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Olympic Torch Traveling Back to Athens - 2004-06-16

The Olympic flame is being carried through Los Angeles in the start of a four-city relay across the United States. One-hundred-fifty people will take turns carrying the Olympic symbol through the West Coast U.S. city, including some well-known film stars.

The torch, bearing the legend, "Pass the flame, Unite the World," arrived at Venice Beach early Wednesday morning. Actor Sylvester Stallone, the star of the Rocky films about a determined boxer, was the first runner. As Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn handed him the torch, the actor called it the "proudest moment" of his life. "My biggest problem is that I don't ignite the next man who catches the torch," he said.

The next runner, Frank McCourt, is the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.

As the flame was passed from runner to runner, onlookers cheered and drivers waved. "Honk your horns, people, honk your horns. Let's hear it for the Olympic runners," one person in the crowd shouted.

Some participants earned a place in the run by entering a contest. Others, like gold medal-winning gymnast Peter Vidmar, were chosen for their ties to the Olympics. "This is the greatest thing in the world. I'm really thrilled about it, and really honored to do this," he said.

Mario Machado, 69, says he hopes to go the distance of his leg of the run, a little more than one kilometer. "I could be running, walking, crawling, as long as I make it. They've got enough people around me to support me if I fail God forbid," he said.

The flame will pass from torch to torch as the relay progresses through the city's rich and poor neighborhoods, including Beverly Hills, Koreatown, and heavily Hispanic Boyle Heights.

Actor Tom Cruise was scheduled to carry the torch into Dodger Stadium, just before a Wednesday evening baseball game. The actor was to pass the flame to World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko, a 1996 Olympic boxing gold medallist. Klitschko was to pass it to Olympic swimming gold medallist Janet Evans. Rafer Johnson, 69, a 1960 decathlon champion, will light a ceremonial cauldron, as he did at the start of the Los Angeles Summer Olympics in 1984.

The flame will continue its U.S. journey in St. Louis, Atlanta, and New York, before heading north to Montreal, Canada. It will then be flown to Europe for the final leg of its 26-nation journey on the way to Athens. The Summer Olympics will start there August 13.