Olympic flame on top of the world

The Olympic flame scaled the highest point on Earth as Chinese mountaineers carried it to Mount Qomolangma on Thursday — in what is the high point of the relay.

Five mountaineers started relaying the torch atop the peak at around 9:12 am, a historic moment broadcast live by China Central Television.

"One World, One Dream," team captain Nyima Cering yelled as his torch was lit, repeating the slogan for the Beijing Olympics.

The "Lucky Clouds" torch was lit at about 100 m from the summit amidst strong winds and minus-30 temperatures and then carried up by the five torchbearers - the unprecedented relay lasting about six minutes.

The climbers could be heard struggling for breath as they moved a few meters before passing on the flame to the next person.

The final torchbearer, a Tibetan woman named Cering Wangmo, stood silently on the peak with her torch while other team members unfurled Chinese and Olympic flags. They then came together, cheering "We made it" and "Beijing welcomes you" in Chinese, English and Tibetan.

The other three torchbearers were: Gyigyi, Wang Yongfeng, and Huang Chungui.

"I feel so good being the torchbearer. I know every climber wants to be a torchbearer," Gyigyi, a two-time Qomolangma climber, told CCTV ahead of the ascent.

A 19-member team, dressed in red parkas emblazoned with Olympic logos, broke camp at 8,300 m before dawn and reached the top of the 8,844-m mountain a little more than six hours later.

The ambitious project to take the torch to the Himalayan peak was cast as the highlight of the relay ahead of the Games, which starts in exactly three months.

"We have fulfilled a promise to the world and a dream of all the Chinese people," base camp commander Li Zhixin told reporters after being mobbed by jubilant friends and colleagues.

"The success belongs not only to the mountaineering team, but also to our country," said Hu Jiayan, deputy director of the General State Administration of Sports.

Li said the team had planned to carry the torch to the peak late last month.

"But strong winds and heavy snow delayed us again and again. This week we had the first window of good weather."

Vice-President Xi Jinping congratulated the climbers for their feat.

"This is one of the greatest events in the history of the Olympic Games and a precious gift by the Chinese to the Olympics and people worldwide," Xi said in a message to climbers.

The torch was designed by Chinese rocket scientists.

Fueled by propane, the flame burned brightly in the windy, oxygen-thin Himalayan air thanks to technology that keeps rocket motors burning in the upper reaches of the atmosphere.

"We installed a pressure-retaining valve in the torch, which enables the flame to withstand winds of up to 65 kph, nearly 6 cm of rain an hour, and temperatures of minus 40 C," Liu Xingzou, the chief engineer of the project, said earlier.

The flame was carried most of the way in a special metal canister. As the team neared the summit, they used a wand to pass the flame from the canister to the torch.

Beijing promised to take the torch to Mount Qomolangma in its bidding campaign. The organizers chose a team of 36 climbers consisting of both ethnic Tibetans and Han Chinese; and 19 were picked for the final ascent.

China Central Television began airing the ascent live at 6 am with the help of eight cameramen who used portable microwave transmitters to send signals to a satellite ground station at the base camp.

The flame that crested the peak was taken from the main Olympic torch when it arrived in Beijing in March.

The Beijing organizers put on hold the main torch relay in the southern city of Shenzhen on Thursday while the final push for the summit was taking place.

The Qomolangma flame will be reunited with the main flame later in the relay when it passes through Lhasa in mid-June.

Xinhua, agencies contributed to the story

Copyright © 2008 China Daily

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China Daily – www.chinadaily.com.cn/olympics/torch/2008-05/09/content_6672087.htm