in such a way as to ensure that the Torch came within 10 miles of 95% of the UK population. A wide range of people carried the torch around the country, mostly sports men and women, military figures and other local heroes from towns and cities across the UK. A number of celebrities, musicians and actors also held the flame on its journey, including Doctor Who star Matt Smith, Patrick Stewart, Jamie Oliver, Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders (jointly), Rupert Grint, James McAvoy, Mel C, British/Irish boy band The Wanted, dance troupe/Britain's Got Talent winners Diversity and long time TV presenter, dancer, singer and comedian Sir Bruce Forsyth. The torch had a day outside of the United Kingdom in Dublin on 6 June (as well as visits to the Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man). The relay focused on national heritage sites, locations with sporting significance, key sporting events, schools registered with the Get Set School Network, green spaces, biodiversity, 'Live Sites' (locations with large screens), local festivals, and other events.
Following a three-month tour by LOCOG, local authorities submitted ideas to regional government and LOCOG by May 2010. However some counties such as Somerset declined to put forward ideas citing potential costs of up to £300,000.
The start date for the Relay was announced on 26 May 2010, as were the three presenting partners: Coca-Cola, Lloyds TSB and Samsung. The nomination campaign for torchbearers was announced on 18 May 2011 and called 'Moment to Shine'.
On 16 May a British Airways Airbus A319, with custom gold livery and named "The Firefly", flew from Heathrow to Athens to collect the flame. On 18 May the aircraft flew as flight BA2012 from Athens to RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall. The flame was not extinguished during flight, having been classified as a 'ceremonial flame' by the Civil Aviation Authority, but was kept in four Davy lamps secured in a cradle firmly fixed to seats in Row 1. There was enough smokeless fuel to last 30 hours.
HRH The Princess Royal, Mayor of London Boris Johnson, Lord Coe, and David Beckham were among 80 invited guests, along with a group of teenagers: rugby player Dennis Coles from East Ayrshire representing Scotland, hockey player Chloe Brown from Bangor representing Northern Ireland, athlete Sean White from Swansea representing Wales, hockey player Georgia Higgs from Cornwall, and Sakinah Muhammad from Hackney representing London.
After an overnight stay at RNAS Culdrose, members of 771 Naval Air Squadron took the Flame to Land's End by Sea King helicopter. There the Olympic Cauldron was lit. Olympic sailing star Ben Ainslie ran the first leg of the relay.
In the summer of 2010, the Design Council were commissioned to prepare the design brief and begin the search for a design for the Torch and related relay artifacts. With more than 800 designers interested in the project, a short list of 22 was presented to Locog. 6 were selected to present designs the selection being made a few months later. The winning design came from Barber Osgerby, led by Edward Barder and Jay Osgerby.
Their design of the 2012 Olympic Torches was made of two aluminium alloy skin, perforated by 8,000 holes to represent the 8,000 torchbearers who would carry the flame. Technically the holes also helped to dissipate heat without it being conducted down the handle, and provided extra grip.
The triangular shape of torches represented:
The gold of the torches represented the qualities of the Olympic Flame – brightness and warmth. The torch stands 80 centimetres (31 in) high, weighing 800 grams (1.8 lb). To realise this award winning design, TECOSIM (an engineering company) was responsible for the research, engineering and technical development of the torch and associated relay items including the celebration cauldrons. Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) was used to simulate various scenarios that the torch might encounter during the relay, from environmental conditions to physical damage. Torch bearer safety was of prime importance at all times, so TECOSIM completed rigorous physical testing to validate the design. It was tested to withstand all likely weather conditions, from high winds to rain and snow at altitude utilizing the BMW Climatic Windtunnel in Munich as well as in field-testing. Production of the torches started towards the end of 2011.
LOCOG, together with sustainability partner and sponsor EDF Energy, committed in 2009 to provide a "low-carbon fuel solution for the flames of the Olympic torch and the cauldron". When the torch was unveiled on 8 June 2011, London 2012's chairman Sebastian Coe admitted the failure of the initiative, as "In simple terms, we didn't quite get there ... We just ran [out] of time and we tried very hard to do it". The final design of the torch used a "tried and tested formula" of butane and propane.
The progress of the Olympic Torch rapidly gave the lie to the idea that people would not show an interest in the event, or indeed the assertion that certain sections of society might stay away. As local and national media around the country reported, crowds proved to be diverse, overwhelmingly good-natured, unprecedently noisy and appreciative, and above all large. Around 3000 people were said to have been at Land's End to send the Torch on its way on Day 1, while Day 2 saw Police deliberately limit crowds at the Shaldon Bridge at Teignmouth, Devon, to around 7000, while the various stages through Plymouth were said to have attracted 55,000. Photographs similarly show crowds up to 10 deep on each side of the road in central Falmouth (Day 1). Arriving in Wales for the first time on Day 8, the Torch was reported as being greeted by 25,000 in Caerphilly. Numbers lining the route in no way abated as the days passed, with Bowness by lake Windermere for example mustering 5000 on Day 34; Skegness, Lincolnshire (a town of less than 20,000 people) featuring 5-deep crowds along both sides of its streets on Day 40, and Maidstone on Day 62 playing host to an estimated 40,000-strong crowd. As the Relay reached London, the numbers of people turning out were still more exceptional, with much of Oxford Street featuring crowds 13-deep on both sides (on Day 69). That day ended with a 60,000-strong crowd for the evening events in Hyde Park. While the Police Service gave an estimate for the UK as a whole of some 12 million people lining the route for the Torch, there would seem to be evidence amounting from the individual stretches of the route that suggest that this may ultimately have been an underestimate.
In early June, as the torch relay entered its third week, it was revealed that many of those selected to carry torches on the relay were corporate executives with commercial ties to Olympic sponsors.
The torch was escorted by a team of trained officers from the Metropolitan Police Service known as the Torch Security Team. These were chosen from 644 initial applications through an eight-month selection process. Their primary role was to protect the Olympic and Paralympic Flames as well as ensuring the safety of the torchbearer. These "runners" formed part of a wider torch security team which consisted of motorcyclists, pedal cyclists, senior officers and operational planners.
In Derry scuffles broke out between police and republican protesters, as they blocked the planned route near the Guildhall. Consequently, the relay was forced to divert in order to reach the Peace Bridge.
At Bishop Auckland (County Durham) the torchbearer was Kieran Maxwell, a 13-year-old from Newton Aycliffe. He had been diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma in 2010 and lost part of his left leg. He fell whilst carrying the torch but was quickly helped to his feet by the Torch Security Team.
As well as road runners, the Flame was conveyed on other modes of transport, sometimes kept in Davy lamps.
On water, the torch rode in a power boat in Bristol Harbour, in an RNLI lifeboat along the Menai Strait, by ferry on the Mersey Ferry, and by the steamboat MV Tern across Windermere. In unpowered watercraft, it was punted along the River Cam in Cambridge, and rowed along the River Medway in Maidstone. Its final journey to the Olympic Stadium on 27 July was by speedboat, piloted by footballer David Beckham along the River Thames.
Over rail the torch was hauled by steam locomotives of various gauges. The LMS Royal Scot Class locomotive No. 6115 Scots Guardsman conveyed it on the East Coast Main Line between York and Thirsk. Scots Guardsman was used as a substitute for No. 4472 Flying Scotsman. It was discovered soon after returning from a long overhaul that Flying Scotsman had lots of unnoticed cracks on it that needed repairing urgently and as a result, the iconic and famous 'Scotsman' was unable to return to service in time to haul the Olympic Torch. Trips were also taken on standard gauge heritage railways at the Great Central Railway, North Yorkshire Moors Railway and Severn Valley Railway On smaller gauges the torch visited the Ffestiniog Railway and a miniature railway Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway. It was taken up funicular railways the Aberystwyth Cliff Railway, Hastings East Hill Cliff Railway, and Great Orme Tramway, as well as the narrow gauge rack railway the Snowdon Mountain Railway. Electric trams carried the torch on the Blackpool tramway and Manx Electric Railway. After it arrived in London the torch took a trip on the London Underground between Wimbledon and Wimbledon Park.
By road vehicle the torch would complete 80% of its tour, in a security van. A road train was used in the Mumbles and it rode on an open top bus through the Cumbrian countryside. The torch was transported on three wheels by a TT motorcycle sidecar on the Isle of Man, by a Paralympic road cycle around Brands Hatch motor racing circuit and by mountain bike at the Hadleigh Farm course in Essex.
Horses were used when it was carried at the Cheltenham and Chester racecourses. It was carried on a Cob horse in Aberaeron and hauled by horse-drawn tram on the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway.
Journeys by air were taken when the torch travelled by zip wire from the top of the Tyne Bridge to the Gateshead riverside[needs update], and when conveyed by cable car up the Heights of Abraham. It was also suspended over water as it was transported by the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge over the River Tees.
The end of the relay took place in the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony.
The torch arrived aboard a speedboat piloted by David Beckham, via the Limehouse Cut. Steve Redgrave received the flame from young footballer Jade Bailey, the torchbearer on the boat, and carried it into the Olympic Stadium. Then Redgrave handed the torch to the seven young athletes, each one nominated by an athlete. The athletes then each applied their torch to one of the 204 petals, which then lit and converged to create the cauldron, which was designed by Thomas Heatherwick.
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