LONDON: The Olympic torch relay enters its final day on Friday amid signs that Londoners have finally begun to embrace the Games.
An estimated three million people will have taken to the streets of the capital to cheer on the Olympic flame in the past week, bringing the total to about 13 million during its 70-day tour of the country.
It has travelled to the four corners of the United Kingdom, taking in palaces and cathedrals, mountains and rivers. It has also taken to the skies and the airwaves, featuring in an episode of a popular TV soap opera.
But its most high-profile moment will come at the Olympic Park on Friday when it will set alight the cauldron at the opening ceremony, signalling the official launch of the Games.
"Are we ready? Are we ready? Yes, we are," Mayor of London Boris Johnson goaded 60,000 cheering people at a concert in the city's Hyde Park on the eve of the Games.
The torch relay seems to have ignited excitement and a sense of pride among the British public despite their noted cynicism and laconic sense of humour. It has provided a better warm-up to the Games than anyone could have envisaged.
The mood has even been lifted among Londoners, regardless of a series of damaging headlines including a botched private security recruitment drive, public transport failures and a diplomatic faux pas with regards to North Korea.
"London has taken a long time to get on board, but it has eventually," Pauline, a 48-year-old IT contractor, said watching the flame outside Buckingham Palace, the official London residence of the monarch.
The palace was one of many landmarks which formed a notable backdrop on the flame's penultimate day on Thursday.
Other famous stops in the capital included the 300-year-old domed St Paul's Cathedral and Downing Street, where Prime Minister David Cameron came out to greet the torchbearers.
It was a deliberate policy of organisers to show off the best of Britain in an attempt to lure more visitors, and they were helped by blue skies after a summer of rain.
It was a sentiment shared by others.
"I want London to look good because it's my city," Pauline added.
The flame has been carried by 8,000 people, mainly celebrities, athletes and people chosen for their good works, on its 8,000-mile journey which began on May 19 in the most southwesterly point of mainland England.
The relay starts its final day at Hampton Court Palace, made famous by Henry VIII, and its winding hedge maze, before being carried down the River Thames on the royal barge Gloriana, used in Queen Elizabeth's celebrations last month to mark her 60 years' reign.
It will arrive at Tower Bridge at about midday and then reappear later in the evening at the Olympic Park in east London. - REUTERS