Olympic torch reaches worst hit areas in quake-battered Sichuan

The Olympic torch on Monday reached two of the worst hit areas in the Sichuan earthquake, with a primary school teacher who spent more than 70 hours sifting through rubble to try find his students after losing his wife, igniting the flame in the morning, reported dpa.

The torch, which arrived in Sichuan on Sunday, continued onto the second leg of the Sichuan relay Monday, starting in the Buddhist resort Leshan and later making its way to the quake-devastated Mianyang and Guanghan counties.

Several Sichuan torch bearers are people who lost members of their family in the May 12 quake.

Tan Guoqiang, the school teacher from Wenchuan County, the epicenter of the devastating quake, ignited the flame at 7:38 a.m. Monday in the Buddhist resort town of Leshan.

He was one of the 29 quake heroes on the list of more than 800 torchbearers in Sichuan.

In Mianyang, the relay was held in the Jiuzhou Stadium, which at one point had housed tens of thousands of refugees from the quake.

Participants observed a moment of mourning. They later celebrated the torch relay, with many soldiers and participants waving flags and cheering.

The CCTV torch relay footage on the evening news did not show the quake destruction.

The 8.0-magnitude earthquake completely destroyed several towns and villages in Sichuan, killing at least 70,000, while about 20,000 others are still listed as missing.

After the earthquake, the Beijing Olympic organizing committee postponed the Sichuan legs of the torch relay and decided to pass the Olympic torch through Sichuan August 3-5 instead of the initially planned dates in June.

The torch relay will continue to the provincial capital Chengdu on Tuesday before arriving in the host city Beijing on Wednesday, two days prior to the opening of the Games.

The relay in Beijing will begin on Wednesday at the Forbidden City, just north of Tiananmen Square and make its way through several districts in the capital. It will last more than four hours, with the relay route being 16.442 kilometers long. There will be 433 torch bearers on the first day.

On Thursday, the second day of the relay, 268 torch bearers will take the torch all the way to the Great Wall and on the last day, Friday, the torch will be taken to Zhoukoudian, the site where the archaelogical gem Peking Man was discovered, according to the report.

Torch bearers on the Beijing route include basketball star Yao Ming, China's first astronaut Yang Liwei and China's shooting gold medalist Xu Haifeng.

The final torch bearer will light the Olympic cauldron in the National Stadium during the opening ceremony on Friday night. Who that will be is always the best kept secret at Olympics.

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