Olympic spirit alight in Berlin and Munich
TWIG - Germany was ablaze with Olympic fever this week as local celebrities, politicians and sports luminaries carried the Olympic torch through Munich and Berlin ahead of this summer’s Athens Games, which open in August.
In the German capital, former ice-skating gold medallist Katarina Witt was one of 130 torchbearers to carry the flame through the city where the modern torch relay was first held in 1936.
Interior Minister Otto Schily, who is also the country’s top sports official, kicked off the relay early Wednesday morning at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, a venue remembered by many as the place where Jesse Owens made a mockery of Adolf Hitler’s beliefs of Aryan supremacy by winning four track and field gold medals.
"The idea behind the worldwide torch relay is to unite people in the friendly spirit of the Olympic Games," said Schily. "One couldn’t have wished for a better kick-off than here in Berlin."
Accompanied by a convoy of ten vehicles, the runners made their may through the capital to the delight of the thousands by sports fans who had lined the route waving Greek flags while others rode alongside the torchbearers on bicycles.
The Berlin relay followed the flame’s stopover on Tuesday in Munich, the site of the 1972 Games. There, track and field gold medallist Guenther Zahn was the first of 124 runners to carry the torch on a 23-mile journey through the southern German metropolis.
Around 20,000 spectators turned up at celebrations in the city’s Marienplatz square to catch a glimpse of the flame, which for the first time has been taken to all five continents on an epic five-week journey encompassing 34 cities in 27 countries.
"Munich is a proud city that can also be proud of its Olympic tradition," Klaus Steinbach, German Olympic Committee chief, told reporters before the flame was loaded aboard a Berlin-bound jumbo jet dubbed "Zeus."
After stops in cities including Stockholm, Moscow and Istanbul, the torch relay will return to Greece on July 9 for a 36-day tour of the country ahead of opening ceremonies for the Athens Games on August 13.
In Athens, a German team led by seven-time gold
medal-winning kayaker Birgit Fischer hopes to better their fifth-place
finish in Sydney. The German Olympic Committee expects 440 German athletes
to go for the gold in events ranging from swimming to field hockey.
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