The Olympics came to London on Saturday when the torch began its journey through the host city for the final stages of a 70-day tour of Britain. Thousands of enthusiastic well wishers lined the streets of the capital to greet the Olympic flame.
The flame – which in six days will be used to light a cauldron signalling the start of the 2012 Olympic Games – left Greenwich Park to a rapturous reception at 7.33 this morning, held aloft by 15 year-old swimmer and cross country runner, Natasha Sinha.
Cheered on by hundreds of spectators who lined her route, the teenager, from Greenwich strode out in bright sunshine for the first leg of its journey across the capital.
The torch is expected to arrive in Newham, one of the Olympic boroughs, at around 10.20am, before passing through Tower Hamlets and Hackney, arriving in Waltham Forest, in north east London, at around 6.30pm.
The torch will have travelled 8,000 miles in 70 days by the time it reaches the Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremony on Friday evening.
It arrived in the capital in a dramatic fashion last night – carried by Royal Marine Commando Martyn Williams, who abseiled 180ft from a Sea King helicopter onto the Tower of London, where it was kept overnight locked in the vaults with the Olympic medals.
Over the next seven days, the relay will take in some of the capital’s best-known landmarks, including the London Eye, Downing Street and the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, home of the Wimbledon Championships, before it is carried down the Thames on Gloriana, The Queen’s Rowbarge.
Its journey will culminate at the Olympic Stadium on Friday evening where it will be passed from athlete to athlete before being used to light the cauldron, signalling the official start of the London 2012 Games.
The identity of the final torch bearer, whose job it will to light the cauldron during the opening ceremony, is being kept a closely guarded secret but several possible candidates have already been suggested.
These include Sir Steve Redgrave, the five-time Olympic gold medallist, and Daley Thompson, the decathlete, who won gold at 1980 and 1984 Olympic Games.
On Friday, the torch relay – which started at Land’s End, in Cornwall, on May 19 – made its way through Kent.
Its journey was briefly delayed when a teenager broke away from the crowd and attempted to grab the torch from Anna Skora, 23, from Lubli, in Poland, as she carried it through Gravesend, but he was quickly restrained by the police escort.
A 17-year-old, from Gravesend, was later arrested by police.
People began gathered from early morning to watch Miss Sinha carry the torch from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park, down a steep hill to the London 2012 equestrian arena.
Miss Sinha is a talented swimmer, who won a silver medal in the 100m butterfly when she was just 12 years old and has qualified two years in a row for the British Championships.
At the arena, she passed the flame onto Ella Statham, also 15, who was nominated for her volunteering work with the London Football Association.
Later, Sir Robin Knox-Johnson, the first person to sail solo non-stop around the world and the founder of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, carried the torch around the recently restored Cutty Sark.
Pop star Dizzee Rascal and footballer Fabrice Muamba, who suffered a cardiac arrest during an FA Cup match in March, will also carry the flame today.
The Mayor of London Boris Johnson said: ‘The arrival of the Olympic Flame is a huge moment for the capital and an incredible opportunity for Londoners to experience, right on their doorsteps, the growing excitement as the countdown to the start of the 2012 Olympic Games moves ever nearer.”
The torch will pass through every London borough this week, with Daley Thompson and Doreen Lawrence, the mother of the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, among the torchbearers.
These were some of the scenes along the route of the torch today:
Dozens of people lined the streets of the Royal Borough of Greenwich from early this morning to watch the Olympic torch begin its journey through London.
They started arriving as early as 5am but were not be able to see the start of today’s relay as Greenwich Park, home of the Royal Observatory – where the first torchbearer set off from, was closed to the public.
Once the torch left the park it crossed Romney Road – where a small crowd gathered – and passed through the old Royal Naval college, before making its way to the Cutty Sark, where dozens more people were waiting with flags.
Before setting off Miss Sinha held the torch aloft for photographers outside the Royal Observatory.
Jaco Van Gass, a soldier with the First Parachute Regiment, carried the flame through Woolwich, in south east London, today.
The 25-year-old was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade while serving in Afghanistan, resulting in the loss of his left arm, a collapsed lung, punctured internal organs, loss of muscle and tissue from the upper left thigh, multiple shrapnel wounds and a fractured knee, fibula and tibia.
In 2011, Mr Van Gass was one of four injured servicemen in the Walking With The Wounded team who set a world record by walking to the North Pole.
* The Dome
One of the most dramatic moments of the torch relay came at 10.02 when Nadia Comaneci, the winner of five Olympic gold medals and the first gymnast to score a perfect 10, met former-basketball star John Amaechi on the roof of the North Greenwich Arena to exchange the flame.
The arena, more widely known as The Dome, is the venue for the London 2012 gymnastics events and basketball finals.
Wearing safety harnesses the pair gingerly made their way across the roof of the Dome, meeting in the middle to exchange the flame, before descending. Amaechi then boarded the Woolwhich ferry to transport the flame across the River Thames.
Tessa Sanderson-White, who won javelin gold at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles and is the only British woman to have done so in an Olympic throwing event, will be among those carrying the flame in Newham.
There was already as carnival atmostphere in Newham, with thousands of people gathering to greet the torch. Newham London tweets:
“The Newham Carnival is going to be amazing! Get over to Central Park to see it following the Olympic flame shortly.”
Paloma Faith, who lives in nearby Hackney, will be carrying the flame on stage later at the show.
Faith herself has tweeted: “Thank you all for your birthday wishes today! I’m going to carry the Olympic torch today. Biggest candle I’ve ever blown out!”
By Patrick Sawer, and Claire Duffin, The Telegraph