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London 2012: Olympic Torch Lights Up Wales

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OLYMPIC TORCH WALES
Melanie Stephenson carries the Olympic Flame on the Torch Relay leg through Cardiff | PA

Grand Slam rugby hero Sam Warburton helped to light up Wales during the Olympic Torch's first "amazing day" in the country.

Thousands of people lined the streets in cities, towns and villages as the flame was carried by a selection of "inspirational" torchbearers.

The celebrations, boosted by sunny weather and temperatures of around 24 degrees C, took place across a diverse range of locations - which included the site of a famous former coal mine to a star-studded music festival in Cardiff city centre.

People from all walks of life have played a part in the relay, with the oldest being 75 and the youngest aged 12.

But it was perhaps Warburton who got the biggest cheer of the day as he held the torch aloft as he passed the home of Welsh rugby, The Millennium Stadium.

It has been a glorious 12 months for the rugby captain whose side reached the World Cup semi-finals as well as finishing The Six Nations tournament undefeated.

"It was fitting to run past the stadium with the torch with everyone cheering the way the did," he said.

"It was a great moment in my life.

"The way people have turned out has been fantastic and I'm sure people will really get behind the Games.

"Today has shown that - it's been an amazing day for Wales."

The day's events got under way at the border town of Monmouth - often described as the "Gateway to Wales".

Hundreds arrived as early as 8am to get the best view, some three hours before Disability Wales chairman Gareth John became the first Welsh torchbearer.

By the time Raglan woman Hazel Cave-Browne-Cave had taken on the torch in Monnow Street, thousands lined the route.

The 44-year-old, nominated for her charity work and bravery in the fight against breast cancer, said: "I still find it hard to believe I was chosen.

"It has been such a momentous and exciting day."

Her enthusiasm was also echoed by Wales' First Minister Carwyn Jones, who attended the event in Monmouth alongside Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan.

He said: "The fact that the torch is travelling around Wales, from north to south really gives people a chance to feel part of the Games.

"That way it's not seen as just a London event. We're very proud in Wales to be part of the Olympics - indeed we're hosting the first sporting event."

Mrs Gillan added that Wales was playing a crucial role in London 2012.

She said: "The winners' medals of both the Olympic and Paralympic games have been made at the Royal Mint in Llantrisant, and all the numbers worn by athletes will be provided by a printing firm from Bridgend."

The torch was taken through Raglan and Abergavenny, before arriving at the famous former mine in Blaenavon.

Dating back as far as 1860, Big Pit is now a major tourist attraction in Torfaen and has played a key part in local history.

Former miner turned tour guide Andrew Williams, 51, said it was great for an integral part of Welsh heritage to be included in the day's events.

"The torch relay is another chapter in Big Pit's long history," he added. "It's such a big event to come here and is a once in a lifetime experience."

Newport claimed bragging rights for being the first Welsh city to host the torch.

Among those holding aloft the flame on the eastern section of the relay was 17-year-old Hywel Jenkins.

Welsh Volleyball Under 17s player Hywel, who was nominated for his strength of character following his father's death in 2003, said: "My dad was supposed to be part of the Paralympics team going to Athens in 2004.

"So playing a small part in the Olympic Games through the torch is special to me. It feels like I'm carrying something on."

The flame later arrived in the Welsh capital, going past the Millennium Stadium before arriving at Cardiff Castle.

There, thousands of fans enjoyed a music festival in Cooper's Field with performances from Welsh rockers Kids in Glass Houses, headliners You Me At Six and pop star Emeli Sande.

Scottish-born Emeli, whose hits include Next To Me and Heaven, said: "Today's been a really amazing day and I've heard so many inspiring stories about the torchbearers.

"It just goes to show we have some amazing talent in the UK - and that if you put your mind to it, anything is possible."

The torch starts it second day in Wales, and its eighth in the UK, outside the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff Bay before heading west to Swansea.

Among those taking part in the relay will be Doctor Who star Matt Smith.

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