altMay 17 - The Olympic Flame was officially handed over from Greece to Britain here this evening as the rain which had drummed down since mid-afternoon relented and gave way to a patch of blue sky.

The gold and yellow liveried British Airways plane which had carried the British party to Greece, and which will take them all back tomorrow, had the words "Our Moment To Shine" writ large upon it.

Until almost the last minute, it seemed that Greece's moment to shine would be clouded over entirely – but not so.

As Spyros Capralos, President of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, passed the Torch over to the Princess Royal (pictured above in pale blue), the next stage of London's Games, which had looked such an unlikely prospect seven years ago, was set in motion.

The site of the first modern Olympics of 1896, its deep marble steps a health and safety nightmare in the drumming rain, was perhaps a third full of umbrella-sporting spectators for the event which, according to the chairman of the London Organising Committee, Sebastian Coe, signals that London 2012 is fully "operational".

In his speech of acceptance, Coe – light on his feet as ever – adapted his planned opening paragraph by adding thanks to the hosts "for laying on the British weather for us".

The main return gift as far as the crowd were concerned was the presence in the official party – alongside the Princess Royal, Coe, Boris Johnson (pictured below, left) and Sports Minister Hugh Robertson (pictured below, left) – of Sir David Beckham (pictured below, centre), as the Greek announcer insisted on keep introducing him.

Every mention of the man who might or might not be taking a future part in the Torch Relay, and who might or might not be a member of the Team GB football team, was enough to generate a whoosh of enthusiasm.

It will be a strange thing indeed if London 2012 sees no more of him.

"As we prepare to bring the Flame to the UK," Coe added, "we are reminded of our responsibility – like that of our predecessors in 1908 and 1948 – to stage Games that use the power of sport to unite the world in a celebration of achievement and inspiration in challenging times.

"A Games that will inspire the next generation to choose sport."

Earlier in the day, Coe had reflected: "This is really the beginning of the journey, once that flame starts on its route – eight thousand miles in 70 days, eight thousand torch bearers, within 10 miles, of 57 million people, over a thousand villages, towns and cities.

"I think people recognise there is no turning back now.

"It's theirs.

"In glorious technicolour."



By Mike Rowbottom