Olympic Flame begins its world trek in Australia

MELBOURNE (AP) – The Olympic Torch is expected to get a loud greeting from Australian Rules football fans tomorrow – two days into its five-week, 27-country world tour ahead of the Athens Games in August. A day after it tours the landmark Sydney Opera House and crosses the city’s Harbor Bridge, the torch will be paraded tomorrow on the Melbourne Cricket Ground, a major venue for the 1956 Games, at halftime of an Australian Rules football game. Tens of thousands of fans at the Hawthorn-Essendon Australian Football League match will watch the torch carried into the stadium by Betty Cuthbert, an Australian runner who won three Olympic gold medals in 1956. Earlier tomorrow, the torch will visit a children’s hospital and be paraded down Lonsdale Street, the main Greek area in downtown Melbourne. During the day, the torch will travel by streetcar, boat and on horseback. Dozens of Australian sports stars will be involved in the relay in both Australian cites, the first two cities on the tour. The torch leaves tomorrow evening for Tokyo, site of the 1964 Games. The first runner to carry the torch outside Greece will be reigning 400-meter champion Cathy Freeman, an Australian who lit the Olympic Flame at the Sydney Opening Ceremony. Former Australian cricket captain Stephen Waugh will reignite the cauldron at the main Olympic venue in Sydney later today. The flame was lit in Ancient Olympia on March 25 and taken to Athens’s marble stadium where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896. It started a 78,000-kilometer [46,800-mile] journey across six continents and 33 cities when it left Athens on Wednesday aboard a jumbo jet dubbed «Zeus.» All past Summer Olympic host cities are on the relay route – and the 2008 host Beijing. Sydney and Melbourne are the only cities in the southern hemisphere to have hosted the Summer Olympics. The torch relay returns to Greece on July 9 for the second half of its domestic relay before the start of the August 13-29 Olympics.