Olympic legend Ainslie kicks off torch relay with flame set for 8,000 miles over 70 days
10:56 GMT, 19 May 2012
Three-time Olympic sailing champion Ben Ainslie has kicked off the London 2012 Olympic torch relay from Land's End this morning.
Ainslie, 35, is the first of 8,000 torchbearers who will carry the Olympic Flame 8,000 miles over 70 days to where it will light the cauldron at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Games.
Ainslie, who also has the honour of being the first athlete to formally be selected for Team GB, is aiming to win his fourth successive gold medal on home waters at the London 2012 competition at Weymouth and Portland.
They're off: Ben Ainslie and lieutenant commander Richie Full, who delivered the Olympic Flame from RNAS Culdrose
His Olympic dream seems to be on course after he this week became the world Finn champion for the sixth time in Falmouth.
Devon and Cornwall Police said around 3,500 people were at Land's End to see the start of the relay.
Being the first person to run with the London 2012 Olympic torch was almost as special as winning a gold medal, Ainslie said.
Fresh from winning his sixth world title yesterday, Ainslie was up in the early hours to complete the first leg of the relay at Land's End in Cornwall.
Hear the cheers: Crowds gather as torchbearer Nicole Martin takes the flame between the villages of Rosudgeon and Helston
He said: 'I would say that particular moment ranks right up there with winning a gold medal. It was incredibly special.'
Despite being in great physical form as he prepares to try win to win his fourth successive gold medal, Ainslie decided to walk his relay leg.
Ainslie happily paused and waved so the cheering crowd of all ages could take photographs. Many of whom had risen at 4am to make the trip and waved flags to support the first torchbearers.
Ainslie said: 'I did alright at least I did not trip over. I did not really want to rush it. I wanted to give everyone the chance to touch the torch, it gives everyone around the country to feel part of it.
What a setting: Torchbearer Sarah Blight runs on the beach in front of St. Michael's Mount at Marazion
'It is one of those moments in your life where you are just in shock. It was an amazing moment. I was very proud obviously to help kick start this period in the run-up to the Olympics.
'It was probably one of the more nervous moments in my life but it is so special for everybody to see the Olympic torch.'
It's here: Richie Full delivers the flame
Nailed on: Sarah Blight shows her true colours
A slight wind caught the flame as his torch was lit, beneath the famous Land's End sign.
Ainslie said: 'Initially when the gas was full up there was a bit of breeze so we had to be pretty careful. The atmosphere was great. Everyone was really excited.'
Sir Keith Mills, the London 2012 deputy chairman and a friend of Ainslie's, described the start of a relay as “historic and emotional day” for him that has been nine years in the making.
Sir Keith was a key member of London's winning bid to stage the Games.
He said: 'This has been an amazing journey. For me this is the start of the Games and when the whole country starts to get excited.
Flaming good time: Ben Ainslie
'You have many milestones in this like winning the bid, the lighting of the flame and its arrival yesterday was a special moment. This is clearly another big moment.'
There are 139 torchbearers carrying the flame a total of 136 miles on the first day of the relay. It started at the Land's End Signpost in Cornwall and ends at the Hoe in Plymouth for the first evening celebration.
Sir Keith, who is a keen sailor and has worked with Ainslie on an America's Cup, said: 'Seeing Ben with the torch was one of the reasons that I wanted to be here.
'He is one of our greatest Olympians and he also happens to be a friend. I have spent a lot of time with him with the America's Cup and the way that he is sailing with such passion, he is in a great position for a fourth gold medal.
Crowd pleaser: Ben Ainslie shows the flame to the people who turned up to cheer the start of the relay
'I also know that for him, being able to carry the torch on his home soil, is very special for him and his family. I wanted to share in the moment with him.'
Ainslie said he did not know whether he was going to 'run, sprint, walk or crawl' his relay leg but that he made a point of wishing 18-year-old Swallow good luck as he passed the Olympic Flame on to her.
Swallow, who is from St Ives, said she wanted to take it slowly to take it all in but she got 'a bit excited and a little crazy and ran too fast'.
Travelling in style: The flame arrived at Land's End by helicopter
London 2012 wanted the bulk of people taking part in the relay to be unsung heroes who have done things to help their community, individuals involved sport and people from the younger generation.
Swallow, who is hoping that surfing will soon become an Olympic event, said: 'Ben Ainslie is definitely a role model. I would love to be in his position in the future and be a role model to younger people.
'Everyone knows that I have had to work hard to get where I am. I was really surprised by the atmosphere here today. Everyone was cheering and calling my name. It is something – will never forget.'