LOS ANGELES (AP) - Sylvester Stallone kicked off a star-studded Olympic torch relay run through the streets of Los Angeles on Wednesday, taking the
flame from Mayor James Hahn as the theme from his signature movie "Rocky" blared in the background.
After a quick trot across Venice Beach to the ocean, the actor set off toward Santa Monica, where he handed the flame over to Los Angeles Dodgers
owner Frank McCourt. That began a relay through Los Angeles communities rich and poor, including Westwood, Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Koreatown and
Boyle Heights, culminating at Dodger Stadium.
"This is the proudest moment of my life,"
a beaming Stallone said with the Pacific Ocean in the background. "I just hope I can live up to
what this flame represents, which is honor, dignity and a never-say-die spirit."
Decked out in shorts and a blue-and-white T-shirt with a laurel wreath on the front, Stallone was the first of nearly 150 runners carrying the flame
toward Dodger Stadium, each one using their torch to ignite one held by the next runner. Carriers included everyday folks as well as celebrities such
as Ellen DeGeneres and Tom Cruise and Olympic stars like Janet Evans and Rafer Johnson.
As DeGeneres ran up a steep hill toward Hollywood Boulevard, some of her friends lined the sidewalk, holding signs reading, "Run, Ellen, Run" and "Run
"I've been practicing at home with a beer bottle,"
DeGeneres said as she waited at a strip mall for the flame to arrive. "I'm honored that
I'm part of this."
As she slipped on her official torch runner T-shirt with "Athens 2004" and the five Olympic rings on the back, her mother, Betty, snapped pictures.
"They'll wonder what I'm doing. There she goes, trying to get attention again,"
the daytime TV host said as cars sped by, many with drivers
oblivious to what was going on. When two buses filled with tourists drove by, DeGeneres stopped to wave to the stunned passengers.
"Ellen, we love you,"
one person in a passing van shouted, and several people walked up to pose for pictures with her.
"This is the first time the torch is going around the world. That's a landmark event and I wanted to see it in person,"
said Jack Carr, 37 of
West Hollywood, who came out to watch the relay and got to pose for a picture with DeGeneres.
The flame arrived overnight from Mexico. It will visit the previous U.S. Summer Olympic cities of St. Louis on Thursday and Atlanta on Friday, then
travel through New York on Saturday and on to Montreal on Sunday. After that it will head overseas again, on its way to Athens for the Summer Games
Aug. 13-29. Los Angeles hosted the Summer Olympics in 1932 and 1984.
Cruise was to carry the flame through Dodger Stadium's center field gates before handing it off to WBC heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko. The
boxer was to pass it to Evans, the quadruple Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer, who gave the flame to Muhammad Ali at the opening ceremony of the '96
Games in Atlanta. Evans was to turn it over to Johnson, the Olympic decathlon champion who carried the torch in 1984 and '96, and will light a
Not everyone who carried the flame through Los Angeles was a celebrity.
John Jackson, who passed the flame to DeGeneres, said he expected to be cut out of the handoff picture. But he didn't seem to mind.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,"
said the 44-year-old principal from Calle Mayor Middle School in Torrance.
More than 1,000 people were on hand to watch Stallone leave Venice Beach with the torch, but turnout along much of the rest of the route was light.
The torch was carried under gray skies and cool temperatures. The flame's 46,800-mile journey began June 4. It passed through Africa and South America
for the first time. The relay will make a final trip around Greece before arriving in Athens for the opening ceremony Aug. 13.