(Reuters) – BEIJING, Feb 2 (Reuters) – The COVID-shortened Olympic torch relay in Beijing started on Wednesday, with basketball legend Yao Ming and a Chinese soldier injured in a horrific border conflict with India in 2020 among the first to carry the symbolic flame on a three-day trek.
The itinerary, which includes stops at the Great Wall and the Summer Palace, is significantly more modest than the globe-spanning trip that preceded Beijing’s 2008 Summer Olympics, which was marred by demonstrations along the way.
Because to COVID-19, only a few members of the public will be able to see this week’s relay, as will be the case during the Olympic athletic events, which will be held within a “closed-loop” that will keep the public away from the athletes and other Olympic employees.
When asked whether he was concerned that the 2022 Games will be remembered as the “corona Olympics,” Georgios Iliopoulos, Greece’s ambassador to China and a torch-bearer, answered, “Of course, it’s terrible luck, but what can you do?”
“You can’t stop life, so we do the best we can to keep going with what we’ve got. The most important thing is that we stick together and get this over with as quickly as possible “He informed reporters about it.
The Olympics will take place from February 4 to February 20.
The flame will travel through competition zones, including Zhangjiakou in neighboring Hebei province, before finishing its tour with the lighting of the Olympic cauldron at Friday’s opening ceremony. It was flown in from Greece in October.
Under brilliant blue skies in Beijing, Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng lighted a flame from a cauldron shaped like a traditional ceremonial vessel known as a fun, then delivered it to Luo Zhihua, who was China’s first winter sports world champion as a speed skater.
Qi Fabio, a People’s Liberation Army regimental commander who was critically injured during a border confrontation with Indian forces in the Galwan Valley in 2020 that killed four Chinese soldiers, was among the torchbearers. Wang Meng, a four-time short-track speed skating gold champion, passed the mantle to him.
The relay will include more than 1,000 torchbearers.
When asked how he felt like an Olympic torchbearer during the very chilly morning, Yao replied: “Because the previous two occasions were for the Summer Olympics, it was rather cold. In the winter, though, it is warm to maintain a flame.”