BLACKPOOL, England -- Sgt. Richard Clement plowed up Dickson Road on Friday, the Olympic torch attached to the side of his wheelchair, flame burning despite pouring rain.
The crowd clapped solemnly, water slapping against their hands, cheering on a soldier who had stepped on a mine in Afghanistan and changed his life forever, losing his legs.
He didn’t seem to mind the drenching - or the fact that his section of the torch relay was all uphill - but he did want everyone to think about other service people, some far, far way.
"I just want everyone to be a bit proud of the forces and the job they do really," he said. "I’m carrying it for all the troops that are out there."
Scenes like this have made the torch relay an event across the length of Britain, with huge crowds coming out to meet it wherever it goes. Spectators have stood in the rain and wind, in doorways and on sidewalks, along country lanes and beside superhighways, just hoping for a glimpse of a lone runner, torch in hand, flame held high.
The torch is winding its way to every corner of the country ahead of its showcase moment at the July 27 Opening Ceremony. On Friday, it was halfway through its 70-day journey, a route which will see it travel within 10 miles (16 kilometers) of 95 percent of the British population.
It’s been on horseback. It’s traveled on a balloon. It’s been on boats, planes, trains. It’s been carried
If the Beijing relay set up the 2008 Summer Games as China’s coming-out party on an international stage, London’s relay is setting up Britain as the community Olympics - maybe not the biggest and most spectacular, but one that will be welcoming - and certainly well attended.
The English are normally too inhibited and squeamish to make a big fuss about anything - except sport, Kate Fox, the author of "Watching the English," wrote in a British Airways survey on the games.
"Big sporting events such as the London 2012 games provide an antidote ... an excuse to shed some of our inhibitions and be a bit more emotive or demonstrative," she said.
Organizers of the London Olympics assumed that the world would be excited about the London Games. But they were worried about what people in Britain would think - particularly given that Brits are often a cynical lot and proud of it, thank you. This was particularly important given that the bill to taxpayers for 9.3 billion pounds ($14.7 billion) to host the event that comes at a time of economic austerity. People wondered whether the money was well spent.