The Olympic flame arrived in Beijing early Tuesday for the fifth leg of a six-week global torch relay leading up to the Athens Games in August.
A small lantern carrying the flame arrived at the Beijing Capital International Airport at 6:23 AM aboard a Greek chartered jumbo jet painted in the Olympic colors and dubbed Zeus. The flame will spend two days in the host city of the 2008 Games.
Following a brief hand-off ceremony, the eternal flame was carried to the Great Wall. The Athens Olympic Organizing Committee considers the Great Wall to be of great symbolic importance in the relay.
"It is a reason why the flame is staying in Beijing for two days," said Kristin Fabos, a spokeswoman from the Athens Olympic organizing committee.
National Basketball Association All-Star Yao Ming is scheduled to join in the Beijing leg of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games torch relay. The run will take place on Wednesday, starting at Tian'anmen Square and finishing at the Summer Palace.
The Houston Rockets center will likely be the last of the 148 torchbearers to run in the 55-kilometer relay. Yu Zaiqing, an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member and vice president of the Chinese Olympic Committee, will be the first bearer.
Joining them will be people from all walks of life, including many celebrities. Other famous names from the world of sports include table tennis legend Deng Yaping; women's breaststroke triple world titleholder Luo Xuejuan; and Olympic and world diving champion Tian Liang.
Beijing Olympic organizers said the torch will be carried around Beijing by cyclists as well as by runners.
"There are still millions of people in Beijing whose bicycles are their main form of transportation, so I think it will be a fun to use bikes in the relay," said Jiang Xiaoyu, vice president of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG).
Jiang said the Athens torch relay will provide useful information for BOCOG to employ in organizing the relay for the 2008 Olympic Games.
(Xinhua and China Daily June 8, 2004)