A Chinese mountaineering team took the Olympic flame to the top of the world today, a spectacular feat dreamed up to underscore China's ambitions for the Beijing games.
The climbers could be heard struggling for breath in a live television broadcast as five torchbearers each shuffled a few feet before passing on the flame to the next person. A colorful Tibetan prayer flag lined the path and fluttered in the wind.
The final torchbearer, a Tibetan woman named Cering Wangmo, stood silently on the peak with her torch while other team members unfurled small Chinese and Olympic flags. They then clustered together, cheering "We made it," and "Beijing welcomes you."
"One World, One Dream," team captain Nyima Cering yelled as his torch was lit, repeating the slogan for the Beijing Olympics. "We have lit the torch on top of the world," another climber said.
The 19-member team, dressed in red parkas emblazoned with Olympic logos, broke camp at 27,390 feet before dawn and reached the summit of the 29,035-foot mountain a little more than six hours later.
The stop at the top of Everest was meant to be the highlight of the Beijing Olympics torch relay. China has billed the Beijing Olympics as a glorious showcase of its rapid development from impoverished agrarian nation to industrial powerhouse.
But the Everest relay has been criticized from the outset because of China's often harsh rule over Tibet &
where the mountain is located &
and it drew even more intense scrutiny after Tibetans across western China erupted in anti-government protests in March.
Organizers hoped the dramatic image of the torch atop Everest would counter some of the damaging publicity from protests that marred the international leg of the torch relay.
Tibetan activists accuse Beijing of using the climb to reassert its control over Tibet. China says it has ruled Tibet for centuries, although many Tibetans say their homeland was essentially an independent state for most of that time.
Politics aside, taking the torch to Everest's peak and broadcasting it live was a technological feat. China's state broadcaster CCTV spent heavily to build a television studio at base camp and to construct transmission points at four camps on the mountain face.
The team used torches designed by rocket scientists to take the flame along the final icy incline leading to the peak of Mount Everest.
Fueled by propane, the flame burned brightly in the frigid, windy, oxygen-thin Himalayan air thanks to technology that keeps rocket motors burning in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
The flame was carried most of the way in a special metal canister. As the team neared the summit, they used a wand to pass the flame to the torch.
The Everest flame is separate from the main Olympic torch, which today was on the opposite side of China, in the southeastern province of Guangdong, the heart of Chinese manufacturing. The main torch was not taken up Everest because a delay due to bad weather would have thrown the schedule off for the whole relay.
The main flame will cross every region and province of China, returning to Beijing on Aug. 6, two days ahead of the opening ceremony.
The 19-member final assault team was comprised of both ethnic Han Chinese and Tibetan members, underscoring another government theme &
The team captain and the final torchbearer were both Tibetans.
Olympic torch at top of the world