Torch relay reaches the home straight in Guangzhou in the final countdown to the tournament

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 November, 2010, 12:00am

The Asian Games torch relay began its home stretch in downtown Guangzhou, the host city, yesterday with the opening ceremony set for Friday.

Yang Yilin, a Guangdong native and winner of a gold medal in women's gymnastics at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, took the flame at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall yesterday morning.

From there, the flame travelled 17.5 kilometres from the heart of Guangzhou's traditional business area to its most modern area, the Guangzhou International Convention and Exhibition Centre. Torch relay organisers said the purpose of the route was to 'show people both the old and new city'.

The four-hour relay used 208 torch-bearers, which included mainly local officials, sports stars, prominent figures from different industries and some foreigners and Hongkongers.

Wang Yifu, head coach of the national shooting team, which in 1984 won China's first Olympic gold medal since the founding of the People's Republic, was the 24th torch-bearer.

He said he had been asked to participate in the torch relay about a month ago. 'I had no idea how long I would run, but we don't need any extra preparation. We are professional athletes,' he said.

As it turned out, each of them ran only about 100 metres.

Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, president of the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, was the last torch-bearer at the exhibition centre.

He said the example that Guangzhou had set in hosting the Games might help Hong Kong's bid for the 2023 Games.

'I hope the warm atmosphere here can inspire Hong Kong people to support our bid for the Asian Games in Hong Kong,' he said. The discussion over whether to make a bid for the 2023 Games has triggered a wave of public criticism in Hong Kong about the expense of hosting the tournament.

The torch relay will continue in a forest park in suburban Panyu district today and University Town tomorrow.

It will be delivered to the main stadium for the opening ceremony on Friday night, but details about the torch-lighting ceremony remain top secret.