June 22, 2012 / 5:56 PM / 5 years ago

Britons cheer torch relay to halfway mark

Torch bearer Iris Hutchinson waves while holding a London 2012 Olympic Games torch at the Angel of the North sculpture near Gateshead, north east England June 16, 2012. REUTERS/David Moir

LONDON (Reuters) - About four million Britons have turned out to cheer the Olympic torch relay to the halfway mark of its 70-day tour of the country before it arrives in London for the opening ceremony next month, organizers said on Friday.

During the past 35 days the flame has traveled up Wales’s highest mountain, been ferried across the River Mersey in northwest England and also visited Dublin on a rare trip outside the United Kingdom.

Britons have responded enthusiastically, perhaps confounding early skepticism.

The 3,529 relay runners have been a mixture of celebrities, athletes and people chosen for their community work. One torchbearer even used the relay to propose to his girlfriend.

Seb Coe, chairman of the London Olympic organizing committee, said support shown for the torch carriers had been “fantastic”.

The relay, which has covered nearly 4,000 miles so far on its route past the nation’s landmarks, has had some hiccups along the way.

Early on, an over-enthusiastic police team pushed a spectator they suspected of being a protester into a hedge, and the flame also went out on day three.

During its visit to Northern Ireland the route had to be diverted because of clashes between Irish dissident republicans and police.

Organizers have also been criticized for putting up for auction the torch former England soccer captain David Beckham carried when the flame arrived in Britain from Greece on May 18.

The relay began at Land’s End, the most southwesterly point of mainland England, on May 19 with Britain’s most successful Olympic sailor Ben Ainslie.

Since then it has traveled to the top of Snowdon in Wales with mountaineer Chris Bonington, visited the statue of Scotland’s bard Robert Burns and been carried on a zip wire from the top of the Tyne Bridge in northeast England.

When it arrives in London before the start of the Games on July 27, it will visit the official residences of both Queen Elizabeth and the Prime Minister.

Editing by Tony Jimenez

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