LONDON (Reuters) - The Olympic torch relay has completed its 70-day tour, the final leg having been finished by royal barge on London’s River Thames in front of tens of thousands of enthusiastic spectators.
It finished its 8,000 mile journey at Tower Bridge at midday, and will next be seen lighting the cauldron in the Olympic Park during the opening ceremony later on Friday.
“This is the start of the Games,” said Frazer, 63, a retired Methodist minister who declined to give his surname, one of many lining both sides of the river and nearby bridges.
“It’s quite exciting - you feel part of it. The hiccups get forgotten now.”
Office workers stood in the floor-to-ceiling glass windows of adjacent pristine offices to get some of the best views.
Elaine Byham, 64, who had travelled with friends to see the flame for a second time after it earlier went through their neighborhood, said: “It’s a special day to see the relay because of the opening ceremony.”
An estimated four million people have taken to the streets of the capital to cheer on the flame in the past week, bringing the total to about 14 million during its nationwide tour.
The relay began its final journey on Friday at Hampton Court Palace, made famous by Henry VIII, where the torch successfully negotiated the winding hedge maze.
It then boarded the royal barge Gloriana, used in Queen Elizabeth’s celebrations last month to mark her 60 years’ reign, to ride down the River Thames, the main waterway that weaves its way through the capital.
One of those waiting to see the flame arrive at Tower Bridge was Caroline Charles, whose daughter Amber had been contacted on Thursday to take part in the relay.
The 22-year-old basketball player had been a youth ambassador during London’s successful bid in Singapore in 2005, her mother said.
“She got a phone call last night asking if she had a pair of white trainers,” Caroline said.
“She’s really happy and proud to have seen it all the way through.”
Organizers later said Amber Charles was the final torch bearer on the relay, taking it into a reception that was attended by organizing committee chairman Seb Coe, London Mayor Boris Johnson and former England soccer captain David Beckham.
The relay has travelled to the four corners of the United Kingdom, taking in palaces, cathedrals and mountains. The torch has also taken to the skies and the airwaves, featuring in an episode of a popular TV soap opera.
It seems to have ignited excitement and a sense of pride among the British public despite their noted cynicism and laconic sense of humor. It has provided a better warm-up to the Games than many could have envisaged.
The mood has even been lifted among Londoners, regardless of a series of damaging headlines including a botched private security recruitment drive, public transport failures and a diplomatic faux pas with regards to North Korea’s flag.
“London has taken a long time to get on board, but it has eventually,” said Pauline, a 48-year-old IT contractor who also declined to give her surname, watching the flame on Thursday outside Buckingham Palace, the official London residence of the monarch.
The palace was one of many landmarks which formed a notable backdrop on the flame’s penultimate day on the road on Thursday.
It was a deliberate policy by organizers to show off the best of Britain in an attempt to lure more visitors, and they were helped by blue skies after a several weeks of rain.
It was a sentiment shared by others.
“I want London to look good because it’s my city,” Pauline added.
The flame has been carried by 8,000 people, mainly celebrities, athletes and ordinary people chosen for their good deeds, since the start of the relay on May 19 in the most southwesterly point of mainland England.
Editing by Mark Meadows and Greg Stutchbury