Being the first person to run in the London 2012 Olympic torch relay was almost as special as winning a gold medal, three-time Olympic champion Ben Ainslie said today.
Fresh from clinching his sixth world title, Ainslie was up in the early hours of the morning to complete the first leg of the relay at Land's End in Cornwall.
He said: "I would say that particular moment ranks right up there with winning a gold medal. It was incredibly special."
Despite being in great physical form as he prepares to try to win his fourth successive gold medal, Ainslie decided to walk his relay leg.
He happily paused and waved so the cheering crowd of all ages could take photographs. Many of the 3,500 spectators had risen at 4am to make the trip and waved flags to support the first torchbearers.
Ainslie, 35, who grew up in the nearby harbour town of Falmouth, said: "I did all right. At least I did not trip over. I did not really want to rush it.
"I wanted to give everyone the chance to touch the torch. It gives everyone around the country a chance to feel part of it.
"It is one of those moments in your life where you are just in shock. It was an amazing moment. I was very proud obviously to help kick-start this period in the run-up to the Olympics.
"It was probably one of the more nervous moments in my life but it is so special for everybody to see the Olympic torch."
A total of 8,000 torchbearers will carry the Olympic Flame 8,000 miles over 70 days to where it will light the cauldron at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Games.
Ainslie, who also has the honour of being the first athlete to be formally selected for Team GB, will make his bid for his fourth successive gold medal at the London 2012 competition at Weymouth and Portland.
A slight wind caught the flame as his torch was lit beneath the famous Land's End sign.
For a moment it looked like the flames were going to singe his eyebrows.
Ainslie said: "Initially, when the gas was full up there was a bit of breeze so we had to be pretty careful.
"The atmosphere was great. Everyone was really excited."
The Olympic Flame touched down at RNAS Culdrose yesterday and was flown to the UK's most westerly point by a 771 Naval Air Squadron Sea King helicopter for the start of the relay.
Lieutenant Commander Richard Full carried a lantern to the world-famous First and Last signpost at Land's End, where the first torch was lit in front of the cheering crowds.
He said: "Months of planning went to that one moment. I was honoured.
"The whole squadron are really pleased. It is exposure to the wider world of what we do and we are extremely proud of what we do but we generally go about our business in a quiet and unassuming way. Perhaps it is just our turn in the limelight."
Ainslie passed the flame on to 18-year-old Tassy Swallow, from St Ives, who said she wanted to go slowly to take it all in but she got "a bit excited and a little crazy and ran too fast".
She has represented Britain four times as a member of the junior British surf team and dreams of becoming the first woman to represent surfing and snowboarding for her country.
London 2012 wanted the bulk of people taking part in the relay to be unsung heroes who have done things to help their community, individuals involved in sport and people from the younger generation.
Ms Swallow, who hopes surfing will soon become an Olympic event, said: "I was really surprised by the atmosphere here today. Everyone was cheering and calling my name. It is something I will never forget."
There were 139 torchbearers carrying the flame a total of 136 miles on the first day of the relay, which ended at Plymouth Hoe with the first evening celebration.
Among the torchbearers was TV daredevil Ben Fogle who flew the flame above the canopy of the world's biggest rainforest at the Eden Project.
Dave Jackson, from Penzance, who was nominated to carry the torch for his dedication to HM Coastguard.
"It is a great honour to have been chosen to be one of the official Torchbearers," he said.
"It truly is an opportunity of a lifetime and one which I am very grateful for. I feel extremely proud to be a small part of it and I look forward to telling the story to my granddaughter who is just a couple of months old at the moment and is too young to understand it."
Across Cornwall, thousands of excited people lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the torch.
Devon and Cornwall Police estimated there were 15,000 in Falmouth and in Truro, while there was another 5,000 in St Austell and in the centre of Newquay.
Many of the torchbearers are unsung heroes whose efforts are making a difference in their communities.
George Phillips, 87, from Penzance, who carried the flame in the London 1948 torch relay, repeated the feat in Plymouth.
Eric Smith, 76, of Surrey, won the George Medal in 1962 as a helicopter rescue winchman on the wreck of the Jeanne Gougy at Land's End where he got to carry the torch today.
Spike Reid, 29, from Plymouth, who carried the flame in Plymouth, was seriously injured while fighting off a polar bear which killed his friend in an attack while camping in Norway.
The attack left Eton pupil Horatio Chapple, 17, dead and several others, including Mr Reid, battling for their lives.
Meanwhile, police are investigating a report that a red light was shone at the plane carrying the Olympic Flame as it came in to land in Britain.
A police spokesman said: "We are investigating it but we do not believe that it was a laser."
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