The Olympic flame on Wednesday embarked on its final leg to a boisterous welcome by cheering and rapturous flag-waving crowd two days before the eagerly awaited and long cherished sporting mega event begins in the Chinese capital.
The flame started from the landmark Forbidden City as tens of thousands of residents of Beijing gathered to receive it after it completed its longest distance of any Olympic torch relay that took it through 137,000 kms across six continents over 129 days.
It will pass through Beijing for three days, carried by a total of 841 torch bearers and will cover 16.4 km on the first day. The crowd gathered at the historic Tiananmen Square since early morning, holding aloft the red Chinese national flags and the white Beijing Olympics flags.
Chinese first astronaut Yang Liwei received the torch from Liu Qi, President of the Beijing Organising Committee at a brief ceremony held at the small square in front of the 558-year old Forbidden Citys Meridian Gate embellished by red carpets and flags.
"I am very happy to be here. That the torch is finally in Beijing is a realization of a dream we have had for a hundred years," Yang said.
Yang, who became a national hero after Chinas first manned space mission in October 2003, said, "The torch relay has displayed the spirit of Chinese. I am very glad to be the first torch bearer in Beijing but the honour goes to our motherland. I feel proud of my country."
From the Forbidden City, the torch passed through landmarks including the Tinanmen Square, the place where the birth of the Communist China was proclaimed and one that also saw crushing of a pro-democracy movement led by students in 1989 and the egg-shaped National Centre for the Performing Arts and the Temple of Heaven.
Thousands of Chinese charged by nationalistic spirit lined up to cheer the torchbearers.
Lit at the birthplace of the Olympic Games in Olympia, Greece, on March 24, the torch has had a troubled run on its global journey with attempts by Tibetan and human rights activists to disrupt it in London and Paris.
The torch will reach the main venue National Stadium or the Birds Nest on August eight when China is expected to stage a spectacular show at the opening ceremony.
It arrived in Beijing after traversing through the earthquake-devastated Sichuan, a province which was the worst-hit by the 8 magnitude temblor of May 12 that has killed nearly 70,000 people so far.
"The flame has come back to Beijing," Beijing Mayor Guo Jinlong said at the ceremony. "We can expect a successful end of the Journey of Harmony," Official Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying.
Zhang Yimou, the famed film director and Chief Director of the Games opening and closing ceremonies, also carried the torch. His work for the Olympic opening ceremony is being kept as secret as the third and last rehearsal was completed on Tuesday.
British singer Sarah Brightman and Chinese singer Liu Huan had been chosen to present the theme song of the Beijing Olympics at the opening, Zhang Heping, the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.
He said most of the 10,500 athletes from 205 countries and regions had already arrived.
The city government said that Beijing is fully prepared with energy and water supply, transport services, air quality control, public hygiene, health services, commodity supplies, hotel booking, tourism services and entertainment.