Like many athletes themselves, the Olympic Torch has traveled a great distance to get to London for this week’s games. And on Thursday (July 26), the symbol of the world’s greatest competition reached Buckingham Palace and was welcomed by Prince William, his wife Kate Middleton and brother Prince Harry.
Signaling the final countdown to tomorrow’s opening ceremony, the U.K.’s Daily Mail reports that the torch finished its journey of more than 8,000 miles when William, Kate and Harry met torch bearer John Hulse in Buckingham Palace. Hulse, a mountain rescuer from north Wales, carried the Olympic Torch at the request of William, who is a patron of Mountain Rescue England and Wales. The 56-year-old Hulse has taken part in more than 1,000 rescue operations over the last thirty years, and had the honor of carrying the torch along Constitution Hill.
Jon Sayer, a Scout volunteer who saved the life last year of a man who had jumped into a river, carried the flame to the gates of the palace. He then passed it to Wai Ming-Lee, a geographical information systems expert who represents a charity called MapAction that provides mapping services during disasters. Shortly before, the Torch had been carried by Kate Nesbitt — the first ever female member of the British Royal Navy.
“Let’s put our best foot forward,” Prime Minister David Cameron said on the eve of the Games. “We’re an amazing country with fantastic things to offer. This is a great moment for us, let’s seize it.”
The Olympic Flame itself commemorates the theft of fire from the Greek god Zeus by Prometheus — a name that itself has received a lot of play thanks to the Ridley Scott sci-fi film that premiered earlier this summer in London. In ancient Greece, a fire was maintained throughout the ancient Olympics; in 1928, the fire made its return to the competition in Amsterdam, and has been a symbol of ever Games since.
It wasn’t until 1936, however, that the first torch relay took place, and today it is ignited several months before the opening ceremony. Lit in Greece, the flame is used to ignite a cauldron in the central stadium that hosts the Games, and will burn throughout the Olympics.