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A Greek high jump athlete and torchbearer lit a cauldron with the Olympic flame on the Acropolis in Athens, just before the flame was to be handed over to organizers of the London Olympics to travel to the United Kingdom.
The Olympic flame was being handed over to the United Kingdom on Thursday at a ceremony in Athens.
The flame was being passed to organizers of the London Olympics for its journey Friday to London after it spent days being passed around Greece in a relay.
Although the Olympics begin on July 27, taking possession of the flame has a special meaning for the organizers, who move now to delivering the games they promised.
"Once the flame is lit, for all intents and purposes, the Games start," London organizing committee chair Sebastian Coe told reporters in Athens.
"This is really the beginning of the journey," Coe added. "I think people recognize there's no going back now."
The flame was lit last week at the Temple of Hera in Olympia and made its way around Greece in a relay. Much of downtown Athens was closed to traffic Thursday evening in preparation for the big handover.
Soccer star David Beckham headlined the dignitaries attending the sunset ceremony.
"The eyes of the world are swiveling to London," London Mayor Boris Johnson said with delight — only to wonder aloud whether swiveling is really a word.
The handover also marked a poignant moment for Greece as well. Lighting the flame has a special significance this year, coming as it does in a time of substantial political uncertainty and economic hardship.
The flame will fly Friday — with its own seat and security agent — on British Airways Flight 2012, an Airbus painted gold. Shielded in a miner's lantern, the flame will first land at a naval air station in Cornwall.
Once in Britain, the flame heads off Saturday a 70-day relay — an Anglophile's dream that ventures through hill and dale to embrace everything from cool Britannia to Stonehenge.
There are still some mysteries yet. The final torchbearer hasn't even been discussed, Coe said.
But there is one person you can cross off that list. Coe, a former gold medalist, has said it won't be him.