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Yao and Liu unlikely to light Olympic flame

Yao and Liu unlikely to light Olympic flame

BEIJING -- So who is going to light the flame to mark the opening of the Olympic Games on Friday?

Such a question has aroused great speculation in Beijing, a city gripped by Olympic fever.

The chances of basketball star Yao Ming or gold-medal hurdler Liu Xiang lighting the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony on Friday are slim if tradition is anything to go by.

Houston Rockets' center Yao, easily the most visible, and perhaps tallest, athlete in the country, will be one of the runners during the three-day Olympic torch relay campaign in Beijing starting on Wednesday.

Liu, China's 110-meter hurdles Olympic champion in 2004, was the first bearer when the country kicked off its global torch relay in Beijing on March 31.

As such, it has been a tradition over the Games' history that each bearer only holds the torch once during the relay.

This leaves the country's most popular sports stars with little possibility to light the flame at the National Stadium, or the Bird's Nest, on Friday night.

So how the main Olympic cauldron will be ignited and who will be the one to do so has been a top secret.

Undoubtedly, it will be one of the highlights of the opening ceremony.

In total, 841 people, including China's first astronaut Yang Liwei and shooting gold medalist Xu Haifeng, will carry the torch in turn in Beijing as of Wednesday after the relay finishes its leg in the quake-battered Sichuan Province.

Following the torch's arrival in the capital late on Tuesday, 433 bearers will participate in the relay the following day.

It is expected to last just over four hours along a 16.4 km route.

The runners will start from the Forbidden City and run through seven downtown districts to the Temple of Heaven in the southern area for a festive ceremony.

On Thursday, 268 bearers will carry the torch 14.5 km through eight districts and counties in about 3 hours.

Friday's route will be 7.9 km and the run will last about 90 minutes and involve 140 carriers.

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