Torchbearer Tyler Rix smiles after lighting the Olympic Cauldron during the Olympic torch relay celebrations in Hyde Park, London, July 26, 2012.
Torchbearer Tyler Rix smiles after lighting the Olympic Cauldron during the Olympic torch relay celebrations in Hyde Park, London, July 26, 2012.

LONDON — The Olympic torch will be used to light the cauldron in London's main Olympic Stadium marking the official start of the 2012 Games.  An estimated 10 million people turned out to see the flame make its way around Britain.

In Hackney, only a few miles from the Olympic Village, musicians and dancers paraded through the streets to celebrate the torch's arrival.

Torchbearers have carried the flame through more than 1,000 cities, towns and villages in Britain since mid-May.  Throughout that journey Britons have poured out to see the spectacle.

Olympic Torch Continues to Make its way to Olympic
Torch Relay Draws London Crowds (Click to View)

On the streets of Hackney, locals said seeing the flame was an important part of the Olympic experience.

"I am waiting for the torch right now.  I do not think I will have another chance to see it in my life, so I might as well be here to see it," one person said.

"It is so you can share the Olympic spirit with everyone in the country - not just London.  It gives everyone the chance to get involved," said another person.

"I have never experienced the torch before.  I did not even hear about it until this year.  But I really wanted to come out because it is a once in a lifetime experience, probably never going to do it again," said a third person.

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A ritual for lighting the flame is followed for every Olympic Games.  At the site of an ancient temple in Olympia, amid the ruins where ancient Greek Games took place, the flame is lit from the rays of the sun.

Then after a short relay around Greece, the torch is received by the new host city in Athens, before being transferred to the host country.

Olympics Torch Relay - England, 2012
Olympics Torch Relay - England, 2012

In Britain, 8,000 torchbearers have carried the flame across the country, each carrying it in their own torch.

“The idea of running it around the country was to try to get the message that although it is London's games, because obviously Olympics are given to cities, that the whole country should get behind it.  There are many people throughout the country that are either indifferent about the Olympics or completely disillusioned.  So in many ways the torch is a sort of publicity stunt to try to bring them back into the fold,” said sports historian Martin Polley, from the University of Southampton.

The tradition, he says, first began during the Berlin Olympics in 1936.

“It was set up as a way to stress Nazi Germany's love of the classics, basically.  And they lit it at Olympia and ran it through Europe. It was revived after the Second World War for the London Olympics of 1948, and ever since then each host has used it to tell their own political story,” Polley said.

The political story in Britain this year, he says, is about inclusivity and diversity.

According to tradition, the torch ends its journey as the last torchbearer lights the cauldron at the opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium.  That moment marks the official start of the Games.

Polley says it is one of the most significant moments.

“It is clearly an incredibly popular tradition now. The highlight of the last person lighting the flame is one of the things that sticks with us, and I am particularly thinking of Mohammed Ali lighting it in Atlanta in [19]96.  These are some of the most symbolic and iconic moments of any Games,” Polley said.

The identity of the final torch bearer is a closely guarded secret right up until the last moment, but with the relay coming to an end Friday, we will soon find out.