ATHENS, Greece -- The Olympic flame neared the end of its 26-nation, around-the-world journey Wednesday, arriving in the Games' host city to cheers
from children, roadside parties and women dressed as ancient priestesses.
More than 600 people will carry the flame on a final, two-day trip through greater Athens that will take it from the ancient town of Marathon to
Acropolis hill to the opening ceremony Friday in the new Olympic stadium.
"This sacred flame is part of the soul of the Greek people," said Pavlos Kamaras, mayor of the Athens suburb of Pefki. "This is a historic moment for
us. It's our flame."
Wednesday's run started at Marathon, about 25 miles north of Athens, near the spot where the ancient Athenians defeated an invading Persian army in
490 B.C. and inspired the legend of the messenger Pheidippides and the modern race.
"I never thought I would carry the flame. It was really great. It's a memory I will always cherish," Polish soccer player Krzysztof Warzycha said as
he held the metal-and-wood torch.
As the flame slowly made its way down the Marathon route, roadside celebrations were joined by flag-waving onlookers. Balloons were released, brass
bands tried to stay on key and school children danced while dressed in Greek folk costumes.
Hundreds of people gathered along the sides of the road to cheer on the runners carrying the torch -- including 89-year-old Petros Apostolopoulos, who
carried the torch during the 1936 relay for the Berlin Olympics.
That relay was the first to introduce the torch following the 1896 revival of the Olympics in Athens.
The Olympic flame was lit in Ancient Olympia -- the southern Greek town where the Games were born in 776 B.C. and held every four years until they
were abolished in 393.
The flame that will burn at the Athens Games was kindled from the sun's rays reflecting in a mirror March 25 and went on a 46,800-mile international
Its global journey began June 4 in Australia. It visited Africa and South America for the first time and traveled through Asia, Europe and the United
States, before returning to Greece on July 9.