Torch burns bright on top of the world

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 May, 2008, 12:00am

Chinese climbers, including Tibetans, took the Olympic flame to the top of Mount Everest in a spectacular feat to underscore the nation's ambitions for the August Games.

People across the country watched live television footage of the flame being held atop the world's highest peak.

The highlight came just after 9am yesterday following an eight-hour trek from a camp at 8,300 metres and a final relay run that began with Tibetan climber Jiji, who dedicated her efforts to her husband who died in a mountaineering expedition in Pakistan three years ago.

'He once told me he wanted nothing more than a chance to bring this Olympic flame to the peak of Mount Everest. I think he has done this, since his spirit has always been alive in my body,' Jiji said before the ascent.

The decision to allocate the first leg at the summit to 39-year-old Jiji was symbolic and appeared designed to calm critics from pro-Tibet independence forces, particularly since the March riots and protests.

Ethnic Han mountaineer Wang Yongfeng accepted the flame from Jiji to present an image of harmony, and other mountaineers were also seen cheerfully holding and passing torches around at the summit.

The climbers unfolded Olympic flags and banners on the summit carrying the words 'Long live the Olympics, long live Beijing'.

The Chinese and Nepali governments deployed troops to guard routes leading to the peak, but Li Zhixin, the director of the climbing campaign, said some 'unexpected people' managed to get near the top but added that his climbers had managed to overcome these 'interruptions'.

People across the country watched coverage live on TV and on the internet. Cheering broke out in homes and offices, and car drivers sounded their horns when news of the ascent was confirmed.

Online chat rooms were crowded with jubilant postings, mostly congratulating the climbers on their success.